How to Quiet that Thirsty Little Voice in Your Head-

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You know that Little Voice in your head ? That thirsty little voice that says you’ve earned a drink at the end of a long hard day even though you promised yourself earlier, when you woke up hung over again, that you were DONE WITH ALCOHOL !

It goes something like this :

I hear a distant voice telling me I deserve a reward.

“You’ve done well” it says.

“Damn right!” I proudly proclaim.

“Feeling pretty good?” I hear it ask.

“You know it” I reply.

“You’re rather proud of yourself” the voice notes. And, yes I am.

“You should be” it says.

I am enjoying my accomplishment, I admit to myself, feeling confident and a bit smug. Yesterday was a challenging day but I overcame that. I’ve begun to work on some personal issues that I wanted to address. Taken care of neglected chores. Mentally, I pat myself on the back.

“You deserve a treat” I hear, “You should celebrate”.

“I should” I think to myself, “I do deserve it”.

“A nice glass of wine or a whiskey would be a good way to mark the milestone” whispers the voice.

“I beg your pardon?” I ask.

“As part of a nice dinner of course. Like an appetizer. Just one.” The voice is quite convincing.

“No, I shouldn’t. I can’t” I say, standing my ground.

“You can” it replies “you’re much stronger now and confident. Just one, that’s all. It would be fun.”

Fun sounds good and I am a stronger person. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea. I should celebrate.

“Of course you should” comes the encouragement. ”You deserve this and you can handle it.”

“Can I?” I wonder; then play the movie through………

I go out and shop for my dinner then stop at the liquor store. Of course you can’t buy just one glass of wine so I choose a bottle of red and head towards the checkout but then I pause and think, “That whiskey sounded pretty good and would make a good nightcap”. So I pick up a bottle of that as well and purchase my celebratory supplies.

At home, the whiskey meant as a nightcap becomes a pre-dinner drink. I stop after one, complimenting myself on my restraint then open the bottle of wine to have one glass with dinner. While dining, one glass becomes two and three and so on.

“That’s ok” I think. I was eating. No harm done. I settle in to watch a movie and remember the whiskey. I’m a bit tired, I realize, so maybe I should have my nightcap a bit early least I fall asleep before drinking it.

I wake up in the early hours of the morning. There are two empty bottles on my counter. I feel like shit.

In the distance I hear a voice, “Feeling bad?” it asks. “You deserve to feel better”.

devil and angle

Here’s how the Little Voice works

The human mind is associative. Our thoughts and experiences create associations in memory.

Examples: When I was very young, we went to visit an uncle who lived on a farm. On the way we drove by a skunk that had been hit and killed a bit earlier. Now, every time I smell a dead skunk I think of my uncle’s farm.

Eight times seven => fifty six. It’s five PM =>

Let’s have a drink.

Mental associations have various strengths. A child just learning their “multiplication facts” has a hard time remembering 8 times 7 = 56, and even if they do, they may have problems with 7 times 8.

Two things which make mental associations stronger are: repetition and reinforcement.

Drinkers have both.

When we’re drinking, we tend to repeat: The same drink or kinds of drinks, the same settings, the same times, the same “logic”. Our alcoholic “high” reinforces our behavior. Not surprisingly, these associations become firmly embedded.

It’s five PM, and we want a drink, badly, and almost automatically.

I call these strong associations “mental ruts”, because they act like deep ruts in a dirt road. Riding a bike across a rut filled road is very difficult, because every time you come to a rut your bike twists to follow it.


What to do?

OK.

Drum roll.

Here’s The Main Point:

It is impossible to “break” strong mental associations; You can only replace them with new associations which, over time, become stronger and “take over” from the old ones.

Therefore:

Understand that your Little Voice is really some association that has been triggered in your mind, like my dead skunk​

Keep an eye on yourself, and make a list of the associations. They can be times, places, people, feelings.

If you have stopped drinking repeatedly and then fallen back into it, you may be surprised to find that success in not drinking is associated in your mind with drinking, the I deserve a reward” association.

​A complete list of your associations with drinking amounts to a list of your Little Voice’s best “lines”. He uses them because they have worked in the past, but they are not valid or good, they are just associations.

​Just say, “No!” Avoid repeating your old drinking behavior as much as possible. Pavlov’s dogs taught us that reinforcing an old association, even one time in ten or twenty, is enough to keep it going.

Organize your life to avoid these associations:

Don’t go to the old pub. Plan something at 5 PM, like going for a walk, what will make it inconvenient or impossible to drink.

Make new associations. Put new things and activities in your life. It is MUCH easier to move into new interests and activities than it is to try to stop drinking while keeping everything the same. That just gives your Little Voice a lot of free time to hit you with one old, dysfunctional association after another.

Some new associations work by directly replacing old ones. “I’m down, so I drink” can be replaced directly by, “I’m down, so I will do my stretching exercises.”

​Some new associations work by giving us a whole new direction. Training for a 5k, or getting into quilting or ham radio doesn’t directly oppose our old behavior, but it does take away its energy, putting it toward new and better things.

Work to be mentally “engaged”. If we are thinking about what we are doing, there is less mental “room” for the Little Voice to work.

Example:

Try NOT to think about elephants for the next 30 seconds. Almost impossible.

But, most of the time we are not thinking about elephants, because we are thinking about something else. If our mind is “idling” – watching TV or sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves – our Little Voice has room to work. If we are learning ballroom dancing or studying French we shut him out.

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Related Posts:

Breaking the Spell of Wine o’ Clock

Guide to your First Month of Sobriety : Why and How to Quit

The Fuckit Bucket

Related posts from Inside the BOOM Community :

What are Your Thoughts on Cutting down rather than Cutting Out the Booze ?

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Top Ten Things you can Do to Help Maintain Sobriety

10. Visualize yourself not drinking. If you’ve slipped, think back and figure out what happened that caused it. Then come up with a plan for the next time. Then sit and imagine yourself back in that situation, using your new plan, and succeeding; Do that a couple of times and you will find the new plan right there when you need it.

9. Weigh the outcomes. What will happen if you drink, What will happen if you don’t drink. Sometimes it helps to write down how you feel after you’ve overdone it, and re-read that honest assessment the next time Little Voice is feeding you a line.

8. Create accountability. Post your goals here, and faithfully log in an ‘fess up when you slip. If you have a spouse or friend who can serve in this role that helps too. Accountability strengthens resolve.

Want to stop drinking? Start with a Plan and Share It!

7. Break it down. Remember, the only time you can actually not drink is right now. The past is over and the future has to wait its turn. Just don’t drink today, don’t drink right now.

6. Reward yourself for not drinking, with a favorite show or new clothes. Don’t be bashful; Post here that you’ve completed “Day ##”. Stick your chest out!

5. Take your brain out of it. Remember when you learned to ride a bike? When you were thinking about it, you wobbled all over the place, but then the time came when you just did it. Don’t dwell on sobriety; Just make it an integral non-optional part of your life. Then move on to other things.

4. Surround yourself with success. I’m not into dumping friends, but there may be some dyed in the wool drinkers you just need to move on from. More importantly, make new sober friends, and read the posts here from folks who are running the good race.

3. Look back once in a while. As you make progress, occasionally remind yourself of what it was like “back when”. It can be a huge motivator.

2. Prepare for success. We all know when the tough times will be: At the pub with pals, the 5PM Happy Hour. Have a plan. Be aware of the times you have problems (this is often half the battle) and have something planned. Exercise at 5PM. Be ready to order a non-alcoholic drink at the pub.

1. Know that you CAN succeed. This is not a seven foot high jump. It’s not “rocket science”. It’s just NOT drinking alcohol. Never let that Little Voice con you into thinking, “I can’t do this.” Horse manure! Tell LV to, “Stuff it!”.

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