I knew that after twenty-plus years of drinking I was locked into a mindset that regular consumption of alcohol was a good thing. I deeply believed that alcohol was a vital ingredient in life. I had been introduced to that way of thinking by my society as a teenager and had reinforced those messages to myself through years and years of regular booze consumption.
I had it deeply ingrained in my psyche that drinking wine at 5pm was the best way to relax, that offering a cocktail to friends was a surefire way to prove I was a good hostess, that popping a champagne cork was the perfect way to celebrate, and that supping an ice-cold beer was the ideal way to reward myself for manual labour.
Every high, low, and in-between point in my life had to be accompanied by alcohol in order for it to feel good or have any value. This was my belief.
And so when I quit – despite knowing that alcohol had taken me to a dark place, that I had no control over it, and desperately needed to remove it from my life – I still had these hard-wired beliefs coming at me inside my head. They were depressing and frightening.
The fear was immense. How was I going to ever have fun again? How was I going to wind down and escape my domesticated drudgery? How was I going to bond with my friends or share in celebrations? How was I going to have a happy & full life with no booze? The outlook was horrifying.
But I was determined. I knew I had to change and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it was possible to become a happy non-drinker. So this is what I set out to become. And item one on my to-do list was to change my thinking. I had to attack my own thoughts. I had to actively stare down and turn around every hard-wired belief when it entered my head.
I now look upon this approach as brain re-training and it’s something I write about and promote an awful lot in my role as a sober blogger, website manager, and recovery advocate. Here is how to go about it….
Firstly – Become very aware of your own thoughts. See very clearly when a thought enters your brain about alcohol – picture it as words written on a board if that helps.
Secondly – Unpick that thought. Focus on what it is telling you. Is it helpful? Is it true? Or is it simply a big fat unhelpful lie not grounded in truth but rather borne from fear and nerves and ingrained bullshit beliefs.
Thirdly – Flip it. Turn it around. Challenge everything about that thought.
Say there’s a boisterous fundraising night coming up and you are are heading along with a big group of friends. They’ve booked a table and are ready to party! The thought enters your head “I’m going to be the only boring sober person at the table. My night will be flat and awful.” Now STOP and don’t just let that thought sit there unchallenged. Focus on it! Pick it apart. And turn it around. How do I know I’m going to be the only non-drinker at the table? Why does not drinking make me boring? I’m not boring, I’m a nice person with decent conversation skills and I like to have fun. Maybe the night will be fabulous; how do I know what it’s going to be like? This night isn’t about what I’m drinking, it’s about being out of the house for the evening, connecting with my friends, the music, food, atmosphere. Alcohol doesn’t have the power to make this night special. The night has many elements which make it special on its own. And what’s to say some of the boozers don’t turn into the boring ones anyway?
Say it’s your wedding anniversary coming up and you have booked a posh hotel room to share with your beloved spouse for the night. You have the sad thought “It’s awful I can’t celebrate with champagne. The night simply won’t be as special because I’m not drinking alcohol.” Challenge that thought and flip it! This night is not about what liquid is in my glass! It’s about the fact that I’m in a hotel room away from the kids for the night celebrating with my spouse the deep love that we have for one another. It’s about fluffy bathrobes and room service and cable TV. Why does champagne have all the power to make this night special? It doesn’t! All it will do is numb me to my real feelings and detach me from my beloved.
Say it’s Friday night and you’ve just walked in the door after a hell week at work. You are exhausted but happy with all you’ve achieved and can’t wait to unwind for the weekend. The thought enters your head; ‘“I deserve a wine. It’d be the perfect way to reward myself and relax right now. Boo hoo.” Flip it! Wine is a chemical that dulls my synapses and fools me into feeling relaxed while actually disconnecting me from my thoughts and feelings. This very moment is naturally relaxing because I’m at home, the week is done, I have no plans for the next two days and I feel proud of what I have achieved. All wine will do is wipe me out, make me sleep like shit and wake up feeling awful.
Identify the thought. Analyze it, and flip it. Again and again and again.
I promise you – the more you try these brain re-training techniques and actively fight to flip your thinking around, the more this new way of looking at things will become cemented as the norm. The brain is an amazing tool that can re-wire itself. I’m no expert but I have read enough to know that neuroplasticity is a real thing; the brain can change. What’s the saying? ‘Neurons that fire together wire together.’ So keep flipping your thinking around and you’ll genuinely start to see things differently.
I’m living proof this works. I have gone from one extreme to the other when it comes to my thinking around alcohol. I used to believe it was the answer to everything. Now I genuinely believe it’s the answer to nothing.
From fear to freedom. It’s awesome.
Lotta Dann wrote her way sober with the help of an anonymous blog called ‘Mrs D Is Going Without.’ Her memoir ‘Mrs D Is Going Without’ was published 3 years after she stopped drinking. Now happily sober and approaching her 5 year soberversary, Lotta spends her days parenting and running a busy household, promoting recovery through her blogs and social media accounts, and managing the Living Sober website. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her husband, three sons and a Labrador puppy.
Blog link: http://livingwithoutalcohol.
Living Sober site: http://www.livingsober.org.nz