P1020725Dear Michael:

I have been with my partner for several years’ now. Our sex life isn’t great, but everything else is good. Last week, I was out of town for work, went to a bar and, after too many drinks, ended up going home with this hot guy. I woke up the next morning in his bed, thinking, “If my boyfriend knew I did this, he’d leave me.” What do I do now?

Dear Michael:

Everyone thinks of me as this really nice guy, always sweet and patient. And I am…except when I drink. Then, after 3 or 4 drinks, I become really mean and cruel to everyone around me, even my best friends. What’s wrong with me?

Dear Michael:

I love my boyfriend and we are good together, except when we go out to the bars. Then, after a few too many drinks, I increasingly want attention from other guys and it makes my boyfriend crazy. Do I need to stop drinking?

People love to blame their problems on sources other than themselves. It’s not much fun to take responsibility for our problems, is it? And yet, it’s really the only way to make changes that last.

Some people decide that they drink too much, so they resolve to drink less. Sounds good, right? Except, it often doesn’t work. Why? Because they haven’t figured out why they drink so much. Like the above drinkers, they think that their “normal” (non-alcohol) life is good – or good enough, anyway – but that, for some reason, when they drink, they become these cheating, mean, attention-seeking people.

I would say that all of the above three drinkers are kidding themselves in one way or another: they’re pretending that their non-drinking life is just fine, when, obviously, it’s not. You may be able to kid yourself that:

Your sex life with your partner is okay (when it’s not)

You really are this nice, sweet person (when you’re not)

You get enough attention from your boyfriend (when you don’t)

You are, in essence, lying to yourself. And alcohol, by lowering your inhibitions, shows you the truth. And you don’t like it.

Sure, you can blame this on alcohol and stop drinking. But, that’s just putting a band-aid on a dirty, deep (psychological) wound. That wound will never heal unless you rip off the band-aid and clean out the infection (which, of course, is no fun).

I used to work as a barback when I was putting myself through college and I have clients who bartend in some of the best bars in San Diego. One of the wisest of them recently told me, “Alcohol is like truth serum: it shows you who the person really is beneath their happy, shiny façade.”

Wow, that’s quite a statement. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but the man has a point: for most people, alcohol lowers our inhibitions, and – as a result – we allow aspects of our personality to surface that we usually hide, suppress or deny.

Truth serum, indeed.

So what do we do about this? We could start by admitting to ourselves that we’re in denial about parts of our life that really aren’t going so well.

Perhaps, as drinker #1 writes, he’s not happy with his sex life with his partner, and by pretending he is, he’s not doing anyone any favors. If he doesn’t address this problem honestly and directly, he’s on a path to sabotaging his good thing.

I would imagine that drinker #2 wants to express anger about things in his life that aren’t okay with him, but he doesn’t know how to…unless his old friend alcohol is there to help.

And drinker #3 may not have worked through his need for attention. He may pretend that he has when he’s sober, but, when he’s not, it leaps out and takes control, much to his (and his partner’s) chagrin.

Luckily, this stuff is all very workable. The alcohol is merely showing us the wounds that we’re pretending are healed, when, in reality, we’ve just been changing the band-aids. As the title of this column says: “It’s not the alcohol; it’s you.” It’s you that can clean out your (unresolved) problems so they don’t haunt you any more. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have a couple of drinks and not turn into some unpleasant version of yourself?

You can do it. Get help, clean out your old (psychological) wounds and make it a really good new year.