Have you ever heard of “decision fatigue? The brain can only make so many “good” decisions in a day. When you set a goal in the morning to stop drinking alcohol, then find yourself with a glass of wine in your hands at 5 pm, that’s decision fatigue. People with a strong will and the best of intentions, people who are otherwise self-disciplined high achievers, get to that period around 5 pm when the VOID of the evening without alcohol looms large, and every molecule of their being is itching for the reward of “just one relaxing drink”…
Just this morning you swore to yourself that you would stop drinking. Now it’s 5 pm. It’s been a long hard day. You still have responsibilities to fulfill this evening and you’re used to softening the rough edges with a few drinks. At the thought of moving through the evening without your familiar crutch, you are feeling the VOID.
You simply have no experience with the genuine self-care that might replace that wine. And so you decide to have just one drink, or two…
You reach for what you know will soothe you and the cycle continues.
What makes this behavior about decision fatigue? Throughout the day you are bombarded with the message that drinking is not the problem. The problem is rather “certain types of drinkers”. Identifying yourself as a person with a “problem with alcohol” is an alienating experience. You are fed the message that you should be able to drink moderately if you only exert some willpower, and you’re fed the message that the activity of drinking alcohol offers a wonderful added dimension to every adult’s life. You end up feeling “less than” because you can’t control your drinking, and you fear your life will be “less than” without alcohol.
More than likely, everywhere you look all day you see the message that drinking alcohol is a normal and healthy part of adult life. Even before you hit the grocery store after work to pick up a few things for dinner and find yourself challenged to make the right decision NOT to pick up a bottle tonight, even before you turn on your favorite evening entertainment and find that all of the adults in every sitcom seem to be drinking, your decision to abstain from alcohol is challenged by billboards, magazines, social media, and innocent “pro-drinking” comments from friends, family, and colleagues all day long.
We glorify drinking in our culture. How do you avoid decision fatigue when millions are spent on marketing alcohol and those campaigns are in-your-face at every turn? Wine is gleefully sold as essential “self-care”. Gin, vodka, and whiskey, what we once called hard liquor, are now marketed with the illusion of being “healthy” products. Natural fruit-flavored vodkas, antioxidant red berry-infused gins, apple-flavored whiskey, or honey flavored with a cute little industrious bee on the label. Then there are the “clean-innocent-fresh” Hard Seltzer and Spiked Still Water in fruit and berry flavors . Depending on where you live you will see enticing bottles not just in many restaurants but at the grocery, the gas station, the pharmacy, the break room at work and even the church “coffee hour”. Drinking culture is everywhere in the 21st century?”How many times a day does someone or something suggest to you that you should be able to drink moderately if only you try harder?
The brain can only make so many “good” decisions in a day.
In this booze-soaked culture, we are routinely encouraged to drink to de-stress, and there is not much in life more stressful than the early days of learning to live alcohol-free. It’s a real catch-22.
You CAN beat decision fatigue and fill the VOID when you quit alcohol. Give it time and the VOID that you feel will fill with you. There is no greater feeling.
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If you are ready to quit drinking once and for all start by taking the time to listen to this podcast from Huberman Lab – Episode 86: What Alcohol Does To Your Body, Brain & Health | Huberman Lab
Understanding the science behind the VOID can go far to help you fight “decision fatigue” and hit the pillow alcohol-free.
Stopping drinking and staying sober is also about understanding how to fight HALT to fill the VOID. You can read more on HALT here HALT – 4 Triggers That Slip People Up When They Stop Drinking and in these reflections from a member of our Boom Rethink the Drink community who recently celebrated 100 days alcohol-free.
100 Days of HALT or How to Fill the VOID When You Quit Alcohol
Since I’ve been sober, learning to identify triggers that drive me toward drinking – like being Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired – has saved me from picking up a drink so many times! But beyond just recognizing those triggers in the moment, I’m learning to go a step further, and actually set up my day so that I’m far less likely to become hungry, angry, lonely or tired to begin with!
When I was drinking, my HALT letters were lit up like Christmas trees almost every day! What do I mean by “lit up”? Well, in my mind, I imagine HALT as a neon sign. Kind of like a neon-blue sign you might see along an urban street full of clubs and nightlife. Sometimes, a letter or two will burn brighter than the others – or, just the opposite – a letter might burn out all together! And sometimes the letters light up in a certain pattern or rhythm.
Well, (it may sound crazy, but!) I view HALT as a neon sign in my head!
If I’m hungry, I imagine that neon-blue H flickering on and slowly getting brighter until I take the time to sit down and eat – then it dims again. If I happen to get horrible sleep, the neon T will blink on early – and it may burn steady all day. If that’s the case, I do my best to take longer breaks between activities, or grab alone time for meditation. How ’bout that L light? Loneliness is a huge trigger for me! I tend to isolate – I’ve always been very private – and at the height of drinking, largely drank alone. So, now that I recognize that, I can steadily work on opening up – doing things like posting here on Boom… reaching out more to friends.. maybe volunteering, etc. I know now that my L won’t burn as brightly or be as booze-triggering the more I connect with people – something I rarely did (or could do) when I was drinking.
In contrast, as a daily drinker, I basically had no awareness of what triggered my cravings – so as you can imagine, all four HALT letters were always burning brightly!
(Truly, the lights were on, but nobody was home! 😁)
To begin with, I got sh*t sleep every night, so I basically started off the day at a disadvantage – that T would be burning super bright as soon as I’d drag myself out of bed! I didn’t eat healthily, or I’d skip meals – so the H would blink on and stay on all day. And because I was tired and hungry all the time… guess what? My patience was ZERO – and the Anger light would buzz on alongside the other two. This might lead to me lashing out at someone or pushing them away – and bam, isolation – here comes that L!
I was walking around with all or most of my letters lit up almost every day – and it was primarily of my own making!
It’s no wonder at the end of the day, with the entire HALT sign blazing away, and no strategies in place to help, I’d pour myself a drink (or five). Yes, a bottle or two would short out those lights for awhile… but the next day they’d be back on and even brighter than before! (As we often say, I was stuck in that Rinse/Repeat Cycle!)
An old saying comes to mind here: “you can’t beat an enemy you can’t see.” How very true! How can you beat cravings when you don’t know what’s triggering them in the first place? For me, understanding HALT has absolutely been key to my sobriety finally sticking. It has taken away the mystery and exposed cravings for what they are. They don’t just happen. Many times they spin off of a lack of planning!
Now, I know, sometimes you can do everything ahead of time to ensure a smooth day, and life still throws a curveball that sets off drinking triggers galore! We can’t predict it all. But doing my best at the beginning of the day (or night before) to put a framework in place for success has made a HUGE difference in remaining sober. Getting sleep, eating right, hydrating, checking in with Boom. If I can plan ahead, and make sure I’m doing some basic self-care, I’m almost beating the cravings before they ever arrive! I guess… living *proactively*, instead of just winging it like I used to.
“Winging it.” For decades, that’s all I knew how to do! Truly, one of the greatest gifts that I’ve been given in sobriety, and through using HALT, is *awareness*. I’m no longer just reacting to things, people, and circumstances throughout the day – or being surprised and knocked down by events – I am now able to anticipate my days, plan well for things that might pop up, and be rested enough to know which sober tools I need to use and when and how to use them.
I’m no longer living a life of reaction, but one of “pro-action” and advocacy for myself.
So, these last few months, I’ve slowly learned how to quiet those triggers. With booze removed, and being proactive about how the day will go (as much as I can be with the things I can control), those HALT letters don’t light up together much anymore – and because of that, the cravings for booze have dropped significantly!
I can’t tell you just how much that preparedness has helped me to maintain my sobriety! No, I can’t always keep all those lights completely quiet during the day… but with a little forethought, I can minimize how brightly they burn, cut down the cravings, and make just a little more progress on this sober journey!
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