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How much drinking is too much drinking?

Written by: Phil Landry

As a therapist, I hear the struggle to determine this line often. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, there are research-backed levels of drinking that predict whether someone is low- or high-risk for having or developing a problem with alcohol.  For women, low-risk drinking is having no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks on any day. For men, low-risk drinking is having no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks on any day.  If someone drinks more than the single day or weekly drinking limits, then they have a 25% chance of already struggling with medically significant alcohol problems. For some perspective, 9% of American adults drink more than both the single-day and weekly limits, and 19% of American adults drink more than either the single-day or weekly limits.  

Oftentimes, clients are surprised when I share these numbers with them. 

They can see that their drinking puts them in the high-risk category, but they have never considered that their drinking may be causing them problems worth checking into.  For others, these numbers give them permission to accept what they have suspected deep down - that their drinking is at a problematic level. I have seen this statistic motivate people to stop drinking, at least temporarily, ON THE SPOT.  I love the power of sharing research with my clients!

If you are thinking about whether it may be worth addressing your alcohol use and you are curious if psychotherapy could help, I want you to consider whether you relate to the following statements:

- you seem to only get in fights with your partner when you have been drinking

- you feel a creeping sensation to hide the amount you drink from your partner/family/friends

- you binge drink (even just a few times a year) even though you intend not to or blackout

- you are worried about how often you go to work hungover

- you engage in other behaviors like infidelity, drug use, or riskier actions only when you drink

- you feel an underlying, chronically blue sensation and have always wondered if your drinking contributes

- you drink and drive even though you know you should not

- you feel most motivated to hang out with people if drinking is involved

- you no longer engage in other activities you enjoy outside of drinking

- you have tried to cut back on your drinking before and you always seem to increase your drinking again, or you have had symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure when you stop drinking.
 

How many of these did you resonate with? 2? 3? 5? It is normal to feel afraid of talking about alcohol use with a therapist, but with all the benefits that come with it, I encourage you to push through and do so anyway!  On the other side of addressing a negative relationship with alcohol can be new levels of energy, a deepened sense of meaning and purpose, improved intimacy in relationships, increased physical health, and rediscovery of parts of yourself that have been numbed by alcohol.  I am inspired over and over by the courage of my clients who come in to address their alcohol use and the look of pride they develop after they do the work to understand why their relationship with alcohol has become problematic.

In my view, walking into a therapist's office in the midst of a culture absolutely saturated with glamorization of distraction and numbness through alcohol use, is a tremendous act of self-love.  You are worth it.

 

Read more on our work with alcohol, addiction(ish), and escapism and see how to get in contact with us here

Mo' Feelings, Mo' Problems?

My husband was interviewed a long time ago when he was first starting his company. It was his first time speaking on a podcast and he was in the early stages of his work. There was a point where the interviewer asked how he was able to be so successful when he was dealing with the challenges that come with building a company and working with family. I remember it clearly, "I just take the emotion out of it." In the moment I was like, "WHAT?" Who can just "take the emotion out of it," just like that? This was years ago and I was still in the stages of exploring whether my husband might be a robot or just really out of touch with his feelings. If you're wondering, it's true. We enter this field to help heal other people's problems and our own.

We were eating dinner the other night and I brought it up. We both had a good laugh. "Yeeaaah, that was wrong", he says. Since that interview, we've experienced plenty of growth with many emotions to accompany it. I brought it up because I was remembering how absurd and spectacular it sounded. "Wouldn't that be nice?", I fantasized mid-chew. "If I could just cut this knot out of the center of my chest, that would be amaaaaaziiiiiiing." I can't even remember what it was, but clearly, something had been stressful that day and I really wanted to put down my emotions the same way I put down my keys. My husband has owned his own life path and company for a few years more than I have. He looks at me and goes,

"If you're going to do your own thing, it never stops. You just get better at it." 

 

My mind wanted to latch onto the "it never stops" part. But my soul could feel relief in the truth that "you just get better at it." I had witnessed the evidence of that first hand. It made me remember that my coach had asked me to list my greatest accomplishments of 2017 and one of them was: I effectively held my emotions and human ego in self-compassion. I gave myself a well deserved pat on the back for all the dang work I put into being aware of my emotions so I could let unhelpful feelings simmer and keep my focus on my big audacious goals. 

One thing I hear a lot from my clients is a desire to tame their emotions so they don't get overrun by them. They want less reactivity when they run into issues with their partners, they want to sleep better after a difficult interaction at work, and they want to doubt themselves less when it comes to stepping outside of their comfort zone. Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who is an ambitious business owner and entrepreneur about how he has managed to evolve in his capacity to move through emotions when having difficult conversations at work:

 "The feelings don't go away, but you just get more comfortable having that feeling and operating anyway. You just don't get frozen or paralyzed about it. You just feel that stuff and do it anyway. You start to think, 'I've been here before, I've felt this before, and I've gotten through it.' It's never like, 'I just love having to be the asshole that holds people accountable!' Just because I don't like it and it's uncomfortable doesn't mean I don't do it."

 

Whoa. HOW KILLER IS THAT?? I immediately started writing that down as a reminder to both myself and every other human being on this planet. I know the truth of this incredibly well, but some things you just have to hear a thousand times before it starts to sink in. The feeling can seriously suck sometimes, but it's just a feeling. It will pass and you will get through it. Just because it feels sh*tty and annoying, don't let temporary emotions stop you from moving into places of growth that require discomfort. 

If you're wondering about how to start a new process in your relationship with your feelings, start with working on becoming aware of them. Therapy is like strength training. It's a process and you build up over time. We start by helping you better understand your mind, how you tick, and gain new strategies for how to engage with your world. As a team at Modern Therapy, we're huge advocates of mindfulness and talk a lot about strengthening our client's capacity to be the "Observing Self." If you want to start settling down the emotions that come up for you, begin a practice of gently noticing what you're experiencing. This will help you cultivate a healthy capacity to recognize what's moving inside of you. That way, you can make a more conscientous response rather than dive head first into reactivity. It's an absolute practice and it requires a shift in your mental lifestyle. The practice doesn't mean your feelings go away, they'll just become less severe and distressing in your experience of them. Your core self will remain intact as you notice the experiences that move around you. It's no surprise so many ambitious and driven people take the time to meditate every day. They have bigger sh*t to deal with.

If you're a skeptic of the mindfulness meditaiton movement, here's a final point to bring it home. I was reading an interesting dialogue last week by The Atlantic between Matthieu Ricard, a molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, and Wolf Singer, a neuroscientist as they discussed their new book, Beyond the Self:

"So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace."

Sounds pretty epic to me and a solid encourager to get back on my daily meditation practice. On that note, a mindful break is calling my name.

Yes feelings, less problems.

- Dr. B

 

Let's Not Figure It All Out At Once

"I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Life is a beautifully complex, miraculous, bastard of a thing. It's funny. When I was in my early 20's it was my assumption that adults had things in order. After however many years on the planet, surely they had a grip on things. Right? I was mellowing into my well-adjusted 30's and discovered the truth: we are still learning the things. My 40-year-old friends insist that they are also still learning the things. They still experience episodes of cluelessness. Bouts of existential sadness and anxiety that wakes them in the darkness of the night. There are still chapters of their lives that are best titled, Beautiful Disaster. Well, that's hopeful. Just when you think "oh yeah, I got this" and laugh in life's silly face, you get reminded: adulting is hard. 

Many years ago, I was told by a master clinician of anxiety and depression to never ask a client to do anything I wouldn't be willing to do myself. I honestly don't know how hard he lived by that, but his words embedded themselves into the sternum of my ribcage. I have lived by them ever since. Therapists are people too. We Love, we hurt, we try, we fail, we f*ck up hard, we try again. As far as I'm concerned, it's part of my unwritten job description to live like hell so that it can best inform me how to attune to my clients' experiences in the world. I need to know life intimately if I'm going to do a lick of good. I need to bury my hands into my life and knead it into something I can be proud of. I need the self-awareness of a ninja. The kind of thing that can only be cultivated by life experience, intention, and an excellent therapist. 

I went to the Lumineers concert the other night. Kaleo opened up the show and they were absolutely epic. Knocked my socks off. I wasn't quite prepared for what the Lumineers brought. Like a surge, a flood of memories arose that I associated with particularly difficult times in my life. Times of loss. Times I've stumbled through my own mess. Times I've feared losing the things that mattered most in my life. Times I've suffered in the painful silence that high functioning people know all too well. They sang and I shivered in my seat as the words rang through my bones.

"don't hang your head, love should make you feel good"

A couple of girls danced in the pit; clearly having drank too much. They danced with a youthful freedom and clumsy innocence. I could recognize parts of myself in them. They looked like such happy little fools; suspended in their tiny world. My chest grew warm with compassion and sadness for the less wise parts of myself that had to learn some lessons the hard way. I looked at them with well wishes on their path as they danced in the dark like tonight was the only night that existed.

"Make your mothers proud"

I was sitting with someone close to my heart the other day as she sat in a pool of tears. She was in the middle of a time of growth - which is often cloaked in bad life choices and paired with things we didn't know. Things we couldn't have known until now. She ached for the clock to heal her heart. To get the learning over with already. Wisdom hurts and awareness isn't cheap. We've all paid the price. I thought of the liver spots on my therapist's hands. The way he adjusts his hearing aids in session as he leans his ear towards me. I wonder about the stories he's lived through. The wisdom he carries. The Life that he's lived in all its mystery and surprise. I wonder if his learning of the things has tempered now or if he still has moments when the tectonic plates of his mind shift in new perspective he never had.

"I was blind, now I see"

Dear reader, we come into this world blind. Life unfolds slowly. Be compassionate with yourself as you move through the world and learn the things. Listen intently to what your life is trying to tell you. Give yourself some time to reflect and choose your next step wisely. And for the Love of Pete, don't figure it out alone. If you're going to be a ninja at life, you're going to need a someone that knows the path well. Someone who has the skills and know-how to help you see. Someone who nods with an empathy of a life well lived.

Warmly, your fellow life traveler,

Dr. B

Let Your Darkness Speak

I bent over and leaned my elbows on the desk. I nibbled on the back of the pen in contemplation. It was a simple enough task. 1) Write your name on this name tag 2) Name one moment that drastically changed your life. I have such a hard time with this kind of thing. The answers that immediately came to mind didn't seem socially appropriate. Oh hey, I'm B. Nice to meet you. I was forever changed the day my mom died. It was slow and sudden and it split me in half. It's a beautiful day, right? So I picked something that was both true and safe instead: Hey, I'm B and my life was changed the day I kissed that boy. I pressed the little sticky tag to my shirt and went about my way.

The room was filled with visitors within moments. We were hosting an event held by Creative Mornings. It was this past Friday at HumanHQ, my other work home. If you aren't familiar with this organization, you need to change that on the immediate. I have attended CM talks at every opportunity. This dedicated group hosts speakers from various fields (generally creative) to share their story with the aim to bring insight into their process and inspire. I will never forget my first talk. It was from a recognized, award winning cinematographer by the name of Ryan Booth. The advertised photos of him were spectacular. He looked like such a badass and was clearly rocking it out in a way I could only dream of. He walked up to the crowd and adjusted his mic, surrounded in eager gazes. I can't recall what he said word-for-word but it was something along the lines of, "Hai. So.... I don't know what I'm doing most of the time." What followed was an incredibly honest story of vulnerability and the willingness to transcend the ego for the sake of empathy: the place we create our most honest work. People. I fell in Love. I left that talk feeling warm with humanity. 

This time, the talk was a little bit different. We cozied up on couches and chairs. The candles flickered in intimate anticipation. Our speaker was Linda Geffin, a lawyer who spent a lifetime fighting against human trafficking and advocating for survivors. She shared her story about being silenced on a quiet and unsuspecting afternoon. At least they tried to silence her. She was beaten and left for dead on her kitchen floor. The room was still in collective breath for her. She shared about her struggle to feel safe in the world again. She read Victor Frankl's Mans Search For Meaning, one of my favorite books. It taught her about her own power. It taught her that no could take away her capacity to choose how she reacts. She had the ability to choose her attitude in any circumstance. It was something her attackers couldn't strip from her. So slowly, painfully... one step at a time, she entered into the world again. She left us with the wisdom she gained: At some point in your life, you're going to experience something that challenges you to the core and shakes you alive. You don't have to wait until something drastic happens to you. Start now. Be in the present moment. Make room for gratitude. This one moment is the moment we have.

I met up with her afterward and we shared a hug. I am always so taken by people's stories. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people name their darkness as their primary source of life fuel. We don't talk about it very much in the open. Hell, I felt it just hours earlier with my name tag. The hesitation. The flinch of my pen that said: you shouldn't go there. I'm not going to lie to you. When we talk about our darkness, it takes people to another place. It's deeper, and yes, heavier. But it's also because it's so rich with truth. It made me think about our relationship to the shadowy end of the emotional spectrum.

I was reading an article from New York Magazine this morning that proposed an interesting perspective on the darkness that is depressed mood. There is so much left to be discovered about the human condition in regards to depression. I'm a humanistic psychologist, so while I do believe clinical depression is a very real disease, I also believe that for the vast majority of us, we experience bouts of normative sadness that comes with living. I think it's in our best interest to use this as an opportunity to listen to what our emotions are telling us about our life. The article brought about the idea that evolution may have a part to do with depression (more scientific insight here). I'm not sure if you know this or not, but when you go into a period of darkness, it tends to lift naturally on its own with time. The idea is that maybe we're designed to experience moments of darkness so that we can enter into that state of introspection and gain renewed insight on our way out. The article quotes Iron John in this beautiful excerpt: one must "go through the door... immerse himself in the wound, and exit from his old life through it." I shared with Linda about my loss and how it's shaped my desire to create authentic spaces for people to feel something real. I'm a firm believer that the unexamined life is tragedy. Getting in touch with our internal world is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. It's where all the knowledge lies. It's where we come alive.

I took my time this Saturday morning. It was a warm day that begged to be experienced. I stepped onto my deck, feeling the warmth of the wood and its rough grain beneath my bare feet. I laid down on my back and watched the trees bend in the wind. I had gotten off the phone with my dad a few minutes prior. He reminded me that in a few weeks it will be 5 years since my mom's passing. I have this moment. This one moment. I could feel grief flush through my body with a gentle heat. My eyes welled with its brief, tearful visit. A bird soared high above me. And I smiled.