Years ago I started to take a closer look at my drinking. I didn’t like how it made me feel and I questioned what I was role modeling for my kids. None of the mainstream solutions spoke to me, so I put together my own. Today it’s the framework for my work with clients – allow cravings to go unanswered, investigate and change underlying beliefs about alcohol, and learn to manage your mind. I’m thrilled to be talking about all of it on the latest episode of the Becoming Virtuosa podcast (episode 18)! Please check it out on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.
Do you really believe it’s possible to change your drinking? I mean for you. I’m sure you believe it’s possible for others, but do you truly believe it’s possible for you?
If not, it’s likely that you’re waiting for some evidence before you believe. But where does evidence exist? The past.
So if your past is a string of starts and stops, attempts and giving ups, well…you see the problem.
The belief that something is possible is a prerequisite for doing it. Otherwise, we’re left living in the land of “I’ll try.”
So what are you supposed to do?
Practice believing now. Believe without past evidence. You’ll need to borrow the evidence from your future.
As luck would have it, I’ve talked to your future self, and here’s what she wants you to know:
Eventually, you drop the story that your drinking means something terrible about you. You come to understand that it’s just a learned habit that, with the right tools, is completely unlearnable.
You learn to keep your word to yourself. Not every time at the start, but with thoughtful practice, it becomes as important to you to keep your commitments to yourself as it is to keep them to others.
You realize that cravings aren’t as unbearable as you thought they were and you learn to watch them come and go until, eventually, they don’t come anymore.
You build up your emotional resilience muscles so that all the big and little things that were getting leaving you wanting to take the edge off at night just become the facts of your day.
All of that’s available to you. Once you truly believe it’s possible, it’s yours for the taking.
Do you have a laundry list of negative drinking consequences you use to keep you motivated to change?
Does your resolve keep failing you anyway?
Before you conclude that something is wrong with you or that you have an irredeemable character flaw, put your Big Why – the reason you want to change – to the test.
Is your reason to change your drinking more compelling than the reason to keep things as they are?
Reflexively most people will say that their reasons to change are rock solid. But if your reasons are just a Greatest Hits compilation of the negative consequences you’ll avoid by not drinking, they may not stand up to the big reason to not change – that alcohol provides quick and easy, albeit temporary, relief from uncomfortable emotions.
For example, if the reason you want to change is to eliminate hangovers and regret, but drinking gives you nightly relief from the pain of a disconnected marriage, your compelling reason probably isn’t going to hold up.
Does this resonate? If so, it’s time to boost your Big Why.
Start by identifying all the ways alcohol made situations easier for you. Did it help you feel like you fit in? Did it help you relieve stress at the end of the day?
Then make a list of all the reasons you want to change. Make sure you aren’t using shame to motivate yourself (I make a fool of myself when I drink). Shame is a short-term motivator at best and usually leaves you feeling helpless and seeking relief (from alcohol perhaps!).
If a side-by-side comparison shows that your reasons to change come up short, dig a little deeper. Take your most compelling reason and then ask yourself why that is important to you. Repeat this until you uncover a reason that truly moves you and sees you through the restlessness of change.
I don’t want to wake up hungover anymore.
Because I’m grumpy when I’m hungover.
Why is that a problem?
Because I feel annoyed by my kids more easily.
Why is that a problem?
Because I want to be a patient mom and enjoy their company?
Because it helps me feel connected.
Not feeling hungover is great, but feeling connected to my kids is everything. I’ll take that over the discomfort of an unanswered craving anytime.
What? You’re not drinking?
C’mon, you’re not going to make me drink alone, are you?
You’ll drink again eventually though, right?
But you don’t even have a problem!
I don’t trust people who don’t drink.
Sometimes the thought of facing these questions and comments when we’re first trying to change our drinking makes us want to hide.
For some, these types of inquiries bring up a host of negative feelings – self-doubt, guilt, embarrassment, shame, defensiveness, defeat….
We think if we had the one perfect retort we could control what other people think and we could feel better.
But it’s not other people’s opinions or words that provoke these unpleasant feelings. It’s our thoughts about what they say that causes our suffering. That’s because their words are reflecting our own worries, doubts, and judgments about our decision to change our drinking.
If we’re worried that drinking less or not at all means we won’t be as much fun, or we’re ruining their good time, or that we’re weird, or there is something wrong with us, we are going to be sensitive to other people’s opinions. They’re revealing to us our own insecurities.
And that’s okay. That’s normal. Especially when we first start out and aren’t feeling entirely sure of ourselves or our decision.
But instead of isolating yourself to “protect” against their judgments, just try watching your own reaction. There’s a wealth of good insight there that will point in the direction of obstacles that could potentially trip you up.
And then get curious about why they might be making those comments. It’s probably because they don’t want to question their own drinking, or can’t imagine having fun without alcohol, or consider drinking an important part of their identity.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but if you feel like giving them an answer I suggest the simple truth.
How come you’re not drinking?
I don’t feel like it.