My Alcohol Experiment: Day 25

Day 25 of The Alcohol Experiment: dealing with setbacks and changing your thinking (part deux).

[Ok this is getting seriously uncanny, how relevant these lessons are for where I am in my life. But more on that in a moment.]

The Day 25 essay deals with setbacks, and how to reframe them and move forward. As always I appreciate Annie’s positivity here. After Dry January, I decided to try drinking “in moderation.” Looking back on the couple of months between Dry January and The Alcohol Experiment, I can see that cognitive dissonance set in immediately. As of February 1, alcohol was a choice again. And deciding whether or not to drink took its toll. After a particularly stressful few days in February when we lost power and our lives were super-hectic, the night the power came on I drank an entire bottle of wine to celebrate/relieve stress/as a treat (all my old reasons for drinking)… and ended up getting sick that night. I won’t say I fell back down to square one, because the knowledge and awareness I’d acquired during Dry January were in place. But I definitely got back to a place of almost nightly drinking and felt weighed down by the complexities of “to drink or not to drink.” That is why I decided to start The Alcohol Experiment. Take another break, gain additional knowledge and awareness, and see where I come out.

Annie recommends reframing “mistakes” as “necessary experience.” I wanted to see how it felt to attempt moderation. And it didn’t feel so good. Lesson learned!

Now, the video in this lesson was an eye-opener for me. Annie discusses Dr. Daniel G. Amen’s “ANTs” – or Automatic Negative Thoughts. Annie reminds us that without awareness, we tend to believe our thoughts, many (most?) of which are negative. Getting stuck in negative thinking is bad for our bodies and brains – it literally messes with our biochemistry. Positive thinking, of course, has the opposite effect. Positive thinking makes us feel better physically and actually enhances brain function. Awareness is key in changing our negative thoughts to positive ones, and putting our conscious minds back in control.

Dr. Amen has identified six ANTs, and three Red ANTs (the really bad ones, y’all). Read the list below and think about how many of these ANTs have infested your brain, your body, your life:

1. All or Nothing – “I already opened the bottle and had a glass, so screw it, I’ll drink the whole bottle.” (YUP.)

2. Always Thinking – Overgeneralizing, and believing you are doomed no matter what. “Everyone drinks. I’ll never be able to escape it, so might as well just keep drinking.” (Yup.)

3. Focusing on the negative – Any Debbie Downers out there?

4. Thinking with your feelings – Assuming your feelings are truth instead of questioning them, e.g. “I’m sad/less patient/more stressed because I’m not drinking.”

5. Guilt beating – Using words like “should, must, have to” keeps us firmly planted at our own pity party. (OH HI.)

6. Labeling with negative names – “I’m fat. I’m a lush. I’m a crappy mom.” This is bad for you. Go figure! (UGH.)

And the Red ANTs:

7. Fortune-telling – “I will never be able to stop drinking.” Guess what? You’re right! When you predict the worst, your brain will make it happen. (Me.)

8. Mind-reading – Making up stories about what someone else is thinking. Ok here is my moment of crazy coincidence. For this ANT, Annie talks about how she recently attended her 20th high school reunion and how she had to be very aware of this ANT because otherwise she would think that her friends would think she was no longer fun, or that she was judgmental because she wasn’t drinking. And once we make up our minds about what someone else is thinking, we accept it as true. So, not only is this a major lightbulb (whenever my husband and I have a disagreement, we can usually trace it back to this ANT!); but this is also hugely timely for me because I am attending MY 20th high school reunion in just a couple of weeks! And I’m not planning to drink. How crazy is that?!

9. And the very worst ANT of all (drumroll please) is BLAME. Blaming your genes, your childhood, or anything else steals your control and makes you believe you are a powerless victim. And who wants to go through life like that? The blame game is always no bueno.

So now we’ve got these ANTs in our pants. What do we do?

When you think a negative thought, write it down. Take a hot second to pat yourself on the back for being aware and being awesome. Then figure out what type of ANT it is, and whip out your ANT-eater! Talk back to your ANT. Write down your retort. Destroy the mofo. And move on.

I feel a rush of empowerment absorbing all of this. Of course it will take practice but just the thought of being free of the negativity that has plagued me since I can remember thinking thoughts… it is utterly liberating.

Has anyone put this lesson into practice? Tell us about your ANT-eating successes!

[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 24

Day 24 of The Alcohol Experiment: dumping the “addictive personality” and changing your thinking.

I have never considered myself an addict. Yet I’ll be the first to admit that I have never really been able to exercise delayed gratification, opting for instantaneous instead; and, once gratified, I always seem to have trouble putting down something I love. A bottle of wine, a jar of Nutella, an issue of “Us Weekly,” a good puzzle or Lego set… I can’t resist a taste of something good, and one taste is never enough.
Yet I would never have called myself an addict. Which is why I profoundly accept and appreciate Annie’s view that we need to drop the idea of labeling people as “addicts” and instead put alcohol on the hook as the problem. We are not the problem. Alcohol is the problem. And it affects us all – every single person who takes a drink.
Further, Annie says that the very same personality traits that made us drink more than we wanted to can help us backtrack from where we were and start following a better path. She asks us to accept who we are and to channel aspects of our personalities – the good and the bad – to help us in our journey.
Hmm. Interesting. Ok, I’ll play.

Here are what I believe to be my top three positive personality traits:

  1. Passionate
  2. Nurturing
  3. Rule-follower
And here are my top three negative personality traits:
  1. Self-critical
  2. Lack of self-confidence
  3. Emotionally dependent on food and alcohol
Ok now. How did these traits lead me to an uncomfortable point with my drinking?
I am passionate. I like to feel big feelings. And I thought alcohol helped amplify the good stuff (and was willing to accept that it also amplified the bad).
Because I am nurturing, sometimes I give too much of myself and I used alcohol as a “treat” when I wanted to do something for me.
And as a rule-follower, if friends were taking shots at a bar or a bottle of wine was being passed around the dinner table at a holiday gathering, I would partake because that was what was expected of me.
And of course I used alcohol to numb all three of my negative traits. That’s easy.
Next: how can these traits lead me out of my drinking cycle?
I am passionate. I now know that alcohol numbs all the feels, and I want to feel them!
I am nurturing. And I now have a better sense of just how deeply my alcohol use can impact my children. I never want them to have to do #TAE because I never want them to struggle with alcohol in the first place. I want to set a better example for them and give them the confidence to not succumb to the peer pressure they will inevitably face as they get older.
And I am a rule-follower who is starting to listen to the voice in the back of my head that’s saying, “I don’t drink.” Is that me? Is that my subconscious or my conscious? Is that someone I want to be? Am I sure? Thought process in progress here, folks. But whenever I decide on what my “rule” with alcohol will be, I know I will follow it, as long as I have no cognitive dissonance and am at peace with my decision.
As for my negative traits helping me break my drinking cycle – it gets a little murky for me here. I do hope that as I continue this journey, my negative traits will start to change. I don’t want to be so hard on myself. I want to be more confident. And I don’t want to be emotionally dependent on junk food and booze. Acknowledging these negative traits is motivating me to stay alcohol-free, because the farther I go on this path the farther behind they will fall.
And that’s (zero-point) food for thought on this beautiful Friday!

 

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

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 23

Day 23 of The Alcohol Experiment: head, shoulders, knees, and toes… and brain and heart and liver. Alcohol damages it all, y’all!

In This Naked Mind, Annie Grace does not hold back when discussing the comprehensive assault that alcohol wages on our bodies. Today’s lesson is an abridged, but no less jarring, summary of just how damaging alcohol is on every inch of us.

I won’t rehash all the specifics here, but let me just say, it’s bad folks. As someone who formerly clung to the notion that red wine was good for me because it contains antioxidants, I can’t unlearn what I now know and that is ok. That is a good thing. 

It’s hard though, right? Because now that I know that just one night of heavy drinking (and I’ve had countless) can permanently change your nerve cells and decrease the size of your brain cells, I feel like an idiot. And there is a teeny tiny part of me that maybe sort of wishes I didn’t know all of this now. Because then I wouldn’t feel so dumb. And then I could drink my favorite frozen pomegranate margarita with zero guilt. And I could go out with my friends or celebrate a holiday with my family without the risk of judging them and/or alienating myself.

But wait. Stop the spiral. There will be no pity party today. I need to be stronger than that. More grateful, more mature.

I am not an idiot. How can I be an idiot for not knowing something that I was never taught? And it’s not like this information could have made its way subconsciously into my brain the way all the PRO-drinking messaging did – because it’s not out there in the first place!

In fact, I am smart – we ALL are – for doing this exploration now. Today. Sooner rather than later. For educating ourselves and enabling better informed decisions in the future and ultimately improving our health and the health of our children (whom I desperately hope are going to follow our example – fingers crossed!), and maybe even some friends and family who may be inspired by us.

I may never have a guilt-free drink again. But let me reframe the guilt as awareness and take responsibility for my choice, whether I drink or not. At least I am better informed moving forward, and again I know this is ultimately – and immediately – for the best.

As for the risk of judgement and alienation, I now know that the more at peace I feel with my choice to drink or not to drink, the less of an issue this will be. Ain’t no thang. That’s what I’ve been telling my husband when we go out to dinner and he orders a hard cider. That’s what I told my Boston BFF when we had a glorious day and evening out a couple of weeks ago and she had two cocktails with dinner. Ain’t no thang. It started as lip service on my first Dry January date night with my husband, but now it’s really, genuinely true. 

It is hard to not want to shout some of this stuff from the rooftops, now that we know how very dangerous and toxic alcohol really is. But that is not going to help anybody. The best we can do is take the best possible care of ourselves and our children, be there for those we love, and be grateful for this journey we have chosen.

The video in today’s lesson is a deconstruction of the idea that NOT drinking makes you less patient and more angry. I remember when I first stopped drinking during Dry January – I thought I would be so much more patient with my kids, and I wasn’t. And that scared me! Annie discusses how anger is a “secondary emotion” – the tip of an iceberg of something deeper that is harder to acknowledge but that is what you are truly feeling. (Yet another lightbulb here.) I get angry with my son when he is too rough with my puppy; what I’m really feeling is failure as a parent for not teaching him how to treat a young dog and fear that my dog will do something bad to my son. I get angry when my kids mess around instead of quietly and efficiently getting through bath time; what I’m really feeling is anxiety about all the housework I still have to do after they go to bed and frustration with myself for not being more organized and getting it done sooner.

So. There’s that epiphany.

And a few tips from Annie about how to deal with anger when you’re not numbing all your emotions with booze:

  1. Change your physical state – splash cold water on your face, yell into a pillow, get a breath of cold winter air. It helps!
  2. Place your anger on a scale of 1-5 and then try to make yourself angrier. Instant anger-diffuser!
  3. Create mental space. A mere moment of mindfulness can make a difference and help your pre-frontal cortex regain control in the split-second before a trigger causes you to wig out.

Your anger can be a beacon! Once again Annie turns a concept on its head and makes it so much more positive and productive.

Can you tell I love this Experiment?

[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 22

Day 22 of The Alcohol Experiment: identifying unmet needs and the importance of connection.

Oooh this lesson was a festival of lightbulbs and goosebumps for me! Anybody else?

Annie asks us to dig deep on this one. She discusses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how we move up the pyramid as our needs are fulfilled, starting with basic (food, water, safety) to psychological (love, friendship, prestige) to self-fulfillment (self-actualization) – if we get that far! Annie’s thesis here is that we drink because we are trying to fill the unmet needs we have in life – the gaps in our individual pyramids. She asks us to identify what our unmet needs are, acknowledge whether we were using alcohol to fill those needs, and then think of how we can fill those needs in a healthier, non-addictive way.

Nothing like a little soul-searching to brighten up your Monday, eh? Cue the lightbulbs!

I have unmet needs in my life right now. But I also realized that I was drinking out of habit (or addiction, I guess) to fill previously unmet needs which are now met. 

Allow me to expound a bit. My life has changed a lot in the eleven years since I met my husband. We have lived in two countries and three states, and never in the same place for more than three years. He has held four different jobs; I left my career to be a stay-at-home mom. We acquired two dogs and created two children. It’s been a mostly wonderful whirlwind and, at times, a rickety rollercoaster.

The dust has mostly settled now (though my hubby did just start a new job today – ha!). And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am now able to explore my relationship with alcohol, because I am feeling happier and more secure than I have in years. The drinking habits I have been working so hard to break, I now realize, mostly arose during our less settled times.

Smack dab in the middle of Maslow’s pyramid is belongingness: the need for intimate relationships and friends. Moving so often, having to rebuild that feeling of “belonging” so many times while also maintaining long-distance friendships, took a toll on me. And then there is the isolation of those early days, weeks, months of motherhood. When there is hardly any sleep, lots of spit-up and poop, a rare shower. When making it out of the house is a herculean accomplishment and going out with friends seems like an  impossibility. I did make a few wonderful mom friends after I had my daughter, and one of them is a BFF to this day. But in between our weekly mommy-and-me classes there were many, many hours of exhaustion infused with loneliness. 

And distance from my husband, too. Because he got to take a shower, put on real clothes, and go to work every day. Our lives diverged with the arrival of the little being we had created together. And it took a long time – about a year – for me to get to a more confident “new normal.”

I did not drink a lot in those early days of motherhood, but I think that time set the stage for my descent to a place of discomfort with my drinking all these years later. I left my career, had a baby, moved to a new house in a new town. I felt distant from my husband. In short, the “belongingness and love” level of my personal needs pyramid was a big ol’ void.

Enter wine.

Cut to the present. 

My pyramid is a lot more filled out these days. But I realized that the one need that is still unmet as I try my darnedest to achieve self-actualization is the need for professional fulfillment. I still feel insecure about being a stay-at-home mom. And sometimes I overcompensate for that by spending too much time on my volunteer work instead of doing my real “job.” The dishes don’t get done or I let my kids watch too much TV because I am working on projects that don’t pay any money but help me fill that void a little. And I drank, of course. I drank to fill that void, too.

Annie asks us to consider how we can fill our unmet needs in a less destructive way than by drinking. Here’s my answer to that. I will keep up with my volunteer work but strive for a better balance. I will engage more with my kids; go for evening walks and visit with our neighbors; and stay as busy as I can during the witching hour. I will keep writing. I will keep exercising. And I will try to remind myself that these days of having young kids around the house are flying by, even if the hours still seem to crawl. There will always be paid work to pursue; there won’t always be a four-year-old wanting to play with me. 

I would love to hear any revelations that others have had with this lesson! It was a big one!

Oh, and I encourage everyone to watch both videos but especially the second one, an incredible animation of the importance of connection, and how we have lost that as a culture and as individuals. “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” WHOA. Kind of earth-shattering stuff here, folks!

[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 21

Day 21 of The Alcohol Experiment: looking good and relieving stress.

I was hesitant to post this selfie because, frankly, I wanted to look better by now. I’m almost 30 days alcohol-free, even though I’m only on Day 21 of The Alcohol Experiment. I want to look and feel rested and radiant. But I’m keepin’ it real and posting this because this is where I am. I took this photo this morning. The gal I see is still too puffy from not quite enough hours of sleep and too much junk food lately. But this is also a gal who has not had a drop of alcohol in 28 days counting today. This gal has consistently achieved her five-times-weekly workout goal except when sick or traveling. I have been inconsistent with tracking, and it shows. But beneath this layer of puff there is clearer skin, and a clearer conscious and subconscious in which alcohol is becoming increasingly unimportant. I have food issues to tackle, and I have more self-improvement ahead of me. But this gal is fit and alcohol-free and that is worth celebrating. 

The video in today’s lesson discusses science-based stress relief strategies. We live in a quick-fix culture where we look for a “switch” to take us instantly from stressed to chillaxed.  Instead, we need to focus on searching for the “seeds” that will truly fix the problem and not just dull it for awhile. These “seeds” take dedication, practice and time – but they can be truly transformative.

Annie discusses how when we are stressed, our brains shift into a reward-seeking state. And we often turn to the very source of our stress and anxiety to relieve it. (OH HI THIS IS MY LIFE.) So if we are stressed about money, we shop. If we are stressed about being fat, we eat. If we are stressed about the power alcohol has over us, we drink. When we anticipate doing these things, our brains release dopamine – which cues up the anticipation of feeling good, or the promise of a reward. But dopamine does not make us feel good. It’s just an empty promise.

Getting into the “stress resilience” mindset and engaging in one of the following strategies when we feel stressed helps in myriad ways. These activities shut down the brain’s stress response and instead induce a healing and relaxation response. They boost serotonin and oxytocin, chemicals that actually make us feel good. Our brains have been wired to misinterpret what will make us happy. But with practice and dedication we can rewire our brains and enrich our lives.

Here are the most effective stress-relieving strategies:

  • Exercise, playing sports
  • Praying
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Being with friends and family
  • Massage
  • Being outdoors
  • Meditation and yoga
  • Engaging in a creative hobby

Annie focuses a lot on exercise. Regular exercise (consistency is the key, even if only for a few minutes at a time!) helps in so many ways it feels like winning the feel-good lottery. Here are just a few:

  • clears your mind
  • encourages growth of new brain cells in pre-frontal cortex
  • enhances cognitive ability (literally makes you smarter!)
  • improves mood, alleviates depression, decreases anxiety
  • increases self-control and willpower

As I mentioned above, I am proud that since cutting back on alcohol, I have been able to consistently achieve my weekly workout goal of three Peloton rides and two kickboxing classes. There is no way I would be able to do this if I were still drinking the way I used to. I can’t imagine showing up to my kickboxing class hungover – there is no way I would make it through! And I am enjoying these workouts more than I have ever enjoyed exercise before. Now that I know just how good exercise is for me, I am all the more determined to stick with it.

Annie recommends trying different techniques to see which are most effective for you. In addition to exercise, I plan to continue writing and walking outdoors. I would also like to do more reading and I would love to start meditating.

How many of these do you practice now? Which would you like to start practicing?

[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 20

Day 20 of The Alcohol Experiment: rebelling against our “headline society”…

… wherein Annie Grace drops the mic on alcohol advertising and the misleading media. BOOM!

In our current culture of “fake news” and actual fake news, Annie reminds us that we are likely being subconsciously duped by the alcohol industry in their advertising and by the click-hungry media. All of this, of course, is driven by money. The ads, the sponsored studies, the pro-booze headlines. As a consequence, we feel enabled and justified in our choice to drink.

Even though I don’t share a lot of articles online, and I think I am a fairly conscious consumer of headlines and news, I will be the first to admit that I completely fell for the prevalent message that red wine is heart-healthy and full of antioxidants. I tried switching from white wine to red on multiple occasions, thinking that I was making a healthy choice – not only was red wine good for me, but I liked it less than white so I would drink less of it. A win-win! Not.

I will also admit that cheeky memes and sayings about drinking totally enabled my habits. I have “liked” dozens of funny Instagram posts about drinking. I have a house sprinkled with signs, towels, napkins, t-shirts, magnets, and other tchotchkes with funny drinking sayings on them. “It’s ok to wine a little.” “Keep calm and have a cocktail.” “My favorite salad is wine.” That one’s on a pair of socks! SOCKS!

I’m not giving myself a hard time about this. If anything, I marvel at how deeply ingrained these pro-booze messages are in our society and in my life. I am an intelligent person, and I bought into a lot of it. I routinely used this messaging to justify my drinking habits.

Yeah, I’m going to try not to do that anymore. I am also going to try not to preach to my mom friends and family members about this. (Which is hard with this issue and many things we are learning through The Alcohol Experiment. So many revelations that so many people don’t want to hear!) Because those Instas, those memes, are starting to seem a little sad to me. And a lot less funny.

We are each on our own journey. And as ever I am just so grateful to have found Weight Watchers, Annie Grace, and The Alcohol Experiment.

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

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 19

This picture has nothing to do with The Alcohol Experiment. Just thought we could all use a little Frenchie dressed as a hatching chick.

Day 19 of The Alcohol Experiment: finding joy amidst depression or sadness.

Day 19 is a heavy one, and I’m not going to rehash Annie Grace’s essay on depression because it’s very personal. Her journey through the throes of depression and emerging into the light is incredibly inspiring and I encourage everyone to read about it!

In the journal section, Annie asks us to define happiness. I wrote, “To me, true happiness is feeling full – literally filled, heart, guts, and all – with joy and contentment and peace.” How do you define it?

Then she asks us when was the last time we felt that way. None of the moments I could think of involve alcohol. Not a single one.

I felt truly happy when my husband and I took our kids on their first double-decker bus ride in London. I felt truly happy when my daughter conquered her fear of swimming. I felt truly happy when my son told me yesterday, “I love you with all my heart, Mama.”

And what makes me sad is the realization that there are moments where I should have been truly happy, but I can’t say that I was because those moments are blurred in my memory because of booze. Going to see my friend’s play on its opening night on Broadway. Watching the Cubs win their first World Series in over 100 years. And so many more.

But instead of dwelling on that, I choose to anticipate all the true happiness that is coming my way as a result of not drinking several glasses of wine every night. Big moments and small, I’ll take ‘em all.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to work on my “microhabits” as Annie calls them – practicing gratitude, staying present, and continuing to do this writing. I wrote in a journal every night from middle school through my mid-20s. It was extremely therapeutic. I haven’t kept a journal in a long time but this love of journaling has been reawakened here. Now I understand a bit more about why it’s been so great for me. Annie says that journaling makes your thoughts objective, and loosens their grip on you. Very true! Very empowering! And on we go!

[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.]