I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the ties between drinking and low self-esteem, the inextricable link that connects excessive alcohol consumption (known to depress the central nervous system and cause serious chemical imbalances within the brain, resulting in depression and anxiety) and feelings of low self-worth and reduced confidence.
We live in a world that presents us with a multitude of false ideals and unrealistic goals, prizes that are laid just out of reach but always close enough to keep us desperately working to possess them.
The dangerously unrealistic media ideal of who each of us is, whether a teenager, a mum, a grandparent, a husband, a wife, a man or a woman, is plastered onto the adverts, films and TV programmes, magazines and newspapers which circulate our daily lives and infiltrate our comprehension of ‘normal’ at every turn. It can be an inordinately difficult task to reject such societal norms and rest comfortably in our own skin, safe in the knowledge that we do our best each day and are happy with our lot – modest though it may be.
For someone who has the added vulnerability of poor self-esteem, for those who spend their days struggling to feel up to scratch, unworthy of anybody else’s respect and simply unable to measure up to what they believe is expected of them, this unattainable illusion of perfection serves to grind them down, deeper and deeper into the mire of insignificance.
Alcohol provides an obvious respite from such self-loathing – its immediate (albeit temporary) effect of false confidence and its canny function of ameliorating the day’s worries and concerns make it an easy remedy for the pain of feeling not good enough. Knowing that alcohol is so readily available adds to its perennial charm, it’s inviting and reassuring calling from the shop up the road all too easy to hear as the day draws to a close.
The trouble is, as I discovered to my detriment, alcohol very quickly undergoes a character transformation when you drink too much of it; from confidence-booster to kicking you whilst you are down, shoulder to cry on to slap around the face. The things you do when you’re under the influence, and the things that you don’t do when you are under the influence, very slowly build up and induce feelings of self-hatred. Too much alcohol makes lazy underachievers out of us, preventing us from pursuing anything worthwhile, as we are more often than not drunk or hungover. And the unattainable versions of whom we think we should be, the pictures in the magazines and the people on the big screen, they become further and further away from who we are, rendering us lost, drowning in a sticky mess of negativity and hopelessness.
And when self-confidence is then so reduced, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold onto any sense of what is real and what’s not; the line between truth and make-believe is blurred and without ever really noticing, we slide into a dangerous game of drawing unfavourable comparisons between who we think we are and what ‘everyone else’ is. Except they aren’t that, they aren’t what we think they are – they are just not suffering from chronically low self-esteem and terrible anxiety attacks. The short bursts of false confidence that arise after a drink provide confusing snapshots of who we think we are; the fun-loving party animal, the vivacious, flirtatious sex bomb, the deep and interesting conversationalist who holds everyone in raptures as she talks confidently about all sorts…where is she in the morning?
She is nowhere to be found – as real as a ghost, a puff of smoke escaping through an open window.
With a clear head and a healthy, balanced mind, the differences between alcohol-befuddlement and a normally functioning brain are sharp and vast – the world is suddenly viewed through a sparklingly clean window, rather than a tainted lens coloured by smears of dirt. Without alcohol, the world is still a place in which we can sometimes be made to feel slightly below par, but it is one in which we have a fighting chance of retaining our sense of self, of forging emotional wellbeing and personal growth. When we are no longer poisoning our minds, we allow ourselves to be who we are meant to be – we cease to fight against nature.