The impact of mindful drinking
Eight things I have learned during the first 793 days of my mindful drinking journey
Image from: NIAAA, Alcohol Facts and Statistics, 2022.
I’ve learned countless things during this time but feel these are the top eight that will be most impactful when shared. Please note it is the ‘first 793 days’ because this is a lifelong journey. It started well before November 2020, but that was the date I started tracking my alcohol consumption.
I firmly believe tracking is the first step of mindfulness and, in this case, behavior change, although I had been exploring my relationship with alcohol before then. Please also note this countdown progresses into a deeper understanding of my unique and fascinating brain. It may be difficult for some readers, but my hope is that it assures readers, even just one, that they’re not alone.
8. Alcohol is everywhere. And it impacts everyone.
Whether or not you are personally and directly impacted by alcohol consumption, you are impacted indirectly. Maybe you come from a ‘family of alcoholics’ or you’ve lost a friend to drinking. Maybe you were forced to sit through a ‘mock accident’ before prom as a lesson not to drink and drive. Maybe you work in an industry surrounded by alcohol or attend work events that offer an open bar. Even the federal holidays that most people celebrate nationwide bring out the booze in the grocery stores and social gatherings. Never mind the number of ads we are surrounded by, the media we submerge ourselves in, etc.
I’ve been in Moderation Management for 3+ years now and it has been comforting yet alarming how many communities, populations, and individuals are impacted by alcohol. This organization, the volunteers that keep it running, and the people within the various communities are the reason I am here today — physically sitting and writing this piece — because it has shown me just how prevalent alcohol is and how important these conversations are. Moderation Management offers free resources, including meetings seven days a week. Some of the meetings support very specific and diverse populations including, but not limited to, LGBTQ+, Millennials, Spanish Speaking, Men’s, Women’s, Absers (for people who are sober or abstaining from alcohol consumption), and Couples’ Meetings.
Does joining a community, such as Moderation Management, mean someone is an alcoholic?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in their Glossary featured on their website containing Alcohol Facts and Statistics:
While alcohol is everywhere, so is AUD:
7. Alcohol is expensive. It is physically, mentally, and financially expensive.
By drinking mindfully, I have saved $7.2k, avoided 119.9k empty sugar calories (which is over 30 lbs), and significantly improved my mental health. I have been using Sunnyside to track my progress during these 793 days which calculates drinks by the average cost of alcohol near me. The $7.2K doesn’t even include the extra costs of the bougie wines, celebrations with friends, or the “splurging because I can afford it” in between. The amount I have saved with Sunnyside makes the investment in Sunnyside and my donations to Moderation Management more than worth it.
6. Even if we take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back, we keep moving forward.
Some days will be better than others. When you have one of those days where you accidentally take two steps back, forgive yourself because you ultimately can keep moving forward. It’s important not to let the shame, guilt, and embarrassment drag you down or hold you back.
One thing that helps to move past the negative emotions and societal judgment that comes with AUD, or overdrinking, is examining where those emotions come from. Do you feel ashamed because your parent(s) or guardian(s) told you that one sip of alcohol means you’re doomed like your alcoholic relative? Do you feel embarrassed because you lost your cool around a friend, even though that friend may have been the one who encouraged you to drink excessively in the first place? Do you have a core belief that you don’t deserve good things because someone once told you so? Maybe someone in your life, or your own personal brain, tells you that you’re meant to fail and so you often self-sabotage? Looking at your core beliefs and where they stem from, can help you understand these negative emotions and grow to cope with them. Honestly, Moderation Management paired with therapy has helped me to realize, understand, and examine this during my 793 days. We won’t get into the shortage of mental health practitioners and lack of mental health resources in the U.S. right now; because luckily, Moderation Management has a growing list of clinicians that support both moderation and abstinence. A therapist is a great resource to help as we keep moving forward.
5. Habit change is tough, but so are you.
“If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.” – James Clear
Grabbing a drink after the workday, whether from your fridge or with a friend, is not only embedded in many people’s routines but has been further exacerbated through the pandemic and working from home. Atomic Habits by James Clear has been foundational for me during my first 793 days. If you feel your drinking may be out of habit, I highly recommend picking up this book or subscribing to his newsletter and email classes.
In the book Atomic Habits, Clear gives tangible methods to change habits. If you need the assurance that habit change is possible and you are capable of it, I highly recommend this book. Clear provides concrete ways to change habits and the NIAAA clearly states, in the definition of AUD above, that recovery is possible regardless of severity.
4. Our bodies are simply not meant to sustain a life with excessive alcohol consumption.
Over time I continue to read about the ways in which alcohol negatively impacts our bodies (e.g., empty sugar calories, sleep and energy levels, gum recession in your mouth, chronic diseases, etc.) and it’s astonishing we continue to choose to imbibe. I say this in a non-judgmental way (explanation below).
Even when we know what our bodies need, we often don’t listen. For example, we know alcohol isn’t good for us but we continue to drink anyway because we enjoy it. Similarly, we know exercise is important, but we (rather, I) still don’t exercise because I don’t enjoy it.
While I may not exercise regularly, I at least try to move my body and remain active in some capacity. For example, I will take my dogs for a walk, chase my chickens out back, stretch at my desk during the workday, or take the stairs when given the option. In the case of alcohol consumption, I practice mindful drinking and moderation to limit the harm caused by consuming it. Plus, drinking moderately not only gives me the energy to be more active, but also improves my mindset so I enjoy it more.
3. It’s really difficult to examine your relationship with alcohol.
For a long time excessive, uncontrollable alcohol use was deemed “Alcoholism” or an individual was described as an “alcoholic”. Now medical practitioners and government resources use the term “Alcohol Use Disorder” (AUD) because science says it is a spectrum, not an either-or scenario.
Yet, society still labels people as alcoholics and shames people for seeking help. Often therapists and physicians overwhelmingly recommend abstinence (via 12-step programs or rehab) as the only solution to AUD, further discouraging individuals from seeking help. This makes it extremely difficult for people to even begin to examine their relationship with alcohol, often making people feel there is something wrong with them and they are different.
It is time people change the way they discuss alcohol consumption to lessen the shame and feeling of helplessness that deters people from seeking support. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help, and the way people discuss alcohol consumption needs to change to support those in need of help.
2. Being alone with my brain is _________.
I leave this blank for you to fill in because there are a lot of things that fit in this sentence. It is up to the individual to determine what fits best for them. Maybe
… Anxiety inducing.
For me, being alone with my brain has become an opportunity to grow.
Many people think AUD is binge drinking then hitting rock bottom, getting arrested, or losing a job. However, it looks different for everyone. It can also be emotional drinking or daily, habitual drinking. For many people, alcohol helps calm their racing thoughts, and then (whether or not they know it) slowly becomes a way to self-medicate.
With the help of Moderation Management and tracking my drinks, I have increased my number of dry days (days without drinking) per week significantly. Tracking eventually gave me the courage to add more dry days to my week. The more dry days I have, the more time I find myself alone with my brain. The more alone time with my brain, the more I realize my brain is just trying to kill me!
You might be thinking, “Christine, what does that even mean?” My internal dialogue often tells me to have a drink, buy six bottles of wine for that 10% discount, and life isn’t really worth living. But why does my brain say these things? I don’t believe any of those statements, yet they enter my mind. So, during these 793 days I wanted to learn more. Turns out I have been treated for anxiety and depression for the last 15+ years, but I also have ADHD and OCD. Being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult has been a whirlwind. All at once I felt a sigh of relief, a deeper understanding of my brain, a thirst to learn more, and a bit of hopelessness since this took over 15 years to diagnose. Luckily, there are skills one can learn and support for people in need of mental health care; but that doesn’t make being alone with your brain any easier. This is a big reason I recently created a weekly Moderation Management meeting to support others with symptoms of ADHD. I realized it wasn’t just me, many people need this specific peer support.
For those of you who do not experience depression or have a clinical diagnosis such as Depression or General Anxiety Disorder, I am sure you have still felt challenged by your brain. It can be especially challenging when you’re exploring your relationship with alcohol. During those dry days, lean into any discomfort and get curious about your brain. Learning about your mind can help you grow through and go through this alone time with your brain. Learn to practice self-care, love yourself, and do things to help your brain be happy and healthy.
1. If you are concerned about your drinking or want to change your relationship with alcohol, you are not alone.
Every day more people are exploring their relationship with alcohol. People are speaking up about their experiences, sharing resources, and seeking support.
I began sharing my experiences back in 2019 through Moderation Management. After a couple of years, I opened up about my experiences to loved ones and people I trust. Most recently, I am immersed in various communities including Sunnyside and Moderation Management, helping others to find the support I so desperately needed back before these ‘first 793 days’.
To those who have read this far – Know you are not alone and there is support for you (and your loved ones). To wrap up this list of the top eight things I have learned over the last 793 days, I want to reiterate that 1) it is okay (and now encouraged!) to ask for help, 2) exploring your relationship with alcohol does not mean you’re an alcoholic, and 3) there are safe, non-judgmental communities available. Looking for a place to start? Head over to Moderation.org and Sunnyside.co (no m).
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