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Check yourself before you wreck yourself
June 6, 2011 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Help me break this shame cycle.

Almost-30 female here and I've recently realized myself to be in the middle of a really bad shame cycle of self-destruction that I really could use some help breaking. I've always had my act together - financially, emotionally, have a good job, great friends, etc.

I have managed to find myself on a slippery slope however and I need some advice on how to break out of this awful cycle. I went through a really bad break-up about 4 months ago, and looking back, I think that's what could have triggered all of this. Essentially, I'll go out/stay out entirely too late, get entirely too drunk and then either wake up next to some guy who I barely remember meeting, or wake up alone but worried that I did something really stupid the night before, even when nothing did happen. That's pretty much the extent of it. I know I'm still really hurting from this break-up and he did things to me mentally which are difficult to overcome. I can't afford therapy right now, unfortunately.

I know the easiest answer to this is to just curb the alcohol and keep a head on my shoulders, but it's tough staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, especially when most of my friends are all married up and stuff. No one is around to hang out anymore because they're all busy having kids and real lives. I've tried joining meetup groups to meet new friends where I live, but they don't seem to happen often enough. Being alone sucks, and it's so hard to make new friends. I've tried breaking the cycle by hitting the bookstore, or signing up for cooking classes by myself which seems to work. I still have my moments though, and while these nights are becoming fewer and farther between, there's a new concern.

I met this guy several weeks ago and we've seemed to hit it off. However, this weekend we went out drinking together and I'm worried/anxious that I may have done something stupid that I don't remember. I'm trying to play it all off as if I didn't do anything, but what if I did? I don't know where this anxiety is stemming from exactly, but I really need to break out of these feelings of being self-destructive, when I know I'm probably just on the mend. I'm worried about getting involved with someone though...I just don't know if I can put my heart through this again.

Any advice on how to break out of this, or tips on being alone as an extrovert, or even getting to the point of trying to love again would be really helpful. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
You'll get a lot of answers here about depression and therapy and AAm but I have a very practical one to start out with: start scheduling activities for early Saturday and Sunday morning. If you have a yoga class to go to, or a friend to meet for coffee, or a kid to babysit, or a hiking club to go out with, then you won't be able to stay out late drinking on Friday or Saturday.
posted by yarly at 12:23 PM on June 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'd suggest a good gym and a good restaurant. Go to a Friday night spin or yoga class and have a hard workout, then treat yourself to a nice dinner (and no more than 2 glasses of wine) at a place where you're a beloved regular. It's easier to become a beloved regular by coming in on a not-weekend night and having dinner at the bar.

Subscribe to the newspaper of your nearest large city, scan the listings, have something fun planned for yourself on Saturday. It's great that you're realizing this as a problem, you can turn it around! Good luck to you.
posted by cyndigo at 12:28 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


From what you've written is really does sound like you need to stop drinking. You're blacking out. That means you need to stop. You can look for all sorts of other actions to take, but if you're blacking out you need to stop drinking, end of story.
posted by alms at 12:29 PM on June 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


If you can't just stay home and entertain yourself and you really have to go out drinking and you aren't able to stop before you get raging drunk (and thats not a judgement, I know some people have very little 'tipsy' before their judgement is compromised and they end up blind drunk) alternate your alcoholic beverages with water or other non-alcoholic drinks. If image is a problem order 'virgin' versions of your usual beverage.
posted by missmagenta at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2011


Drinking heavily always makes me feel ashamed the next day - it's part of the hangover. However, really not remembering what happened is blacking out, and that's not ok. Maybe ask this nice guy is anything happened, and when he says no (which he almost surely will if he's still talking to you), ask him if he'd help you out by doing some fun non-drinking things next weekend, like a movie or something.

Also, even expensive pay-fully-yourself therapy isn't that pricey - depending on what you're drinking, your bar tab could pay for therapy. Don't rule out sources of help, if they could help.
posted by ldthomps at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2011


Sheesh, I was going to write a question almost exactly like this. I guess I'll talk about what I spent the weekend thinking about and maybe it'll help?

Here is what I'm going to do:
#1 I made an appointment to talk to a doctor finally. A lot of what you describe up there is anxiety, both in the "I have to do something" and then "Oh god, did I do something wrong?"

#2 The second is stopping drinking for awhile. My nights are few and far between, much like yours, and I spent a few days thinking about what I was like when I drank. Even though I am apparently fun and happy while doing it, ALL of the things I later regret doing (mostly random hookups) are because I drank. I don't want to be that person. Therefore, I must stop drinking until I can decide how to safeguard against myself. Because while drinking... every now and then... I know I just won't.

It's not like I'm destroying my life, but drinking and staying up too late so I'm tired for work (or even go in late sometimes) is not who I want to be. Hooking up with strangers and then when they're asleep feeling this horrible feeling of emptiness and despair is not who I want to be. Feeling anxious because I don't think I'm good enough even though I have family, friends, a good job and love? That is why I am seeing the doctor this week.

So if you're going through that and want to memail me, go ahead. Sorry if this just came off as rambling about myself, but I thought hearing about someone else going through a similar problem might help.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The easiest answer is not controlling the alcohol. It's the hardest. Not drinking, and learning less dependent ways to interact with others is hard. You may or may not have an alcohol problem (there are many, many ways to compulsively abuse alcohol), but you are definitely using it in a manner that abuses yourself. Whether it is causing you to act in ways that make you unhappy by bringing your guard down, or whether you are using it as an excuse to act out because [I was drinking and can't *really* be held responsible], it is dangerous cycle that can take over your life. Don't skip the hard answer because it is hard and 'you're not an alcoholic'. You won't like where this pattern will take you if you let it become your life.

Agreeing with people who say get a hobby. Or two or three. Also, invite people you know to things. Yes, it's hard when people are starting to form families: Hanging out with three people when you really only want to see one is...different. But it can be rewarding once you get used to it. It also usually takes planning: Once you get away from two friends meeting up, things require more notice. --because more people are involved. Also, if friends have kids, it's essential to plan something kid-friendly, because the Moms & Dads are more likely to bite and better able to function in kid friendly environments like buffets & parks & other kid-friendly places. It's not that your friends don't want to see you anymore, it's just that their focus has changed. If you can adjust to accomodate that change, you will get to see these married/with kids friends more frequently.
posted by Ys at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's possible to go out on a Friday or Saturday night without drinking alcohol.

I stopped drinking several years ago, and kept hanging out with people who did. The coping mechanisms I developed were to... I will still have an occasional drink sometimes, but that let me hang out with my same social scene without the effects I was concerned about, and gave me an interesting different perspective on the social interactions I was a part of.

That doesn't solve the "other things to do" problem, I think Ys has some good suggestions up above, but it helps you get a better perspective on what you're doing. And on the "other things to do", sometimes that's a matter of picking something you like to do, telling your friends about it, and then showing up, regularly, for months, until other people start to see that it's a regular recurring event.
posted by straw at 12:50 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Essentially, I'll go out/stay out entirely too late, get entirely too drunk and then either wake up next to some guy who I barely remember meeting, or wake up alone but worried that I did something really stupid the night before, even when nothing did happen.

Ah, this sounds familiar. The day after a big night out, I always wake up feeling totally ashamed of what I might have done or said, even when I was with good friends and I made it home safely and I know from a logical standpoint everything is just fine. I talked it over with a therapist years ago, and she pointed out that feeling depressed is actually a physiological response when you're hungover. Curbing your alcohol intake is a good idea and people have given you good suggestions about how to do that, but I hope knowing you feel ashamed in part because your brain is making you feel that way will at least let you go easier on yourself, the day after.

Personally, I have to get myself out of the house and doing something when I have a hangover, preferably having positive interactions with people. Otherwise, I spend a day lying on the couch and feeling bad about myself, even when there really is no reason I should feel that way.
posted by adiabat at 1:18 PM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I had my late twenties to do over again, I'd have started running instead of started going to bars. I'd have put $5 a day along with whatever money I'd have spent at the bar into a savings account I couldn't access with a debit card. I'd have fucked fewer men and gone to more pottery classes. I'd have volunteered with the adult literacy project or babysat kids after school. I'd have written every morning for an hour.

I'd have periodically emptied my savings to finance the occasional week by myself in Paris or Mexico or Greece or Portugal or China. Or I'd have saved it all and bought myself a nice place to live that I could call my own. I'd have learned how to bake. I'd have treated myself to a massage every couple of weeks. I'd have read more books, watched more classic films, and learned how to do basic repair jobs around my apartment. I'd have gotten to know my neighbors and hung out with them over a beer once in a while. I'd have hand-painted picture frames and flower pots and and knick knacks and given them to people as silly little presents. I'd have written more letters and cards. I'd have only bought good quality food and cooked it carefully for myself, and maybe a friend or two once a week.

I'd have talked with my mom more often on the phone. I'd have maintained friendships from high school and college. I'd have thanked mentors by buying them flowers. I'd have bought fewer items of cheap clothing that I didn't really like. I'd have never spent less than $100 on a pair of good, cute shoes for myself. I'd have gotten my hair cut and shampooed regularly. I'd have adopted a skin care regimen and drunk 8 glasses of water a day. I'd have taken care of myself the way I was waiting around for someone else to care for me.

But I didn't do all of that because I was depressed and drinking all the time and thinking romantic relationships were the end all be all purpose of my existence on this earth. They're not. They're a part of a happy life. One slice of the whole cake. Therapy changed my perspective on relationships and alcohol, and taught me that abusing either alcohol or sex or both is a signal that your pain has become overwhelming and unmanageable.

For what it costs for you to drink at the bar two nights a week, you could afford 50 minutes a week with a therapist. For the time it takes you to get drunk in the bar and have sex with the guy and get home the next day, you could watch a couple of movies, read 200 pages, make yourself a fine meal, and run a 5K. You could take a class for the sake of learning the information in the class, not just to meet other people. You could knit a sweater. You can do all of these things instead of going to the bar. If that doesn't sound possible to you at the moment, or if it sounds lame or dumb or boring, then I'd say maybe being alone with yourself makes you anxious. And for that, too, I'd say therapy is your best bet. Bear in mind that THERAPY isn't some sort of life sentence; many people see a therapist for a few months for a systemic issue and then get on with their lives, just like many people take a course of antibiotics or stop eating sugar for a while.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2011 [614 favorites]


For what it costs for you to drink at the bar two nights a week, you could afford 50 minutes a week with a therapist.

Exactly. Also, if you have a good job and are in good financial straits as you say, you can afford therapy. Even people NOT in those good situations can get access to therapy -- insurance, sliding scales, student therapists, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish I could fave TryTheTilapia's answer 1000 times.

Working out produces the same kind of brain chemistry response that having sex typically does (endorphin rush; dopamine/serotonin production in the brain; thrill of accomplishment/improved self-esteem) without any of the negative effects you're describing. Why wait until you get a REAL scare (unplanned pregnancy, robbed, arrested, fired after calling in sick with a hangover) to push yourself into acting on the impulse you already feel to change your behavior?

You say you've met a guy; after you've reassured yourself that nothing's amiss with him, plan your next few dates around non-drinking activities (volunteering, charity walk/run, museum lecture, and so on). After you've established a connection with him that you feel confident about (because you'll remember ALL of it) you won't have to worry anymore.

And realize that, if you were with your ex for a long time, you don't know who "you, single" really are anymore. You only know how to be "you, coupled." This is your chance to change all of that.

Do something that you love and makes you feel good about yourself whenever you're tempted to drink to excess or feel lonely. I find that the best "emergency brake" for my own self-destructive impulse is calling out-of-town friends and relatives I haven't spoken to in awhile to catch up. Pro tip: Keep calling until SOMEONE answers/returns your call. Being tied up in a conversation can suppress the urge to self-destruct, push the hour too late to go out and remind you that there's something else going on in the world. Plus, you'll realize how loved and missed you are - by those who matter.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:15 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


"...it's tough staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, especially when most of my friends are all married up and stuff. No one is around to hang out anymore because they're all busy having kids and real lives."

You know, I'm one of those married-with-kids people who can't go out much anymore. And I miss my friends desperately. I love it when one of them will come over to our house (either for dinner or later, after the kids' bedtime) to hang out, watch a DVD, & enjoy a few drinks or a pan of brownies. Maybe your friends are the same?
posted by belladonna at 4:35 PM on June 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


Maybe try staying in on the weekend and going out during the week. You won't stay out as late, and you'll meet a somewhat different breed of people--people who want to socialize, but not necessarily party into oblivion (therefore making it less likely that YOU will party into oblivion with them). Like, try going to a cool bar in your neighborhood on a Tuesday night with a book. Or see if there's a quiz night or a game night.

And make plans with your married friends for brunch/walking/shopping early on weekend mornings. They'll be up anyway because of the kids, you'll get a chance to catch up, and you'll have a reason to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:48 PM on June 6, 2011


anon,

you can't afford a therapist? but you CAN afford to drink enough to pass out weekly or more frequently? and you can afford to risk your life with STDs, sleeping with strangers, waking up in unfamiliar places?

just wanted to make sure I had all that in mind.

drinking, anon, is a decision. you can decide to keep doing it or decide to stop it. if the former, maybe reddit is a better place. you don't need much advice to perfect bad judgment. you're there, honey.

if a breakup is a convenient excuse for a binge, congratulations. you've found some plausible deniability. you should at least be happy for that. i'm drinking because i am sad, folks... not because i am too weak to stop.

it's amazing how many people post with 'problems', who want to deal with anything but the actual problem. this one sounds like a problem with drinking, and one can't reason with a drunk. there's really no sense in doing so.

sounds harsh, i know, but dammit... you are the one listening to that lizard brain and seeing the same consequences nightly/weekly, then wondering about how to stop it. you KNOW how to stop it. apparently, you don't want to.

stop it.
posted by FauxScot at 5:11 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Breaking up with someone in my late 20s triggered major weird anxiety reactions in me, fwiw, so some of this is totally to be expected even in the best-case break-up.

I'm still really hurting from this break-up and he did things to me mentally which are difficult to overcome. I can't afford therapy right now, unfortunately.

How are you processing all this? What you describe doesn't sound all that self-supportive. Are you journaling, meditating, writing emails to your old friends, reading self-help books, making art about AngryAuntie the cartoon character who knows just how fucking mad you are? Or something else to befriend and stir up your emotions?

I totally feel for you, having been a lonely extrovert at times. Podcasts are the best, as are second jobs.

Also though, it's worth distinguishing between lonely and "I'm itching to escape myself and not feel these awful feelings." If you have the latter, you might try reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron or some other stillness-oriented materials.

My advice would be to pick a new goal. For me it'd be to do yoga teacher training. I'd work a second job on weekends until I had the $1600 or whatever it took.

Good luck. Sorry about all this hard stuff you're going through.
posted by salvia at 6:08 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You're blacking out."

As mentioned, this is both scary and a textbook sign of alcholism.

You need a therapist, now.
posted by bardic at 12:14 AM on June 7, 2011


Being alone sucks - waking up hungover having no idea what you did the night before sucks more.

Why are you punishing yourself so much for your breakup - look after yourself and then you'll be in a better position to maybe have a relationship with this new guy.

If you have money to drink you have money for therapy to nip this in the bud now.
posted by mleigh at 1:02 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


TrytheTilapia and Unicorn on the Cob are both spot on the money.

You might have an major drinking problem, or you might just be bored and lonely and insecure and nervous, and trying to cover those with alcohol. Also, you're in a period of major life transition, and part of the humiliating 'flailing about like a gaffed salmon' feeling is down to that. You've had a breakup, which will make you go nuts and take risks to stop feeling so lousy, but you're also single and in your late 20's, which means that you're no longer socializing with a college-age crowd: everyone's married or coupled and then there's you. You need to figure out how to be a single adult.

There's lots of single older people, and we do pretty cool and interesting things that often do involve bars and alcohol, but involve other things too. The trick is to find us/them in your part of the world.

Some ideas:

Team sports (softball, soccer, hockey, volleyball, beach volleyball, running clubs, bike clubs, triathlon training groups); all of these pick-up leagues are usually excuses to have fun with other people, and usually involve a good deal of socializing.

Trivia leagues, dart leagues, pool leagues -- think of a bar game, any bar game, and there's usually a semi-organized group of happy geeks in any major city who get together to sit around and play -- usually Sunday/Monday/Tuesday, days when the bars aren't crowded.

Join something. A local gardening group. Community television. A choir. Amateur theatre. Theatresports or another type of improv.

Go to something: Bars host open-mike standup nights. They host poetry readings. There are groups like the Serial Diners, who meet for dinner at a different place every weekend. There are people who go to dance performances or art openings. There are groups who attend plays or movies. Pick something you like and that you'd actually enjoy doing even if you were in a relationship or had a vast pack of friends, and go find a group that does it. If you don't like any of the people in it, find another one. If there isn't one, start one.

Volunteer. Go work at the food bank, or get involved in political activism, or work behind the scenes for a major local festival of some kind. Get involved in a political party or a cause. Agitate. Fix something that's broken in your community.

Take night classes, again in something that interests you. Painting/drawing classes. Dance classes (tap, jazz, ballroom). Music classes: learn to play an instrument, or brush up your skills. Singing lessons. All universities and colleges have continuing ed sections, and you can take stuff from cooking to Econ. It will be you and a bunch of 60 year olds, likely, but you will learn something and you will enjoy engaging your brain.

Can you buy a dog? The dog park people are usually pretty interesting, and often do things together.

Also: sign up for dating services (plenty of fish, etc). Do things that DON'T involve booze. Parks. Zoos. Coffee. Board games.

I stopped drinking entirely the year I turned 40: I wanted to see if I could, and what a social life without mandatory alcohol consumption would be like. I discovered that after the first uncomfortable month or so it was fine: no-one noticed that I had a can of diet coke and not a beer. People remember your presence, not what you're drinking. If your friends require you to drink, they have problems themselves. I still drink, but in a very different way.

Welcome to the very cool world of the single adult. It's pretty interesting, once you get used to it.
posted by jrochest at 1:09 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of the comments in this thread, I wish I could favourite Belladonna's a thousand times. Especially when the kids are young, speaking with friends who don't have kids can be a welcome breath of fresh air because it's an opportunity to (pardon the phrase) reclaim one's adulthood, to stop being The Parents.
posted by Fraxas at 4:26 PM on June 7, 2011


If I had my late twenties to do over again, I'd have started running instead of started going to bars.

Interesting. I spent my 20s and late 20s doing all the things that you said you wish you had done. And I wish I had fucked more women, spent more time in bars, less time at the gym, put less money away for the education of the children that never came. The only thing I did do (and am still doing) that I wouldn't change and that you wish you had done was go on trips by myself or with one friend a lot. So, just goes to show you...grass is always greener.
posted by spicynuts at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


If I had my early twenties to do again, I'd never get back together with my ex-boyfriend just because I believed that if I was somehow able to be a better person he would start treating me with some kindness instead of like garbage, never start messing around with serious drugs, never fall in love with the dreadlocked drummer who was mad, (not really that) bad and dangerous to know, never get even more tangled up with drugs, crash and burn in my third year of university, and be more hysterical and miserable than I thought possible to bear. I'd also not have nearly the amount of wisdom I do now (I do have a bit, I think), or the amount of compassion, or the knowledge of who my truest friends were and are. My son might never have been born. I did the best I could with the weaknesses that I had to learn to manage and the strengths I needed to uncover. All of this leads to the following: Anon, you are in a bad place right now, but you are moving towards the rest of your life right now, with every breath. Everything that you experience has its part in making you the person you are, and the person you will be-- the one who has learned what is valuable and the one who can now choose a better road. We all make mistakes, because mistakes are how we learn. It's a cliche for a reason: it's true. Don't let fear or humiliation or shame stop you from getting help. And get that help.
posted by jokeefe at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You feel that drinking is helpful, because it gets you out and about, feeling all loose and uninhibited. In fact, the alcohol is making your problems worse.

It's increasing your anxiety and your depression, and isn't doing anything to help you move on from your breakup.

Blackouts are a major sign that you need to look seriously at your life. Therapy could be helpful - just make sure you look for someone who knows something about addiction. If you can't quite make the leap to getting in therapy, check out books in the self-help section of your local bookstore. One book I recommend a lot is A Place Called Self.
posted by jasper411 at 7:18 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


First thing's first: anyone worth their salt has had a period in their twenties when they drank too much and slept with unsuitable people, together with various other mishaps. I tend to think that this process is an important component of becoming the adult you're going to be.

And yeah, sure, when I was younger I couldn't wait to exchange the insecurity and neuroticism of my 20s for the relative savviness of a 30-something. HOWEVER, I only became the very happy 31 year old I am today because I had all those errors of judgement. I think it needs to be said too, that I think Spicynuts has a good point in saying that they wish they'd had more wild times. Conversely, think that TryTheTilapia's response is the kind of advice that - while well intentioned - is not advice for good living - Pollyanna-ish advice rarely is. Good living is making mistakes, learning from them and moving on.

So what have you learned? You're not holding your liquor very well. You're not happy with the outcomes of your evenings out. You're maybe a little bit lonely and a bit melancholy. Now that you know what you don't like, change things up until you find something you do like. I'd suggest a couple of things:

1) If you do enjoy going out drinking, drink two large glasses of water or soda inbetween every alcoholic drink: you'll get full before you get tipsy, and you'll sober up before you have your next drink.

2) Choose some big project to fill your evenings alone. One big project (not lots of small ones) that you can really immerse yourself in. That could be dedicating yourself to volunteering for an organisation, or it could be making a fuck-off-huge patchwork quilt, or it could be writing for the local paper (gig reviews are good - you can't drink if you have to write an article about the music!).

3) If you feel like you're up to it, you could consider adopting a pet from a shelter. Having a cat or dog to look after is a good way of enjoying solitary time, plus by adopting from a shelter you're doing a good thing (and if you don't feel up to adopting a pet permanently, you could look into fostering animals, or taking dogs from the shelter for a walk).

Just remember, this is a learning process - mix things up until they work for you, and before you know it things will most likely change for the better :)
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:32 PM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


I read an interesting book about creativity/art as a channel for feelings which otherwise turn destructive (gleaned from a previous AskMe and not disappointed). Nb, doing creative stuff is good for meeting people in their 30s who're not all taken up by job and their sick little nuclear families.
posted by yoHighness at 11:26 PM on June 11, 2011


Alcohol makes the recovery process worse because you are substituting a long-term problem (drinking) for what is essentially a short or medium-term problem (the breakup).

A rule of thumb is that it takes at least n months to recover from an n-year relationship. You can help this along by talking to close friends and journaling but above all don't sit around. You've got to literally work. I don't mean working on past memories and regrets. I mean working on what you're supposed to be working on, what you were born for. Come back to the passions in your life whether it's music, writing, sports, dancing and work really, really hard.
posted by storybored at 7:43 PM on June 15, 2011


...right up until the shampoo: You really shouldn't shampoo your hair that often, as shampooing increases the amount of oil the scalp produces and also leaves your hair less healthy, or coated in waxy crap depending on what kind of poo you use.
posted by armisme at 9:31 PM on July 11, 2011


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