Big Baby

Most alcoholics, and I suppose most addicts,  are pretty self-centered. I certainly was (and probably still am — but I’m working on it). We spend so much time figuring out when we’re getting our next drink, organizing all social events so we can drink, and eventually, when things start to go off the rails, hiding our drinks and making all sorts of excuses about how we MUST drink in order to be the happy, friendly (wife, friend, mother, coworker) we always thought we were (ha). Everything is about ME and my next drink.

And worse than that is what one of my AA friends calls the Big Baby Syndrome. We meet every set-back, fear, social awkwardness, discomfort of any sort with, you got it, a drink We also drink when we are happy or celebrating. Basically, any emotion is met with a drink. We never learn to feel, we just learn to drink to — and over –our feelings. Like a big baby, when we are at all off balance, we start crying for our bottle.

So when we quit drinking, suddenly our go-to response to any feeling is taken away. We have to sit with our big-baby selves, and feel. I truly think dealing with all these feelings, which for me manifest as crazy-making anxiety, is why it is so damn hard in the first few months of sobriety.

I was greatly helped in those first day by a great technique from the Buddhist tradition for this called RAIN (See Tara Brach’s explanation here). I won’t explain this in the detail the article goes into, but the idea is to sit, for me in meditation, and experience the emotion as a physical sensation, not identified with you — a physical sensation which, like absolutely every other phenomena in life, will move on (notice I just snuck the Buddhist notion of impermanence in there?).

So for me, here’s how it would work. Lets say I was hit by a massive craving. I would try to go sit someplace peaceful (eg., not a bar). Then:

Recognize (R) it (“Oh, that’s a craving alright).

Accept (A) it. One monk I love says, welcome it with open arms. Give it a hug, and say, oh, your poor dear, this craving really hurts. Let me rock it and soothe it like a baby (you would not, I hope, give a baby gin)).

Investigate (I) it — what does it feel like physically (is it a burning in your chest? Your throat? Is your head pounding? To what beat?) DO NOT try to figure it out (this is because I am a worthless drunk with low self-esteem) and DO NOT think of solutions (If I drank, it would go away. One drink wouldn’t be so bad). Pretend it is a feeling that floated over from your next door neighbor — it is HIS craving, and you are just trying to describe it so you can report it as lost.

Then, in most cases, as I scrunched up my eyes and tried to locate the exact place in my chest the flaming ball of fire that is craving was located, the craving would start to pass. I would realize, it is something that I observed, and it is NOT ME (N, non-identification).

This helped me so much in my first months. And here’s the great part for the budding Buddhists out there. This ability to observe and detach from our feelings — without trying to get rid of them is or smother them in alcohol or some other distraction — is the beginning of a serious practice, one in which we open our eyes to what is real versus the smoke screen thrown up by our over-active, ego-driven minds. But that is another post…



15 thoughts on “Big Baby

  1. I’m going to try this as well. I have noticed that I tend to feel ‘put upon’ by the adult demands of everyday life sometimes. I know now that instead of processing emotions, I just try refocus on something else … anything else. And the baby bottle is no longer an option. The book “The Untethered Soul” encourages having emotions pass through you, but there was no explanation on how to do it. Thank you for the technique!

  2. I definitely need to try this, and read more about it. I suffer from anxiety sometimes, it’s usually when I stop drinking and start focusing on my health then convince myself I have some terrible disease. The idea of the physical feeling being seperate and not connected to me, that it won’t last sounds very helpful. Thank you so much.

    • Until I started seriously meditating and using techniques like these, and especially before I was sober, I was the biggest hypochondriac on the planet. Seriously, every time I would walk out of a bathroom, by husband, without even looking at me, would say “it’s just a mole.” The irony is that, when I was drinking, the only disease I didn’t decide I had was the one I did: alcoholism.

  3. Brilliant! I did a similar (but different) thing. I got as far as visualising the craving and seeing it as something distinct from me, and something impermanent. BUT I visualised it as the wine witch who had to be beaten and starved into submission. You, meanwhile, had your baby who had to be loved and calmed!

    I think that makes you a much nicer person than I am!

    Hugs xxx

  4. Thank you for sharing. Another useful tool in my sobriety tool box and all. Like another said, now just have to put it to work and do it!

  5. I loved this so much i linked it in my post yesterday. And favourited the page so I can find it in future when having a wobble.

  6. I relate a lot. I was a big baby (still am really). But I’m getting better in sobriety. I’ve heard the term King Baby to describe it as well. I’m glad I found your blog. I’d like to add it to my site so new posts will appear there if it’s OK with you. I write through
    Thanks for this. A lot to think about here.

    • Thanks Mark! Feel free to link with me — I’ll put you on my blog roll as well. I love the truck picture on your home page. Where was it taken. It looks a lot like Taos NM to me, but maybe those mountains are too big?

  7. Catching up on my blog reading and had put a note that I needed to read this because of all the comments I read about it on other blogs. It is a keeper. I’ve noticed that a lot of women decide to confront their drinking problem when they hit their mid to late 40’s. I think,we, being the vain creatures we are, decide about then that drunk really doesn’t look good on a 50 year old. We finally decide to grow up. And, you’re right, it’s hard because we’ve never learned to deal with our feelings. It’s so easy to run back to that bottle.

    We made it! We’re finally growing up.

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