I was watching a programme recently about micro-pigs that turned out not to be so micro after all and were wrecking their owners’ homes and lives as they turned into full-on piggies far better suited to an acre of mud and woodland than a domestic home, however adored they were.
It rang bells for me. By the time I stopped drinking it did sometimes feel like I was living with an out of control animal that was wrecking my life. I didn’t have an overgrown micropig but my out of control animal was definitely a PIG – a Problem of Instant Gratification around my use of alcohol.
How did I get a PIG?!!
Now, I wasn’t born with this PIG, I didn’t acquire it as a result of childhood trauma. No-one crept up in the middle of the night and dumped it on my doorstep with a label round its neck saying “ Please look after this PIG”. Oh no. I spent a lot of time, money and effort growing my alcohol PIG and it eventually got to the point where it was already doing damage and I could see it was only going to get worse. It was no longer a cute little piglet, it was a big hairy boar. And I’m not the only one. Like adoring pet owners many of us grow PIGs that eventually hold us hostage in our own lives, and here’s what I think is going on….
Drinking alcohol is like a lot of other behaviours, including some healthy ones, which can go from something we enjoy but don’t do to excess, to an addictive habit which is hard to manage and has negative consequences.
According to SMART Recovery, behaviours become addictive when they:
- Are the result of a pattern that becomes a ritual or habitual (and yes, the Friday evening G&T or post kids bedtime glass of wine counts here)
- Become stronger each time you do them
- Involve short-term thinking in the pursuit of immediate pleasure to feel “normal” or to relieve discomfort or distress (as in I need a glass of wine to chill before I go out with other people, or go into that interview or make that presentation …)
- Incur long-term costs such as damaged relationships or serious financial hardship (and don’t underestimate the damage to your relationship with yourself as well as the effects on relationships with others; the disappointment and self-loathing that can follow getting into a cycle of dependency and addictive behaviours.)
The addictive behaviour is reinforced when we’re stuck in the repeating pattern of responding to our triggers and giving in to the urge for that first drink. A trigger can be anything, a smell, a time of day ( Friday evening, getting home from work etc) an image or sound – anything that triggers that desire or urge to drink.
The Problem of Instant Gratification – PIG
The pleasure or relief we feel when we give in to that urge makes us feel better or “normal” for a while but it also reinforces the pattern and strengthens the habit – and this is the PIG, the Problem of Instant Gratification.
It’s an insidious process. No-one plans to become dependent on or addicted to alcohol or anything else but it happens frighteningly easily. Our harmless, enjoyable behaviour that starts off as a cute little micropig, something that’s a bit of fun and easy to cope with, grows day by day and if we don’t notice and take action, we can end up with a monster rampaging through our homes and lives causing damage and chaos wherever it goes. For a long time we might still see it as our cute little piglet with the long eyelashes and make excuses or try to accommodate it by building it a house in the garden and trying to keep it out of the house but in reality, we have an alcohol-fuelled PIG running about.
So, have a look at our overgrown micropig. If its owner told you it was all going to be OK because they could turn in back into the dinky little creature they first had by training it and putting it on a diet, would you believe them? You wouldn’t would you?
Fully grown animals do not revert to being the cute little babies they were any more than people do. The PIG is fully grown and will stay that way. The only viable option is to get rid of the PIG and replace it with positive behaviours that provide genuine pleasure and rewards without becoming addictive and repeating the cycle.
If you’d like to know more about SMART Recovery you can go to: https://www.smartrecovery.org.uk/
More advice and support is also available from a range of other agencies including:
Alcohol Concern: https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/
and Soberistas: https://soberistas.com/