My Alcohol Experiment: Day 15

Day 15 of The Alcohol Experiment: brain power, the three C’s, and reframing stress.

Phew! A lot of content here!

Realizing that the brain is powerful, flexible and resilient is critical in this and any journey where you seek to change an ingrained pattern of behavior. Annie Grace breaks this down for us clearly in this lesson, with what I’m calling the three C’s: conditioning, cognitive dissonance, and confirmation bias. She explains each of these concepts in the context of our relationship with alcohol, and promises us that “When you start to question your beliefs, you create space in your mind for new beliefs to be installed.”

How does this happen?

1. Conditioning

Conditioning means “teaching our brains what to expect in any circumstance.” If you expect ditching booze to suck, it will suck. If you expect it to be a positive and enjoyable journey, that’s what you’ll get. We are conditioned by ourselves, our communities, and our surroundings. When I first committed to Dry January, I expected to be miserable. And I was at first. But I started posting on Connect, and the positive feedback I received  changed my mindset. I started to believe that it was possible to not only survive Dry January, but to thrive living alcohol-free. And guess what – I did! I had an incredibly positive, productive, energized, and happy month. I am eternally grateful to Connect for helping me change my mindset and helping me recondition my brain. It felt like a miracle, truly.

2. Cognitive dissonance

This is the fancy term for the discord that many of us have experienced in our brains. “I love drinking, but I hate how it makes me feel.” Those of us who are doing The Alcohol Experiment and pondering cutting down on or cutting out booze have all experienced this sort of inner conflict with regard to alcohol. And this can be really painful! As much as I loved my cold glass(es) of Sauvignon Blanc every night, I absolutely hated how I felt in the morning. I felt trapped in that love/hate cycle, yet I didn’t break myself out of it because I believed that a life without alcohol would be terrible.

3. Confirmation bias

One way to deal with cognitive dissonance is via confirmation bias, or seeking out the answer to what you are conditioned to believe in order to cement this belief as truth in your mind. I have a little wooden sign that says, “It’s ok to wine a little.” I used to think it was cute and funny and I will freely admit that a mere glance at that sign enabled me to drink, quashing my willpower because, see? It’s ok to have a little wine, everybody drinks, it’s fun, and it helps you feel better! And the love/hate cycle continued.

Annie Grace recommends visualization as a tool for breaking down and reconstructing our beliefs. I also think that just doing The Alcohol Experiment, and reading Annie’s book and other material, can all help in the process of rewiring our brains to break the booze cycle.

Does anyone use visualization? I would love to hear about it!

I’m going to try this today because I am in an unexpected situation and I know that if it were 2017 I would probably be drinking by now. After our Easter celebration this morning, we were gearing up to head up to MA when my husband discovered a hole in one of my car’s tires. Long story short, he took the kids to see my in-laws and I am home, with my dogs. Alone, in my house! THIS NEVER HAPPENS. And – sorry honey if you’re reading this – I am loving it, y’all.

The 2017 me would use this as an excuse to start drinking early, which would stifle my productivity, make me sleep like crap and feel awful tomorrow morning. (Yet I am still tempted to drink – THAT is how ingrained my alcohol habits are! After all of this, everything I know now, there is STILL an instinctual part of me that feels tempted to open a bottle of wine. I won’t, but ugh!)

Instead, I am going to practice visualization today. I am going to think about my afternoon and all the things I want to do, and how I WILL get them done and feel great about that! I will think about my night tonight, making kimchi cauliflower fried rice with grilled shrimp, eating a pint of Enlightened ice cream, watching “Rise” and snuggling with my dogs, getting a solid night of sleep, being able to sleep in (!!!), and waking up tomorrow feeling fresh and accomplished. Now THAT, to me, is truly taking advantage of this miraculous day to myself.

A quick note on this lesson’s video because WOW, it’s a good one. Stress relief is one of the most popular reasons people drink. But guess what! Stress is NOT a bad thing! Whoa, what?! Trust. If you can learn to embrace stress and see it as an opportunity for learning and growth, you can enhance your productivity. Instead of “stress relief” think about “stress resilience.” If you can see stress as a natural part of life that is intended to make you stronger instead of defeating you, you will be more compassionate, happier, and better equipped to deal with future stressors.

This blew my mind and I am so thrilled to turn my understanding of stress on its head. Because how is it helpful to view stress as toxic? It’s just not!

The most stressful time in my life was when my stepdad lost his battle with colon cancer. It was an absolutely horrible time. But it shaped me, and re-shaped how I view my life. And I know that I appreciate life and all its gifts more than I would if I hadn’t gone through something so traumatic.

So, thank you Annie Grace, for another tool to add to my ever-growing kit.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 14

Day 14 of The Alcohol Experiment: how to be social whilst sober.

Oh man. This entry today made me think a lot about dating in my 20s. Every supposition Annie Grace makes is something I thought was my truth. Alcohol makes me more attractive, wittier, and more fun. Meeting new people is easier with a drink. I can’t let loose without alcohol. And definitely can’t date without it! Or so I believed.

I am an extrovert, and have always possessed enough social skills and self-confidence to be proud of how I present myself. Yet I still believed these things.

I wasn’t crippled by my reliance on alcohol in social situations. Sure, I made a fool of myself a few times (maybe more than a few) but I also had a hell of a lot of fun in my 20s. So, no regrets. Just gratitude that I am taking this journey now.

I met my husband when I was 26. We were set up by a mutual friend and met for brunch on a mild, sunny February morning in Manhattan. We ate a delicious brunch, during which I was jonesing for a mimosa but wanted to keep my wits about me so opted for an orange juice instead. We spent almost the entire day together, walking all over Central Park and talking for hours on end. It was one of the best days of my life. And what I never appreciated until now is that we were both totally sober the entire day. I got to know my husband (and he got to know me) in a completely authentic way, unmarred by booze.

I still remember what I wore that day (cowgirl boots!), and I remember feeling fabulous and confident. And now I wish I could go back and tell myself, “See? You don’t need alcohol to feel and be your amazing self!”

Well, better late than never. We don’t need alcohol to feel and be our amazing selves. How great is that?!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 13

Day 13 of The Alcohol Experiment: urge surfing and deconstructing the mommy juice myth.

“I need alcohol to handle parenthood.” Another day, another moment of (naked) mind-reading as Annie Grace tackles an aspect of drinking that hits home for so many of us.

But first: Surfing the Urge. Taking our cravings from mindless to mindful is a huge yet simple shift that can have a lasting impact on our ability to move past cravings in a constructive instead of destructive way. But it takes practice and discipline. And I have never been patient with things I’m not good at right away. So this is going to be a challenge for me.

Here’s how to surf an urge. When a craving strikes, take a moment. And ask yourself these questions:

  • What was I thinking right before the craving started? What was I feeling? What was my emotional state?
  • What am I thinking and feeling right now? How does my body feel physically? Am I nervous, sweaty, anxious, nauseated?
  • Are those thoughts and feelings true?
  • Would I feel better not thinking these thoughts? (Yes, this one’s rhetorical. Because of course we would.)

Annie promises us that the more we practice this – even if we give into the craving – the more detached we will become from our cravings. We will be able to observe them instead of mindlessly indulging them. And in that detached observation lies our power.

I need a LOT more practice with this. I still find myself feeling the need to “treat” myself or have a “moment for mama” multiple times per day. Chips, chocolate, wine – I want something that’s just for me because I do everything for my kids all day long.

This is my story. And guess what – it’s not even true! Because I DO get breaks from my kids when they’re in school. And I have my workouts, my volunteer work, my writing, activities that I enjoy and find fulfilling. I text friends and check Instagram and Connect throughout the day when I need a distraction or a boost. So I get PLENTY of moments for mama. My life is not the sleep-deprived frazzlefest it was when I had a two-year-old and an infant. I am more balanced now than I have been in years.

Yet my brain is programmed to replay my exhausted mama story, day in, day out, on repeat.

But I have broken the loop. I have a long way to go in dealing with cravings but I dig mindfulness and I believe in its power. Just gotta put in the practice!

Today’s video on alcohol and parenthood… so much to say. I never thought about the impact of my drinking on my kids until I read This Naked Mind. But this is now my greatest motivation to cut out my nightly glass(es) of wine. Because I don’t want my kids to turn out like me, spending two decades of life sliding down the pitcher plant. I NEVER want my kids to feel that alcohol has control over them. And I don’t want them to grow up with an image of their mom with a wine glass in her hand.

There’s only so much I can control. But there is so much I can control. As Annie concludes her video, “We’ve been doing the best we can with the information we have. And now we can do the best we can with the NEW information we have.”

Information is power!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 12

Day 12 of The Alcohol Experiment: WILLPOWER!

Willpower is a finite and exhaustible resource.

I cannot stress enough what a revelation that was to me when I first read it in This Naked Mind. Willpower is a FINITE and EXHAUSTIBLE RESOURCE. Running out of willpower does not mean you are weak. OMG! I am not a weenie! I am not a weakling! I just have a zillion decisions, big and small, to make on a daily basis and by the time I get to the end of the day my willpower well runneth dry.

What a relief, what a weight lifted, to know that there is scientific evidence proving that willpower does not offer free refills.

Is this a major lightbulb for anybody else?

So if I let a glass of wine be an option, as firmly resolved as I may be at the beginning of the day, by the time the witching hour strikes and I am worn down from #sahmlife, that glass that was so easy to say no to earlier in the day becomes truly, completely irresistible. I literally cannot resist it, ‘cause Mama ain’t got nothin’ left y’all.

Before Dry January, before This Naked Mind, any time I tried to lay off the booze I did it with sheer willpower and white knuckles. It was exhausting and irritating, doing it that way. If I made it to the end of a day without wine, I would feel an ounce of pride and about twelve thousand pounds of misery. It. Weighed. Me. Down.

My willpower still gives out way more often than I’d like. I have had a lot of trouble with sugar cravings since cutting out booze, especially in times of extra stress. During my dad and stepmom’s recent visit, I would routinely retreat into my pantry and stuff my face with any salty or chocolatey treats I could find – and then I was sidelined for four days with vomiting and extreme fatigue. I think this was part legit stomach bug, part stress and angst, and also my body’s reaction to a multi-day junk food onslaught (but at least I didn’t drink!). Dealing with my parents took so much out of me that I had NO control over my food cravings and made myself sick.

So, yeah, willpower gives out. And I personally need to work on how to cope in a healthier way when that happens.

But it’s not our fault. And that can be so empowering if you let yourself believe it.

Also in this lesson: don’t drink because you’re bored. Let yourself be bored. In boredom lies creativity and maybe even genius. How great is that?!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 11

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Day 11 of The Alcohol Experiment: a big thank you to our bodies and brains.

I consider myself a grateful person. From little things to, you know, being alive and all, I try to exist in a place of gratitude. Which is why Day 11 of The Alcohol Experiment was such an eye-opener for me. While I often find myself thinking how lucky I am to be alive, rarely do I applaud the body and brain that has played a major role in keeping me that way for 37 years. In fact, I’ve often done the opposite. So today’s exercise of writing a thank you letter to my body was incredibly powerful for me. Never one to shy away from the cheese factor, I went for it on this one and I feel like my perspective is forever changed. And for that, I am grateful down to my bones.

Here is my letter:

Dear Body,

I know I have given you a hard time over the years, and spent a lot of time treating you poorly and putting you down. I wanted to take this moment to apologize, and to say thank you. After all I’ve done to you – two broken bones; two marathons; two pregnancies; one c-section; and the constant, decades-long assault of junk food and alcohol – your resilience is miraculous. Thank you for being there for me unconditionally, in good health and in bad, in fitness and in sloth.

I know I have spent too much time over the years criticizing you and wishing you were different. In my teenage years, I wished for clear skin and bigger boobs. Now, I never take my clear skin for granted, and after having two kids I very much appreciate having a small-size chest! I have felt embarrassed by stretch marks and varicose veins. But I know these things aren’t the end of the world and anyone who would judge me for them is not worth my time. Perhaps more than anything, I have wished to be thin. I have wished to be thin as I inhaled simple carbs and Swedish Fish. I have wished to be thin as I polished off glass after glass of wine. So many years of wishing for something that was never going to be a reality because of the way I was treating you.

For some of that time, I didn’t know any better. I grew up clueless about nutrition because no one ever taught me. I grew up watching all the adults in my life enjoying alcohol. I grew up trying to please everybody and needing a way to relieve the stress and feel good – and that was through food, and then through booze and food.

Fortunately for us both, I have had it. Believe me, I am as tired of putting you down as you are of being put down. We are in this together, for life. I promise to stop the negative self-talk (it may take awhile but I will get there!). I promise to continue this journey of digging deep to get to the root of my alcohol and junk food cravings and repair the lifelong damage that has caused my dependence on them. I promise to stay committed to exercise. I promise to keep learning, to stay present, to stay in a place of gratitude.

This journey will not be perfect. I will take some steps back, some steps sideways. But I finally appreciate you now more than I ever have, and I know I am not going to lose that. Because it feels too good to love you.

So, onward. As partners, not adversaries. It feels a lot better that way, doesn’t it?

Love,

Jen

And here is my body’s much more concise response:

Dear Jen,

Kindness suits you. Stick with it girl. I got your back (and every other part of you).

Love,

Your bod

I would love to hear from others who did this exercise. This was a total game-changer for me. Anyone else?

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 10

Day 10 of The Alcohol Experiment: a cultural shift and deconstructing the happiness myth.

Today’s entry made me feel both hopeful and introspective. Just as I have felt alone in my dependence on “mommy juice,” I have also felt alone in wanting to ditch it. Despite everything I’ve read I still sometimes feel like all of the people around me – especially my peers, moms of young kids in my community – seem to have a perfectly “healthy” relationship with alcohol. I find myself lamenting that I can’t be a happy, “normal” drinker like everyone else. I’m either off the sauce or guzzling a bottle in one sitting.

Annie’s Day 10 essay gives me so much hope, not only for me and anyone who is considering the possibility of a life beyond (or at least a lot less dependent on) alcohol, but also for my kids and future generations. Apparently the cool kids these days aren’t drinking. Let’s hope this trend continues!

In the meantime… does drinking make you happy? I have sure thought so in the past. But Annie Grace systematically breaks down this myth and I’m looking forward to my subconscious kissing this belief goodbye.

Because, HELLO, alcohol is a depressant! It LITERALLY DOES NOT make you happy. In fact, consuming alcohol ultimately makes you feel worse than you felt before you started drinking. Yes, you get a 30-60 minute boost during that first drink, and shorter but similar boosts for each successive drink you consume. But then what? For those few hours spent drinking, you can expect several times as many hours spent feeling like total crapola.

And total crapola is a far cry from the ten most positive emotions which together create the feeling of happiness:

Joy

Gratitude

Serenity

Interest

Hope

Pride

Amusement

Inspiration

Awe

Love

I love this list. I wrote it on a notecard and have it sitting here at my computer. I am going to keep it in the Notes app in my phone. I might write it out again and tape it to the inside of my medicine cabinet or in my closet. Or both.

Because one look at this list and I realize how much I value ALL of these things above drinking wine. And I now also understand that alcohol cannot give me any of these things. That, in fact, alcohol takes these things away.

Annie concludes with, “True happiness, for me, means being comfortable, peaceful, confident, proud of myself, at peace in the world. It means not having any more internal fighting. It means being physically healthy and mentally balanced.”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better. On to Day 11!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 9

Day 9 of The Alcohol Experiment: how to combat those pesky sugar cravings.

Let me just remove my hand from the bag of leftover M&Ms from my son’s birthday party to do some typing.

As with many of these daily entries, it’s like Annie Grace has a direct link to my brain. Sugar cravings have been a HUGE issue for me since Dry January. I have always had a sweet tooth but once I cut out the booze that little sweet tooth grew into a behemoth. Over the past couple of months, as I’ve felt increasingly in control of my alcohol cravings, I have felt increasingly powerless against my sugar cravings – and, as a result, consumed epic amounts of crap.

Fortunately for us, Annie Grace gives us a variety of ways to help us deal with the sugar monster. She also reminds us to go easy on ourselves and if we need to pop a few gummy bears to get us through, that’s ok. (Yes, we are on WW, but think of all the points we are saving by not drinking! Eat the gummy bears if you need to!) The list is pretty self-explanatory, but it does help to know that these simple things really do make a difference as we try to navigate life off the alcohol-induced sugar roller coaster.

So here’s how to keep sugar cravings at bay:

Exercise! This boosts serotonin and is a genuine stress-reducer, unlike alcohol which numbs, then exacerbates, stress and anxiety.

Eat fruit! It’s got natural sugar and will help keep you full.

Drink water! I have found hydrating during the winter to be very challenging, but when I am properly hydrated it makes such a difference.

Eat several small meals and focus on protein! When broken down, protein produces a variety of amino acids including GABA, which helps you feel good (and is mimicked by alcohol). Eating throughout the day helps stabilize blood sugar so no roller coaster spikes and drops for you!

Eat fermented foods and drinks! And/or supplement with probiotics. Happy gut, happy life.

So, what is your plan for coping with sugar cravings?

Here’s mine:

Tracking! What a great weapon we have in the sugar battle! I have also stocked my freezer with Enlightened ice cream and I eat fruit with wild abandon. I am going to focus on making sure my snacks include protein; try to eat something fermented every day (kimchi is my choice, even though it revolts my hubby and kids); and hydrate hydrate hydrate. Oh, and sleep sleep sleep! (A mom can dream…)

For Annie Grace, ditching alcohol “was like the big domino that knocked over all the other little life changes I wanted to make.” This is happening to all of us, whether we realize it or not. Whether we give up alcohol permanently or not. We are all learning so much during this experiment and making changes both conscious and subconscious.

So pop those gummy bears if you need to, and trust the process.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]