I remember a couple of years ago telling a friend that I couldn’t stop smoking because I had some writing to do. I knew that for at least a few weeks I would not be able to write without talking myself into a cigarette. I knew that I would literally not be able to concentrate without the nicotine in my brain for a while because I’d taught my brain to depend on it.
When I finally did stop smoking it took 18 days more or less to get to the point where my brain began to work reasonably well without the nicotine. And then I just had to hold on and not smoke. My thinking cleared and refocused over time and now I function much better without the nicotine then I ever did with it. That’s addiction. We become dependent on something that drags us down but when we first stop using it we often feel worse before we feel better.
Most people assume that any amount of nicotine is addictive but scoff at the idea that they are addicted to alcohol. We associate alcohol addiction with daily drinking and physical dependence but you do not have to be a late-stage, physically dependent alcoholic to be addicted to drinking. Stopping drinking can cause neurological withdrawal symptoms even if you only drink routinely on weekends. Your brain has learned to associate certain times and activities with a feeling of the necessity to drink. Breaking out of habitually drinking after work on Friday poses many of the same difficulties of breaking out of habitually drinking every night. It takes focus and preparation to get sober and stay sober whether your addiction is to a daily dose or simply a routine of weekend drinking.
Breaking out of that routine, that habit, that neurological addiction, may leave you feeling a bit lost, a bit scared, and a bit alone for a while.
Each hour, each minute, each day, each week that you don’t drink, you’ll get a bit further away from feeling that you need that chemical to function.
It surprised me to find that I didn’t need to drink. I’d grown up thinking that drinking was what adults did naturally to relieve stress. My drinking escalated to daily blackout levels at some point in 2008. The catalyst was the combination of being a single parent, a high-pressure job, and a 2-hour daily commute.
The way that I stopped drinking was based on developing self-awareness of my habit. You can only change what you are aware of. It’s important to spend the time to look at your triggers and how they pop up during the day, week, month, and year. Some will be highly predictable from day one. Other triggers might be the ones that pop up in a way that appears to be instantaneous. I might go into a supermarket for carrots and come out with 2 bottles of wine. So I stopped going to the supermarket after 2pm for a good long while because that time of day combined with the opportunity to buy wine turned out to be a trigger for me.
Sometimes I would drink because it was easier than going through the stopping process and to be honest what I was doing was just rolling over and going with the habit. Before I realized this I would lie to myself. There would be the “shit that was a tough day” excuse when it hadn’t been a tough day at all. I was actually ramping up the stress to justify drinking. When this happened I didn’t beat myself up because that just added to the stress and that was my number one trigger. But I was ruthlessly honest with myself and I made the experience something I could learn from to progress my stopping efforts.
I looked at the drinking experience before during and after, mindfully and with curiosity. And when I did that I discovered it wasn’t the release I had told myself it was. The run-up to the drink was highly stressful and intense ( shoulders around my ears), while I was drinking I felt miserable, guilty, sad, and stagnant, and then I was subject to very low mood for about 4 days.
My point is, to move forward, to stop drinking, and stay sober, we need to be extremely honest about what we are doing and why. If we don’t know, and it can be confusing because we have buried the ‘why’ with ‘doing’, we have to find out. This is really important. So take a look at your cravings, slips, your thoughts, and what happens in your day with curiosity. I am sure that you will get some lightbulb moments that will take you forward.
Make this the week that You Break out of the Binge Drinking Routine !
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