The Unconscious Mind And Alcohol Addiction: Part 1: Liminal Thinking
In order to begin exposing the unconscious mind, we need to talk about the way in which personal experience ties to the unconscious. Perhaps you’ve heard the ancient story about the blind men and the elephant. Three blind men are brought into a room with an elephant and each man touches a different part of the elephant. One touches the tail, one the trunk and one the side. They are asked what they are touching and they begin to argue about what it is. The one touching the trunk believes he is touching a snake, the one touching the body a wall, and the one touching the tail believes he is touching the rope.
Each blind man is saying what he believes to be true. And their experience proves it. Since we tend to trust our experiences implicitly it is easy to see how the argument started. Of course the truth is that none of them are correct. They are all experiencing a part of reality and therefore forming their own, in this case very different, opinions.
Gray explains how we only see and experience part of true reality and no matter how many experiences or observations we have our brains are not powerful enough to experience and observe everything. Gray states that upon those relevant experiences and observations we make assumptions and from those assumptions we draw conclusions and from those conclusions we form beliefs.
Things we ‘know’ to be true are not actually formed upon reality, but on reality as we have interpreted it from our experiences, observations, assumptions and conclusions. With alcohol this is exactly what has occurred. There is a huge amount of belief that we collectively hold that is not built directly on the foundation of reality.
These beliefs can include:
- Alcohol provides enjoyment
- Alcohol provides relief
- Alcohol is key to social situations
- A party can’t really be a party without booze
- Alcohol makes us funnier or more creative
- Alcohol can relieve our stress or boredom
- For some it can be hard if not impossible to stop drinking
- The very definition of alcoholic and alcoholism
These beliefs can be particularly difficult to change for several reasons. One such reason is that we unconsciously self-seal them by seeking things that are congruent with them. This is also called confirmation bias which is defined as a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. Confirmation bias in regards to alcohol comes in many forms including the media, the other people you drink with and your internal rationalizations . A great example of confirmation bias are the sayings about wine you can find hanging in so many households. Some of my favorites were:
- It’s not drinking alone if the kids are home.
- We have too much wine, said no one ever.
- It’s not a hangover, it’s wine flu.
- I cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food.
- Wine! Because no great story started with someone eating a salad.
The kicker is that these beliefs are so ingrained in our minds and our society, and so repeated self-sealed, that they have been programmed into our unconscious. And our unconscious controls our emotions and our desires.[iii] By definition the unconscious is not readily accessible or easily changed.[iv] We need a specific process in order to dive into the foundation of our beliefs, examine them and therefore change our perceived reality.
So what happens when your experiences with alcohol start to contradict your bubble of self-sealing belief? Perhaps your experiences are no longer wholly positive and you start to question your drinking. Or maybe you hear new information about the harms of drinking.
Gray says that one of the ways we make sense of these new ideas, that don’t fit with our current beliefs, is to look for external validity. Can we take the new information and test it out to prove its merit. The problem that we often, especially in the case of alcohol, don’t make it that far. This is because the new information or idea doesn’t have what is called internal coherence; it doesn’t fit with what you ‘know’ to be true. And because it is lacking in internal coherence you willunconsciously reject before you even have a chance to consciously consider it. This happens all the time. We both consciously and unconsciously disregard information we don’t want to hear. And when we do this we never have a chance to see if this new information is indeed true, we never move to test it against reality. [v]
Why does this happen? Because we like certainty, it feels safe. Gray says this unconsciously behavior helps us deal with the realities of life, many of which are uncomfortable. It allows us to outsource some of the fear that comes in confronting certain truths. Reality is uncertain and uncertainty causes fear. We try and protect ourselves from this fear by staying inside our bubble of belief until something happens that we cannot ignore. At that point we are forced to confront reality.
For me it was one hangover too many; being unable to function during the day as a result of my heavy drinking at night. There was a point where I could no longer ignore that alcohol was affecting my career and my relationships. This forced me to confront the new information that said wine was not the joy juice I believed it to be.
But, at this stage attempting to drink less was practically impossible. Why? I had a huge bubble of self-sealing belief around my drinking. I believed that alcohol enhanced my creativity, made me more outgoing and funnier, was key to enjoying social situations, was vital for a night out, relieved my stress at the end of a long day and comforted me when something went wrong. For all these reasons giving up drinking felt like an incredible sacrifice, similar to the loss of a close friend. These were beliefs I had never previously questioned, which had been built up over a lifetime of experiences, observations, assumptions and conclusions.
These beliefs were things I knew to be true, that I felt to be true. I truly felt that I would never be able to relax without a glass of wine. I honestly believed that social situations would boring and miserable without drinking. Even when I realized these beliefs were illogical they still felt true because they were embedded in my unconscious. And these feelings were much stronger than my logical, conscious reasoning. As Gray says “construction of belief is not something we do consciously, its something we do unconsciously.”[vi] In the illustration below you can see how everything shaded in below the line of our beliefs represents the things we are not consciously aware of.
So what can we do? How can we explore what is actually real and in the process change our unconscious beliefs that alcohol is the ‘elixir of life’ to fit with our conscious desire to drink less? We need to bring the unconscious experiences, observations, assumptions and conclusions into conscious thought. This will change your unconscious helping to free you from your desire to drink. And this is scientifically proven as scientists now realize that the brain is able to change and adapt in response to new experience. This is a process called neuroplasticity. [vii]
Through the process of illuminating your unconscious foundation of belief we will be able to influence your unconscious mind. To do this, I will logically and critically provide you with ‘Liminal Points’ regarding why you drink. These will help to expose your beliefs, assumptions and conclusions with methodical, factual and rational arguments. which you will question and evaluate. I attempt to strip away misinformation and present new concepts that you may not have considered. I hope to give you the tools to discover your own truth, your own reality. To understand that the snake you think you are holding might really be the trunk of an elephant.
If you are interested in reading more about how your unconscious affects your drinking habits read the book here: This Naked Mind
If you would rather listen check out the Audio Program Here.
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