How to beat the alcohol illusion

My last post looked at How to stop alcohol cravings, so I want to go back a little bit. Back to my post Why do people drink so that I can beat some of the myths around alcohol and reasons for drinking.

Normalisation

It is difficult in our society to escape from the normalisation of alcohol but things are improving. Many pubs now have a huge selection of alcohol free beers, soft drinks and mocktails. Supermarkets are expanding their alcohol free offerings. Sainsbury’s are even opening a low alcohol pop up pub, fair enough only for two days but…‘times, they are a changing’! Whether you agree with the sober curious movement or the sober wellness trend, it is all helping to de-normalise alcohol.

Alcohol was so normalised for me and it wasn’t until I became immersed in the sober world that I found the normalisation didn’t affect me anymore. I had a new normal. Now I am asked less and less why I don’t drink and my reasons aren’t questions as much. I’ve mentioned this before but it is so important I’m going to talk about it again! IMMERSE YOURSELF!

Read quit lit, as much as you can get hold of! My recommendations are:

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Link to sober blogs – especially mine obviously (!) but other good ones are:

Find sober communities to link to, these are widely available on Facebook but some good websites are:

There are so many Ted Talks, podcasts and webinars available if you do a simple internet search.

The information you need is ACCESSIBLE and FREE! The more immersed you are the less normal it seems.

Accessibility

When you are first starting out on your sober path, make it easier for yourself by making alcohol less accessible. I removed all alcohol from my house initially. My Love, who never drank very much anyway, said he would also not drink – he was definitely the champion I needed. It was strange initially not being able to offer guests an alcoholic drink, and I’m absolutely sure some people visited less because there wasn’t one, but now it’s OK and guests know they’ll be offered diet coke, rose lemonade or a HUGE array of teas!

This all changed a little further  into my sobriety. We have some alcohol in the house now, my husband very occasionally drinks. My family still drink lots, so family events are full of alcohol but it doesn’t bother me now. I know I will never drink again and I know that I don’t want to – sometimes they forget I’m not drinking so I always bring my own diet coke just in case! 

Another important thing at the beginning is to avoid places where alcohol is readily accessible; especially if these places are a trigger. Even if the place itself isn’t, the likelihood is that being surrounded by alcohol is going to trigger you. A trigger is the second part of the habit process and,  as I mentioned in How to stop alcohol cravings, we have the replace our habits and secure the new neural pathways associated with the new habit. If you expose yourself to your triggers before you have done the background work, you are relying on willpower alone, and I don’t know anyone who is happy sober who has relied on willpower alone. So give yourself a break, and until you are more secure, avoid your triggers.

Social Pressure

The idea that you cannot have fun or celebrate without alcohol is a dangerous and nonsense ILLUSION! Let’s look at this in more details

Fun?

While the first drink might be fun, what happens after that? Watch and listen to people who have drunk too much. Everything slows down in their brain so they start talking loudly and more slowly while repeating themselves constantly. They start being cocky, arrogant and boastful. Later they can’t walk properly and vomit all over themselves. I’ve seen numerous people wet themselves after drinking too much. I’ve seen people being abusive to other people, to police, ambulance crews, doctors, nurses. I’ve seen arguments, fights, assaults, domestic violence, homelessness, illness and death all related to alcohol. Does that sound like fun?

Hangovers – fun?? – need I say more?

But how will I have fun

Find what makes you happy and do that. If it’s been alcohol for too long, find what used to make you happy before alcohol, and try that. Some of my fun things are reading, dancing, eating, walking, cycling, climbing, yoga and water – being in it, on it or by it! And I now have so much more time and energy to do these things.

Ask those you love to try other things for fun. Try to find a happy middle ground. There are some people who will completely refuse. There are people who will try to divert you from your path. Often people struggle with the fact that they will lose friends on their new journey. It is true, there are probably people you will lose, but you have to bear in mind two things

  1. Did those friends have your best interests at heart? Don’t you deserve friends who do?
  2. You will gain so many more friends on your new path who will be similar to you,
    have the same interests and make it so much easier for you to stick to your
    resolution

But how will I celebrate?

I wondered this over and over again before I quit drinking. So many people who have quit say that they no longer celebrate – but doesn’t this depend on your definition of celebrations? Is alcohol so ingrained that no booze means no celebration? I have found that my celebrations are pretty similar. Good food, good company, good conversation. Maybe I glam up a little less, but I also know that when the children are older and I get out dancing more (which is my ultimate celebration!), I will glam up again.

There are so many cultures all over the world that do not drink, and I guarantee you that they are not walking around miserable and not celebrating or having fun.

But nothing will be fun because I’ll always be craving

You absolutely do not need to spend your life craving alcohol once you stop drinking! I genuinely believed that I would never be happy if I quit drinking because I would be feeling deprived all the time.

When I did Dry January, 3 months before I finally stopped, I was craving like mad and it was awful. But when I stopped for good 3 month later, the cravings had completely gone. I was as surprised as anyone but it is because of all the work, immersing and habit replacing that I did in those 3 months. If you are worried about cravings, please read my post How to stop alcohol cravings to find out how to quit alcohol and be happy sober.

Two good books to help to shatter you the alcohol illusion are the as follow, but you don’t need both because they are very similar.

 

Social anxiety

Everyone has social anxiety on some level. We are brought up as children to be wary of strangers and to stick around people that we know. We cannot suddenly expect that as adults that conditioning will vanish! It doesn’t help that as teenagers and young adults, trying to find our place in the world, we haven’t found our self-confidence yet, and it is usually at this time that alcohol finds us and tricks us into believing that it gives us confidence. It doesn’t, we just depress our brain function so we don’t care as much. But how many times have you been too embarrassed to return to people or a situation because of what you have done when drunk? Surely we are just enhancing our social anxiety in this way?

A few things to remember when approaching a social event:

      • Many people will be as anxious as you are!
      • If they are drinking, they probably won’t remember anything you say anyway!
      • Lots of people like talking about themselves so just give them an opening!
      • You have people in your life who love you, so what other people think does not matter

Ultimately though, swap I ‘should’ go to this social event to I ‘could’ go to this social event. Then if by saying ‘I could’, you realise you don’t want to – question why and if you can’t overcome those reasons – DO NOT GO! Or go and leave early. There is nothing anywhere that says you have to do anything! Protect yourself, do what makes you happy. If you need alcohol to make a situation OK, then maybe that is not a situation you want to be in.

Bear in mind, as with anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Socialising and small talk is no different to anything else in this respect.

If you are an introvert, embrace it! The world needs balance. It is unfortunate that we live in a world that celebrates extroverts, but not everyone can be an extrovert and we need both. Find those people like you, because I promise there are lots of them out there! Miranda Hart, a brilliant comedienne, is also a well-known introvert.

Susan Cain talks brilliantly about being an introvert. Watch her TED talk or read her book The Power of introverts in a worlds that can’t stop talking.

Pleasure

Alcohol may give you a temporary feeling of pleasure, but as anyone who drinks know, this does not last. It often gives way to anxiety, guilt, fear and remorse.

It most definitely DOES NOT make you happy.

What makes you happy might be the situation you are in and the people you are with.

Picture this really common trigger. A beautiful summer day, picnic benches outside a pub by a river, sun shining, breeze in the trees, beautiful people in beautiful clothes chatting, drinking, eating, relaxing, carefree and enjoying life. What can alcohol add to this? Surely the sun still shines, the breeze still blows, the chats still happen and the beautiful clothes are still worn without alcohol? You may say that alcohol helps you relax, but wouldn’t this situation be relaxing anyway? And wouldn’t it be nicer to have enjoyed that day and go home clear headed, no headache or nauseous feeling, able to do things with the rest of your evening?

Do we use the situation as an excuse to drink or do we use alcohol to give ourselves permission to relax?

Alcohol adds nothing to that situation, so there must be something else. If you aren’t enjoying the situation without alcohol then maybe it is not a situation you enjoy naturally. I realised after drinking that I hate BBQs. I hosted them, went to them, drank through them, pretended to enjoy them, but I really didn’t! So now I don’t do them. Way too much delicious food in the world to burn sausages on a fire!

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Instant gratification

I think many people drink because it is so quick to give you the sensation of pleasure or relief from stress, upset and frustration – whatever your reason for drinking is.

Whilst it is true that nothing gives you those feelings quite so quickly, we can get around this.

Exercise, say a 4 minute Tabata routine from You Tube, can get those happy hormones flowing – it may not be immediate, but 4 minutes isn’t much to ask!

If you need it at the beginning, sugar can have a similar effect.

A short meditation or breathing exercise can reduce those stress hormones. To be honest, I struggled with this one because when I’m properly pissed off, I find it hard to relax with a short meditation, but it’s coming with practice.

And if we keep up with our new healthier habits – exercise, baths, reading, yoga, meditation (OK, diet coke and sugar are not healthy but they are better than alcohol!), then our periods of stress will be fewer and we will know how to deal with them without needing that instant relief.

Ultimately, delayed gratification has been shown time and again to be far more pleasurable than instant gratification!

Escapism

I know I drank to escape. Massive escapism! I drank because I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings.

I am not unusual in having feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, frustration, disappointment, excitement, fear and loneliness.

We are escaping from the feelings brought on by bad past experiences, present experiences, parenting, unhappiness as work, loss and feeling trapped.

The lists can be endless, because feelings are a part of life. More often than not, we are escaping because we don’t know how to just be us. To be honest, I am still learning how to be me, but that is OK because by learning to be me, I am learning to like me, just me as I am, and that makes all the difference in the world! 

Something I discovered quite early in my sobriety was that so many of these feelings were exacerbated by alcohol. I used my (non-existent) Latin blood as the reason that I shrieked, shouted, argued and cried (all the time!). I am a Sagittarius; it’s my birth month that makes me fiery.  Instead of trying to slowly change anything to make a difference, I would fight and kick against the unfairness of it all. If I made a change it had to be dramatic and huge, therefore unrealistic and unsustainable, so it would fail and I would be back to the feeling that life was against me. I was comfortable in my uncomfortable roller coaster of emotions.

I still am a bit fiery (My Love might say more than a bit), but now that I am comfortable in my sobriety, those feelings have so much less power over me.

I’m going to talk about escapism more in How I used alcohol to escape and How to build a life you do not want to escape from, because it is such a huge topic.

Cutting down

I am probably going to lose a lot of reader by saying this but I have to. Cutting down is so much harder than stopping completely. Cutting down will do nothing but extend your misery. I ‘cut down’, ‘moderated’ and ‘controlled’ my drinking for 12 years. I didn’t want to stop completely because of all the myths, which I hope I have tackled above. The neural pathways for your alcohol habit are formed and well-trodden. Although we can reroute pathways and build new ones to better, healthier habits, unfortunately the old ones do not disappear. So while we feel we might be OK to ‘have just one’, ultimately, it is very easy for the brain to slip down the old route and reawaken the old habit. You may not believe me now, but please know that for most people, moderating is not an option. You can live an amazing, happy, fulfilling life that you may have only dreamt of, if you accept that alcohol has no part in it.

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