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.]

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.]