How many times as women are we told to “calm down?” stop overreacting?”
Stop being so “dramatic?” You’re being crazy. It’s all in your head.”
Messages like these are constant and disproportionately directed at women. This is the false cultural narrative of the “Irrational Woman.”
As women, we’re seen as “emotional”, “reactive”, “unstable” and are portrayed as such in the books, movies, television shows and even in the news media we consume daily.
The Connection to Problem Drinking
When speaking to my female identified clients about their problem
drinking behavior and, more specifically, about the scenarios in which
their drinking begins to get out of control, the universal narrative
tends to be some form of the following:
“I was at a party/on a date/at a work function and I began to feel… uncomfortable. I don’t know why. I just felt… strange. So I started drinking more so I could feel less uncomfortable. Then I don’t remember much after that.”
*Cue the shame, guilt, embarrassment, and all the nasty feelings that come the day after a problem drinking episode.*
So what is this feeling of “discomfort,” and why is it so hard to describe and define?
And what does it mean for women who struggle with problem drinking?
It’s About Intuition, Not Willpower.
The feeling described above is what I would refer to as your
“intuition” or “the ability to understand something immediately, without
the need for conscious reasoning”.
Let me highlight that last bit for a moment: WITHOUT THE NEED FOR CONSCIOUS REASONING.
The scenario above describes women feeling something that does not feel right to them but they cannot necessarily put it into words in the moment. Their intuition is signaling that something is off. Intuition is a gift – a strength that enables wisdom.
However, because we are bombarded with so many messages telling us we are reactive and overly emotional,that everything is based in our heads and not rooted in reality, we are taught to ignore our intuition in spite of the fact that it continues to signal to us that something is off.
We are taught to ignore it, quiet it, or, in the case of problem drinkers, try really hard to shut it off completely with alcohol.
What it Looks Like
When I discuss this phenomenon with clients and begin to process the reasoning behind their feelings of “discomfort” in the scenario above, I always hear a valid and clear reason for the “strange” feeling they so desperately wanted to quiet:
- “My date hasn’t stopped messaging me since we went out and it’s feeling creepy”.
- “My boss kept touching my arm at our work event and I felt that my boundaries weren’t being respected”.
- “Everyone at the party was so drunk I started to feel unsafe”.
All valid. All scenarios in which something felt “off” but the exact reasoning was difficult to verbalize in the moment that it was occurring. And yet, women are so afraid of being associated with the false narrative of the “Irrational Woman” that they use substances to quiet their wise internal voice.
So how do we begin to trust our intuitive selves again and avoid problem drinking in the process? Here are 3 strategies that can help.
Strategy 1: Activate your mindful wisdom. This involves starting a mindfulness practice, which can take many forms. For some, it means downloading a simple app on your phone (I like Headspace) and starting a meditation practice for 10 minutes per day to help develop a practice of sitting and listening to yourself.
For others, it may be a more “in the moment” practice. By this I mean, if that uncomfortable feeling arises in any given situation, doing an internal body scan (scanning your body head to toe to identify areas of tension or discomfort. No need to close your eyes!) and simply visualizing breathing into the places that feel uncomfortable. This can help you feel more in tune with how your body feels in the moment.
Or, one of the simplest but most effective practices that can be utilized in social situations is running through your five senses while drinking to bring awareness to your drinking behavior during times of discomfort. What sounds are you noticing? What does your drink feel like in your hands? What colors are you noticing? What does it taste like? What does it smell like? Bringing awareness to your senses will slow down your drinking and bring you more in tune with what is happening around you in the moment to avoid “disconnected drinking”, or drinking without knowing why or acknowledging how the mind and body feel in the moment.
Strategy 2: Know your boundaries. Make a list of your “red flag” scenarios. What are your limits? It may take some reflecting and journaling, but knowing what feels like “too much” or would warrants an immediate exit can help take the guess work out of uncomfortable feelings. If you are having trouble grappling with the idea that intuitive feelings may not necessarily feel “reasonable” in the moment, having a list of reasons to leave the situation immediately prior to being in said situation can help bring more awareness to your own personal boundaries and assist you in connecting to your personal limitations.
Strategy 3: Set an intention before you go out. This involves creating a realistic drink limit. Before going into any event where drinking may be involved, pre-plan for the amount of drinks you feel comfortable with. For most women, that’s 2-3 drinks and no more than 1 drink per half hour.
Remember – the intention is YOURS, and is not a false promise to your significant other or friends. You determine what you want to do before you socialize. Pre-planning with an intention will assist you in feeling relaxed and social while, preventing you from trying to drink away any intuitive feelings that something is “off”.
If you hit your maximum (or even if you haven’t!) and you begin to feel that “strange discomfort” you will know it’s more than social anxiety – that something is not right. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from that situation and trust that feeling.
You Can Strengthen Your Intuitive Self.
Reconnecting to and retraining your mind to trust your intuition after years of being told to ignore it will take time. These tips are simply a starting point to begin to retrain your mind to trust your gut again. Be patient with yourself and know that years of toxic messaging has resulted in this disconnect. Your intuition is always there for you even if you aren’t feeling connected in the moment.