Julie had a question for her Facebook group. She had gone 45 days without a drink and felt great about it, but decided on day 46 to have a glass of wine. She went back to not drinking on day 47, but at day 52 was still haunted by the glass of wine from the prior week. Was it okay for her to continue counting days from where she left off, or did she need to zero out and start fresh? She wanted an official ruling, and several of the responses confirmed what she was worried about – yes, she would need to restart at Day 1. She was discouraged, but agreed to start over.

For some, counting days like this serves them well in reaching their goal. But for others, it can be an anxiety-provoking, self-defeating approach that robs them of their progress and becomes a weapon to bludgeon themselves with when they don’t “follow the rules.”

If you are in this latter camp, instead of counting days, try counting unanswered urges. An unanswered urge is a craving that we allow to come and go without acting on it or resisting it (i.e., white-knuckling). This is important because each unanswered urge helps rewire your brain. When you are in a drinking habit cycle, your brain is conditioned to expect a reward (alcohol) in response to an urge. By allowing an urge to go unanswered, you begin to teach your brain not to expect the reward and, eventually, the desire will extinguish. (To learn how to allow an unanswered urge see my earlier post, “The Secret to Surviving Your Next Craving.”)

Allowing is different from resisting in that you are welcoming it in, noticing what it feels like, and breathing through it. Eventually it passes. Resisting an urge bottles up the desire and creates pressure. It’s hard to sustain. Think of it like a beach ball that you are trying to hold under water. Eventually your arms get tired, you let go, and it shoots up.

I recommend documenting allowed urges on a chart or in a journal. Here are a few things to note about each experience:

· Date and time

· Intensity of the urge on a scale from 1-10

· What did it feel like physically? Where was it in your body – jaw, chest, stomach? Was it hot or cold? Heavy or light?

· What does it feel like emotionally? Like restlessness? Anxiety? Anticipation?

· How long did the peak of it last? How long did it last all together?

· What was happening when you first noticed the urge? What thoughts were you having?

Be patient with yourself because it takes time to dial in allowing versus resisting. It gets easier, and by the time you make it to 100 allowed urges your relationship with alcohol will be very different. If you decide to drink off plan, don’t restart your count. The progress you have accumulated is still there. Just pick up where you left off.

Are you having trouble getting traction with your drinking? Sign up for a free consultation, and I’ll teach you how I help my clients drink less by wanting it less (no shame, no labels).