For some of us drinking is a huge part of having a social life.
For some of us drinking is a coping mechanism, a crutch when things aren’t going well. Something to turn to when we don’t want to face our own depression or our own reality.
For some of us drinking is a reward, a way to treat ourselves. After a long day with the kids I feel like I deserve to do a little something for myself after they go to bed.
Hence, the No Alcohol October Monthly Challenge. I don’t think alcohol is evil. I not-so-secretly love the stuff. But I’ve hardly taken any breaks since having Shiloh.
After nine months of no drinking while pregnant, one month should be a breeze, right?
Thoughts on Addictive Behaviors
Anything that feels good can become an addiction if we let it. Our brain knows what it likes and asks for it often, whether that is alcohol, shopping, sex, or even working out too much.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23
I believe in doing things mindfully and not merely out of habit. That means being intentional about my decisions rather than mindlessly doing whatever I feel like.
Here’s some questions to help determine if a habit is “owning you” or if you’re owning it.
The Addiction Test:
Do you think about it when you aren’t doing it?
Do you feel guilt or regret afterward?
Do you use it to cover up negative emotions?
Do you spend more time or money on it than you’d like?
Does it impede your social life? (Turning down time with friends to drink alone.)
Does it harm your family in any way? (Arguments with spouse over it.)
Are you unwilling / unable to take a break from it?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be fighting an addiction on some level. Here’s some steps you can take to help regain control and balance in your life.
Steps to Gain Control:
Peer support – Joining a small group or even just informally telling some friends about your struggle is a huge step. That support and accountability is invaluable in helping deal with the underlying issues that might be fueling your addictive behaviors. Your best friends know you well enough to help you make a decision about seeking professional help. Of course, if your friends frequently take part in the addictive behavior you’re struggling with, then leave them out of the decision. This is about your life, not theirs. Maybe you’ll even inspire them to do the same.
Small breaks – This will be most effective if the thing is more of a ritual than an addiction. Do a monthly challenge like I did and see how it goes. You might be refreshingly surprised at how easy it is. Maybe you just need a little willpower or a change of pace. You may feel that you’ve regained the control and mindfulness you were lacking.
New, healthy habits – Like any habit, I think it helps to replace the old habit with a new one. I changed up my nightly ritual this month by having a cup of tea instead of a beer. Replace thought patterns with new, healthy thoughts as well.
Don’t punish yourself – Slipping up once doesn’t undo all the benefits of taking your break. I’ll be honest and say that I wanted to quit about two weeks into my challenge. The cravings were pretty strong that day. Many of my friends feel this way about sugar. A certain time of night, they just want chocolate or a cookie and nothing else will fix the craving. While alcohol has the worse reputation for being addictive, I believe sugar is every bit as addictive, and possibly more widespread in the US anyway. Whatever your habit is, don’t beat yourself up too much if you aren’t perfect.
The thing isn’t the problem – Realize that it’s your relationship to the thing that needs to change – not the thing itself. It helps to be honest about how the behavior actually makes you feel. Dependence. Shame. Regret. It’s probably not making you as happy as you think it is. If you’re using your behavior to cover up something bigger, then identify that issue as the real culprit and tackle it head-on.
Avoid tempting situations – Even though I tried, I could never fully avoid the temptation of alcohol. I realized that advertisements for alcohol are everywhere. My family doesn’t have television, but I saw enough ads to induce cravings simply online and on highway billboards. Just friends posting on social media with a beer in their hand was annoying. I guess we don’t realize that nowadays we’re all advertising something. And that’s the kind of advertisement that’s hardest to avoid. We want to keep in touch with our friends. We want to see what’s happening in their lives. But it sometimes means subjecting ourselves and one another to unintentional “ads” for products we don’t necessarily endorse.
I wanted to give in a few times, but I didn’t. And that’s exactly why I did this challenge. It was because I didn’t want to, that I knew I needed to do it.
I made it the whole month without a drink, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
I estimate that I saved about $18 on alcohol this month. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. Something I would have spent on nothing but myself. I’ll donate the savings to this Haitian charity that is responding to the hurricane this month. (I plan on traveling to Haiti on assignment this winter with my friend Gloria, founder of Haitians Helping Haitians. Stay tuned!)
Now that the challenge is over, I’ll definitely go back to treating myself with a beer every now and then. I find that it’s a nice way to celebrate something, and if it isn’t a nightly ritual, then it’s more special when the time comes.
Less is more in many areas, including this one.
What about you? Did you give up anything this month? If so, what did you learn from the experience? Do you think you’ll go right back to indulging the way you used to?