Last month I gave up drinking.
Or rather, I was encouraged to by circumstance.
See, the last day of the month before, a key guy at work had threatened to leave, so I tried to “talk him down off the ledge” by taking him to the pub. At 11 am.
He took a lot of convincing.
Thus I left the boozer around 7, and, this being London, was just in time to go to another pub until midnight.
If you’re a maths whiz you’ll have noted I drank steadily for around 13 hours. On a Tuesday.
Now, I didn’t really get a hangover (I don’t seem to much any more), but I did wake up on Wednesday morning thinking maybe I should look after my body a little better. Since it was the first day of the month, giving up booze for the month seemed an obvious decision. An easy decision.
Or so I thought.
Now, I don’t normally drink that heavily (although I used to when I was younger). It’s also fairly common for me to go months without drinking, and not really miss it at all.
However, by day two of my little experiment, I had already started counting down the hours until the end of the month.
It was going to be rough. A lot rougher than I’d expected.
The obvious question: why?
Now, there were definitely environmental factors – London is a big drinking town (damn near all socialising is done at the pub), work stress, big city life etc.
However, there was more going on than just that.
I’m obstinate enough that I wasn’t about to break down and have a drink (although I came damn close a couple of times) – so there was only one other option: figure out why it was so damn difficult, and resolve it. Which for me pretty much means: heal whatever was coming up.
The thing was – what to heal?
So, I started paying attention.
The trick I’ve found with all these situations is: watch for the triggers. If you’re suddenly gasping for a drink, what were you feeling or thinking about immediately preceding this? What happened in the previous 20 minutes?
I noticed two things:
- The urges would be utterly overwhelming when I felt that life was getting on top of me
- It wasn’t just an urge to drink (“to take the edge off”). I was also finding myself wanting to sleep more (aka “screw this, I’m outta here”).
Not a huge surprise what’s going on here: escapism.
[As a side note, I read a book about someone who worked in an LA booze rehab clinic in the 70’s and 80’s. There was a 90%+ recidivism rate. Reason was, alcohol is the fastest (non-medical) way to get sugar into the bloodstream. People would leave the clinic, get depressed by life, eat sugar to cheer up, then get lower, eat more sugar, until eventually they’d go back to alcohol. Once this doctor rebalanced the neurochemistry leading to the sugar dependency? Recidivism dropped to 15%. So, drinking to attempt to alleviate mild depression is also common.]
Obviously, there are tons of ways we can try to avoid or “escape” from our feelings. Booze & sleep are only two of the more socially acceptable choices. Also on that list would be over-work, TV, sex, drugs, and so on.
So, let’s try to get practical.
Here’s what worked for me to eliminate these compulsions.
When these feelings came rushing up, I did the exact opposite from usual.
1. Instead of trying to escape, I welcomed them up. Simply said “yes” to the feelings, or “I love you,” relaxed that part of my body and let the energy go.
Feelings are just energy coming up after all; nothing to be afraid of. They’re simply a physical manifestation of the energy shovelling around our system.
2. If things got particular rough, I’d help it all along with a couple of quick rounds of EFT.
What was particularly fascinating was that at no point did I really know, with any great detail, what these feelings were about.
I mean, sure, “blah blah I hate (this aspect of) my life” (or whatever), but really, the things that came up were surprisingly generally “crappy feelings“.
The cool thing?
Within a couple of minutes of me welcoming the feelings up and letting them go, they’d drop away completely, and I’d go back to being über peaceful, with no booze or sleep compulsions at all.
Now, to be fair, the first time the mad cravings kicked in, I was too wound up to step back and observe. It took me a day or two of being obscenely cranky before I twigged. Once I did though, it all dropped away incredibly quickly.
The second time it happened I was watching for it, and the whole thing from initial overwhelm through hair-on-fire-arm-waving and back to calm acceptance took maybe half an hour.
The interesting bit?
Even though I really had no idea what specifically these compulsions were about (though each did have a slightly different tone/set of precursors), once I dumped them, they didn’t come back.
I did have a tiny handful of smaller occurrences, but other than that, the tail end of the month was completely peaceful.
Around day four of this experiment I’d set an alarm for midnight on the last day of the month. I was, as I said, quite literally counting the hours until I could sink another Guinness.
When the alarm did finally go off? I wasn’t particularly bothered at all. In fact, I didn’t have a drink until the next day – and even then it was really just to test if I’d feel compelled to have many beers, or could just stop at one.
Stopping at one was motivationally trivial.
Now, does this mean I haven’t got drunk or over slept since? Ha ha, no, of course not.
Have I felt compelled to do so? With vastly less regularity or intensity. The old days of “Argh! Shitty day at work, fuck it! Must! Drink! Now!” seem to have more-or-less completely disappeared.
Even when I have felt the I. Must. Drink. Now urge, I have one beer, everything calms again and I get on with my day. This is very different. Heh.
Obviously, it’s a long game we’re playing. If I feel these feelings arising anew, I just need to take the same approach – welcome the crappy feelings up, love them, and let them go – rather than escaping.
I’m still a little surprised though that even without ever really knowing what was going on underneath, just focusing on the feelings, relaxing that part of my body and letting it all go has had such a powerful effect.
As research papers love to say “further research is warranted.”
ps. Want a good drink for when you’re in the pub and everyone around you is drinking? Lime and soda. Sometimes it’s an actual lime, sometimes a splash of lime juice. If you’re really lucky, they may not even charge you for it. Regardless, it’s delicious. You can drink a ton of them before you feel blergh (unlike coke or juice), and best of all? It feels like you’re drinking. I’m not quite sure how, but it does. Totally the go-to drink for teetotallers.