Over my 18 years as a psychotherapist, one of the most frequent issues my clients bring to me is a concern about their drinking, or perhaps their drug use. There is a wide range; some people don’t have large problems with drinking or using, but they have some concerns about it after a particularly “eventful” weekend. Others have been self-identified alcoholics and addicts who are in recovery with more severe problems. Many times, the client will express a doubt, or even a curiosity, on if they “have a problem”, and if so, to what degree, and then of course, what to do about it.

One of my favorite techniques to use in that discussion is to have the client pretend that the bottle (or the pipe, bong, straw, etc.) is a person whom we can converse with. Sometimes I liken the bottle to “the mistress” we’re having an affair with (I use this term even with gay men, even though it’s a little heterosexist). When we imagine the bottle as having a voice, and a mind, we can sort of “converse” with it in our mind. We can ask the bottle questions, and it can tell us things. It can tell us about our relationship.

Imagine the bottle saying, “Here’s the deal. This is what I demand from you. Once a day, you use me with your dinner for a couple of glasses of wine. I enhance the meal, go great with your steak, and you don’t feel much effect from me. “

That’s not such a bad scenario. Would you stay in a relationship like this? Probably so.

Here’s another. Imagine the bottle saying, “I got the best of you last night. You were only going out for a couple of drinks, and you ended up having 6 of me. You stayed out 2 hours longer than you said you were going to, and the next day you slept in instead of going on that hike with your buddy. You also spent 3 times more at the bar than you had budgeted for this week. That undermines your savings plan for the new car. And you have a headache all day today and a slight queasiness.”

What do we say then? Hmmmmm. This relationship has problems. I’m not sure this is the one for you. You can do better. This relationship needs counseling if it’s going to work.

Now another. Imagine the bottle saying, “You know what? You lost your driver’s license over me, and you’re using me so much that you’re going to go into work today and your boss is going to fire you for being late or absent too much these days. You’ve depleted your savings on drinks and bartender tips. You feel like crap today because you’ve been hugging the toilet half the night. Oh, and it’s a work day, remember. You can’t get any work done, but you have to show up anyway, because, you know, it’s a big day. You’re gonna get fired today. But I appreciate all the attention you’ve paid to me lately; I feel like I’m the only one in your life.”

Get the picture? This is a relationship that needs an immediate and permanent divorce. And the law offices of A&A would be happy to help you negotiate the terms of that divorce.

You could say the same thing if your bag of coke could talk to you. Or your crystal pipe. Or your bong. Or your needle. Or your blackjack table. Or your Barney’s credit card. Or your food plate. Or your bathhouse.

So, think about it. What are these items “saying” in your life? Is this a good relationship, based on moderation, fun, affordability, and manageable health impacts? Or is this a relationship based on a critical and demanding mistress who’s never satisfied with what you give her, no matter what?

Relationships take a negotiation of commitment, regular communication, and developing a set of compromises that you can live with.

So — What’s your relationship to the bottle like?

For help with this, I’m here for you.

Author's Bio: 

Ken Howard, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in West Hollywood, California, where he has over 18 years experience treating thousands of men and women in recovery. He is available for in-person counseling or phone counseling in California, and phone coaching outside of California. He specializes in working with gay men and with people living with HIV, but sees clients from all walks of life. His websites are www.HaveTheLifeYouWant.com and www.GayTherapyLA.com.