It's Not About Willpower
Whatever your reasons, here you are, wanting to drink less over the next couple of weeks. Good for you! Alcohol (Al, as I like to refer to it) likes to be in control, convincing you that just one more drink (or two) isn’t a big deal, you can drink less tomorrow. Maybe, when tomorrow comes, you’re tired of regretting those moments. Maybe you just want some control back. With the many gatherings alcohol is served at during the holidays, not to mention how it is used for stress relief during this crazy time, Al can get the upper hand if you aren’t intentional about how you want your relationship with it to be.
What I’ve come to know is that having control over alcohol is not about willpower. It is about changing your mind. It’s how you look at what drinking does for you (your subconscious beliefs) and wanting something different. Among many other things, Al affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for judgement and decisions. Your best chance for success is having a plan before Al hits your brain. Lastly, making changes to your relationship with Al also requires acceptance, self-awareness, and self-love. Often, since there isn’t one right answer, it takes time to figure out what’s right for you. Here are three things to consider doing in order to help you stay a little more sober this holiday.
1. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: What Do You Want MORE than a Buzz?
I will admit that much of the time, one of my goals going out was to get my grove on. Even though I wasn’t always aware of it (this speaks to my subconscious belief that I needed alcohol to have fun) I often wanted that “WooHoo!” let your hair down kind of night with drinking.
If your intention is to stay in control, limiting yourself to a glass or two, deciding what you want before you head out will increase your chances of making better decisions. This step involves going deeper.
Spend some time envisioning what you want the evening to look like, to feel like. In coaching, we have a tool that can help. It’s called the Clear Inner Focus Table. In using this table, we start with being clear on what you don’t want to be feeling and experiencing, putting it on paper. Then, we use inspiration and imagination to focus on what you do want to be feeling and experiencing, followed by having one small step to get you there (see a sample of table started below). Maybe you DO NOT want to be sloppy, more drunk than your friends/family, forget parts of the night, and feel embarrassed. Maybe you DO want to feel healthy and engaged, to be able to get up in the morning feeling good, to be a good example for your kids, to avoid some of the crappy things you occasionally say, or you simply wish to be able to remember the night. Being clear about what motivates you, what you want more than a run-away night of drinking helps to bring you closer to this goal.
Download the table here (password: normalhumanstuff).
2. UNDERSTAND HOW ALCOHOL WORKS AND PLAN AHEAD:
- Understanding that the brain and the body strive to maintain homeostasis, or balance can help us to understand the feelings we have in relationship to drinking alcohol. Alcohol causes a release of dopamine which allows us to experience a wonderful feeling for about the first 15-30 minutes after we drink it. That’s what I craved. The brain and body set about their work to balance this effect. As we metabolize the alcohol and the brain balances the dopamine, we start to crave more in order to keep that wonderful feeling going. You have another drink. Dopamine is again released, but the effect is slightly less, and as you metabolize this second glass, the craving (ok, my word, maybe desire, whatever) returns. At some point, if you continue drinking, there is no way to get back to that same feeling first experienced in the beginning of the night, yet the desire to drink may still remain. Chasing the buzz if you will. The physiologic response is way more complicated than we have time and space for in this little article, but the point I wish to make is that there is a physiological reason for your feelings, your cravings. Know that you are just reacting to your dopamine levels, the thing that pulls us toward addiction and let the craving pass. Personally, this helped me to acknowledge that my desire was just about my dopamine levels, and I could let that go. Knowing this was all it was also allowed me to know that this too shall pass. I didn’t have to listen to it.
To help ease this dance, I recommend that you prepare before you go, so that you slow down the physiologic process.
Eat a good snack or meal with protein, fiber, and fat. Yes, that changes the high, but isn’t that the point?
Hydrate! Drink water and have it on hand so you don’t always mindlessly reach for the wine.
Be prepared with some fun mocktails or an NA drink you enjoy as a spacer while you are riding that urge, even if you have to bring it with you.
3. BE CURIOUS AND MINDFUL:
To make moderating your night out easier, you may want to practice something called mindfulness. Listen to your self-talk. What are you telling yourself? Are you focusing on how the night is going to be boring, annoying, or whatever your story is because you’re not drinking (as much)? Have you already decided it won’t be as fun? Or are you excited about being able to really be present with those people or engaged in whatever activity is planned? You may be surprised by how much space thoughts and feelings about Al take up.
- Stay in the moment and be curious. Can you enjoy yourself by focusing on what’s around you, the people, the food, the music? What do you like and NOT like? Let yourself explore! How does it feel?
It’s easiest if I give you an example. When I let go of my belief that life isn’t fun when I don’t have a little buzz, I am able to experience in “real time” how I feel. I focus on enjoying the conversations I’m having, the people I’m with, the music or the food around me instead of (the need for) the drink in my hand. It is about being present, which isn’t always easy when you’re drinking, but a practice worth looking at if you wish to create change in how you see fun (I wrote a blog that tells the story of finding fun at a concert called “I Walk Alone” ). If you engage with how you feel about the night, the people, and the activity you are there for, you can find freedom from the need to drink more, the belief that THAT’s where the fun lies. If you believe you can’t have fun without a buzz, just notice that. It’s good awareness and may be something you wish to investigate to create more ease in your relationship with Al.
Remember: This is a practice, meaning it takes practice. Add patience and a lot of praise for your efforts! Chances are there will be successes and not quite successes. It’s ok, change takes time. Clearly you care about your health, and you know that it’s important to you to look at this relationship. Following that gut instinct, looking at the hard stuff deserves much praise.
While addiction may not be your problem, it still helps to remember that alcohol is an addictive substance that has woven its way into the fabric of our culture, and therefore paying attention to it a worthy cause. We are all different and changing our relationship with it can be tricky. Our physiology, thoughts and experiences are individual to us, so comparing how we feel and behave to how others feel and behave in this situation is not helpful. Why it seems like others can take or leave how much they drink is not relevant. First, because you don’t really know what they are thinking and believing, but second, because it causes unnecessary stress, judgement, and suffering. Instead, focus on yourself, the only person you can change and what you can do to find peace, joy and happiness this holiday season. And of course, if you find you need more support, please reach out, I’d love to help.
More about Tracy: https://clearinnerfocus.com/about/tracy-kummer/
Find out about how coaching with Tracy can help you develop a better relationship with alcohol: https://clearinnerfocus.as.me/schedule.php?appointmentType=2606614