My Alcohol Experiment: Day 18

 

Day 18 of The Alcohol Experiment: tolerance-busting and happiness-boosting.

Annie starts this lesson with a quick note on tolerance, followed up with a long video on science-based happiness boosters. I’ll follow suit!

I used to wear my high tolerance for alcohol as a badge of honor, earned after years spent endeavoring to keep up with my guy friends at college parties, NYC bars, and weddings. Eventually I began to resent my high tolerance, annoyed that I had to drink so much to get the sort of pleasant buzz I wanted. And after that, the buzz started feeling less pleasant and more just… necessary. Ugh.

What I didn’t realize, and what Annie teaches us here, is that when your brain releases dynorphin to counter the effects of alcohol, the dynorphin doesn’t dial down just the pleasure you get from alcohol, but from everything else too! And who wants that?!

One thing I’ve noticed since taking these breaks from alcohol recently is how much more I am enjoying my kids. They still push my buttons every day of course, but the sweet moments are so much sweeter now. I would love to hear what other participants have noticed since taking this break!

Switching gears to happiness boosters:

Annie starts with a discussion on growth mindset vs. fixed mindset. I have learned a lot about this from my kids’ wonderful nursery school, where growth mindset is ingrained in the philosophy and mission. I never realized that I grew up with a fixed mindset until my first nursery school parent meeting where this idea was discussed. Such an epiphany for me, and I have been trying to overcome my fixed mindset and encourage a growth mindset in my kids ever since!

I grew up basically pigeon-holing myself. If I wasn’t good at something right away, then I believed I would never be good at it and I moved on to something else. Luckily I was good at enough things to have a happy childhood and adolescence. But looking back, I feel like I missed out on so much because I didn’t have the confidence to try things I might have really enjoyed. That is a fixed mindset.

Then we have my daughter. Last year, at age five, she decided she wanted to try mixed martial arts. She joined a class of kids, mostly boys, aged 5-7. She had NO CLUE what she was doing, but she just went for it – jumping jacks, push-ups, punches, even flying kicks! She was the only new student in the class, and some of the kids were considerably more advanced and older than she was. But she LOVED it, and she’s been going ever since. Now she is one of the top-ranked kids in the class. That is a growth mindset.

A growth mindset, as Annie Grace defines it, means you believe you can enhance certain areas of your life through focus and effort. You believe you can change your abilities – and that is more important to you than believing in your natural abilities. This extends to happiness. With a fixed mindset, you believe you are stuck at your current level of happiness. With a growth mindset, you believe you can increase your level of happiness with conscious effort.

What are some ways to do this? Annie lays them out for us, of course! These are scientifically-proven ways to boost happiness:

Exercise – hello, endorphins!

Meditation – chillax and ye shall receive.

Gratitude – you can condition your mind to appreciate the good stuff, which leads you to expect good stuff, which leads to more good stuff comin’ atcha!

Active leisure activities – practicing a hobby, game, or sport challenges your brain and increases your energy.

Social bonds – finding and nurturing relationships with people or groups in ways that do not involve alcohol (how about some active leisure activities?) is deeply rewarding.

Helping others – the most potent way to increase the joy in your own life! Lending a helping hand to those in need releases oxytocin, which helps us become more empathetic, courageous, and confident. Being part of a cause that is bigger than ourselves gives us a huge boost.

I can attest to the power of helping others, as I’m sure many of you can. My stepdad passed away from colon cancer in 2004. Since then I have logged thousands of volunteer hours in various capacities for a handful of colon cancer awareness organizations. I have made wonderful friends and colleagues, worked with an incredible community of survivors and fellow caregivers, and felt like I have made a difference in the fight against a disease that took someone I loved way too soon. When I am in the midst of a project or attending an event for colon cancer awareness, I feel like I am my best self. I am buzzing, vibrant, confident, and truly happy.

So once again, Annie Grace: nail on the head.

[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 17

Day 17 of The Alcohol Experiment: rethinking boredom.

So, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. With two small kids, two dogs, a busy husband, and three volunteer gigs, “never a dull moment” rings true in this house. But one thing I appreciate about The Alcohol Experiment is how Annie Grace takes a concept and flips it on its head. Stress is not meant to defeat you; it’s meant to make you stronger. And, in this lesson, boredom is not a void; it is limitless creative space! We all have an imagination. Getting to a point where you feel bored is not an end point – it’s a starting point and an opportunity to do something great.

No pressure though, right?

I walk my puppy almost every morning. Those walks used to be a way for me to wake up and shake off my hangover. Without alcohol in my life, I start each day feeling awake (more or less… have I mentioned I have two young kids?) and clear-headed, so these walks have become more of a brainstorm for me. Come to think of it, these walks are the closest I get to being “bored” – light bulb! This is making so much sense! Ok, so when I don’t have a hangover to walk off, my brain uses this time to think creatively. It feels indulgent and luxurious, to think creatively. And I deserve to be able to do it.

My daughter is in kindergarten and my son will be starting kindergarten in a year and a half. Once my kids are both in school full-time, a new era of my life will begin. I have always thought I would go back to work, but I don’t have a clear path ahead of me. I don’t have a job lined up. I don’t really know what I want to do. But Fall 2019 is now on the horizon. There is light at the end of the SAHM tunnel.

And here’s where I give myself a great big mental hug – a moment of profound gratitude to myself for choosing to do Dry January and The Alcohol Experiment NOW instead of later. Or never. What a gift I am giving myself. Because even if it’s only when I’m walking my dog that my brain can tap into that space of “boredom,” I am so grateful for it. And I have had some fun ideas! I decided to start this blog while out walking my dog. I have other ideas for things I want to write, things I want to do. And to have that time to indulge these thoughts, to explore them, is becoming more and more important to me.

I used to blame motherhood for my stifled creativity. Now I realize that it was booze all along. I feel so relieved and grateful for the resilience of my creative side, and I am excited to see where I go from here.

[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 16

Day 16 of The Alcohol Experiment: accentuate the positive!

I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but once again I read the next lesson from The Alcohol Experiment and I feel like Annie Grace has read my mind and written exactly what I needed to hear the moment I needed to hear it.

This evening, I embark on something miraculous: a night alone in my house. No kids, no husband, no visiting parents. Just me and my dogs. I only have to cook for and clean up after myself. I can watch whatever I want to watch on TV and go to bed when I want to go to bed. Ah-mazing.

And yet throughout the day today I have had thoughts like, “A whole night to myself and I don’t even get to drink!” And I have also felt a little anxious to be alone. A little lonely.

Cue Ms. Grace, who reminds us all that it’s critical to ditch our inner negative nellies if we are going to thrive on this journey. “The brain loves anything that gets you our of pain and into pleasure.” You can empower yourself with positive language. Turn that cranial frown upside-down! It helps. A lot. So, for me tonight, instead of “I don’t even get to drink” I am trying to pivot to “How lucky am I to be doing this experiment? I am going to have a great, productive and fun night and feel great when I wake up tomorrow!” I must admit pint of Enlightened sitting in my freezer is helping too.

Also: no labels! I think some people find comfort in labels, but I am not one of them. Instead of labeling myself as “sober” I prefer to see myself on a journey of self-care, which right now happens to include not drinking. I feel pressured by the idea of labeling myself one way or another, and I want to maintain an open mind and positive mindset. So I appreciate that Annie Grace advises us to steer clear of labels.

The video in this lesson – again, thank you Annie for reading my mind – is a deconstruction of the myth that alcohol helps with loneliness. I used to drink alone at every opportunity. If my husband was traveling or out late, I would see polishing off a bottle of wine as a “treat.” Now I realize that I believed that drinking myself to sleep would help assuage the anxiety and discomfort I felt being in my house alone, and help me feel less lonely. Of course we all know the punchline here: drinking did the opposite of what I hoped it would do. I felt more lonely, more anxious, and would inevitably have a crappy night of sleep and feel awful the next day. And I shudder to think about what would have happened if there had been an emergency with myself or my kids on any of those nights when I was drunk and the only adult in the house. Ugh. Terrifying.

Tonight, I am the only adult in the house and I am happy and relaxed and grateful. I have had a productive day and now I’m going to make a delicious dinner and enjoy my wine-free mama time. Cheers to 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 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.]