As we approach summer and outdoor BBQs/ happy hours start popping up everywhere, I thought it would be beneficial to explore our relationship with alcohol and why many of us are so attached to it. Now I could write an entire book on this, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on the subconscious thoughts and hidden beliefs that are contributing to when we over-drink. I want to explore those thoughts and discuss the judgements that can turn something that is not a morality issue (ingesting alcohol) into a great source of needless suffering and shame. Lastly, I want to offer you some other ways to think about drinking, strategies for practicing moderation (this is not for the alcoholics), and how to practice self-love no matter what you may pick up to drink.
Okay, let’s begin with our thoughts related to alcohol. First of all, most of our thoughts are pretty embedded in our minds and bodies about drinking by the time we get old enough to pay attention to them. For many of us, some of those hidden thoughts might include weekends are so much more fun with alcohol, only nerds and squares don’t drink, we are not as much fun if we are not relaxed from a little bit of alcohol, it is boring not to drink, I just love the taste of it, vacation would not be vacation without alcohol, there is nothing else to do, there is no way I am dating without alcohol! Those are just a sample of what our brain may offer us, and I am sure you can add some of your own. So, you can imagine that if we have those sorts of thoughts operating in our subconscious, hidden and unexplored, what sort of feelings might get triggered and then lead to actions that give us our results.
In the case of over-drinking, I am guessing all of those thoughts about the need to drink and why it is better, will trigger certainty and that leads to the action of drinking. Then other thoughts may come up with intoxication that might include I want more, I don’t want this fun to stop, let’s have another one and that leads to excess, and the result is drunkenness. In the case of drinking when you planned to abstain, the thought might be screw it, who cares if I have a couple drinks, I am being spontaneous, the feeling might be impulsive and that leads to drinking and not honoring your word. Bottom line, you cannot pick up a beverage without having a thought first, so it is important to figure out your own specific thoughts that inspire you to drink differently than you planned.
So now that we have talked about the initial thoughts, let’s take a look at the next layer that is often times involved when it comes to over-drinking, and that would be many, many judgements (which are just more thoughts). For some reason, we forget that eating and drinking has nothing to do with morality. The act of ingesting alcohol is neutral. The only way we can feel anything about it is because of the way we are thinking. Many times, after people over-drink, they soon regret it and start to feel guilty and bad that they gave in to their impulses. Some people beat themselves up with self-criticism and one judgement after another. They do this over and over again and this can lead to a lingering sense of shame that literally becomes wired into their body from the repetitive thoughts and actions of over drinking.
Now that I have offered you some of the thoughts that inspire over-drinking and how self-judgements can lead to shame, I want to offer you some new thoughts to change up the current way you may be thinking about alcohol and offer you some strategies for drinking in moderation (not for alcoholics). First, I want you to really consider whether drinking alcohol is really that much fun. When you think about it, it is kind of crazy. You are sitting in a chair, lifting a beverage up to your mouth, and swallowing it. Why do we make it out to be so much fun? If we sat in a chair all evening and did not drink, we would get bored. For some reason, we don’t feel that way if there is an alcoholic beverage in our hand. Why? Because avoiding boredom and other uncomfortable emotions is the number one reason why we drink in the first place. The truth is alcohol takes the edge off and we can escape those uncomfortable emotions with even one glass of wine. What if we decided being bored or restless is not that big of a deal? What if we decided to approach it like an experiment and see what emotions come up if we choose not to drink? How would that change our social lives and impact the rest of our life as well? What activities might we be willing to try or explore, if we no longer relied on alcohol for an escape or if we were no longer hungover on a regular basis? How much more creative might we be with our time?
Next, I want to share a perspective I learned about moderate drinking at the Life Coach School from Brooke Castillo. We have the primitive brain (which I call brain BS) that can also be referred to as the ego, and the prefrontal brain, which is our higher self and can be described as our soul. Whenever we over-drink, you can be sure that brain BS is leading the charge. Here is the thing though, our ego cannot MAKE us drink. It can make us want to drink, but our prefrontal brain is the only way we can lift the glass to our mouth and actually swallow it. Therefore, it makes sense to strengthen the prefrontal brain as much as we can and weaken the ego by not listening to it. How do we do that? We actually plan what we want to drink in advance and stick to the plan. If we get the desire to drink, we just have to wait 24 hours to actually follow through with it. By that time, the ego is no longer in charge, and it is up to the prefrontal brain if it still wants to drink. Now the idea here is to actually plan whatever you drink and that even means even over-drinking. We want to get in the habit of listening to our prefrontal brain and not being impulsive from our primitive brain. So whatever you decide to drink in advance, is what you drink.
Another point I want to make in terms of planning what you drink, is you need to throw out the notions that spontaneity and getting crazy in the moment are actually serving you. They are not. Sure, they might seem like fun ideas in the moment, but the feelings are temporary and superficial. Those thoughts are just getting you to listen to your ego. We all know that long term gratification trumps short term false pleasures any day of the week…we just forget that!
Okay, so now what? We have explored the thought process involved with drinking and the shame that is often times involved with over-drinking. I have made some suggestions for how we can change our perspective on drinking and the importance of letting our prefrontal brains be in charge when appropriate (not for alcoholics). Now let’s discuss what happens when we fall short of our plan and do not show up the way we want. The number one thing is we never want to beat up on ourselves up, judge ourselves or throw ourselves under the bus. Of course, this is the opposite of what normally happens, right? When we disappoint ourselves and often times experience self-loathing because of that, we do not inspire actions that are positive. In fact, that usually leads to more of the same behavior and drinking to avoid the uncomfortable emotions that are even worse. If we can stay in a positive place instead, with kindness and compassion for ourselves, that can lead to different actions and give us different results. It is never the circumstance (the drinking) that causes us to feel anything (other than a hangover), it is always what we are thinking about it that triggers our feelings, actions, and determines our results.
For example, say I decide to just get crazy and take a vacation from managing my mind. I go out and over-drink and have a mindless and liberating time in the moment. The next morning, I can wake up and have two different approaches to how I think about the night before. I can think, OMG, I drank way too much again, I feel gross, I am a loser, and I will never have control over how much I drink. OR I can think, okay, I let my brain BS be in charge last night and now I am paying the price today. It is okay though, had fun, I still love myself and have my own back and going to forgive myself for my limitations and do better the next time. See the difference? We never make sustainable changes or inspire positive actions, if we are not aligned with our soul. How do we know we are aligned with our soul? By the way we feel. If we are judging and beating the crap out of ourselves, you can be sure we are immersed in brain BS and that will just lead to more of the same.
In conclusion, the way we think, is what leads to us over-drinking. We have many hidden thoughts and beliefs about alcohol that might not actually be true! By exploring our beliefs and thoughts about it, we may just inspire different feelings and actions that lead to less drinking and new activities that we have never done before. In addition, it would benefit us to pay more attention to our prefrontal brain than our primitive brain, because the primitive brain is all brain BS and should not be in charge. In fact, the only way to drink moderately is if we plan ahead, follow our plan, and strengthen our prefrontal brain. Lastly, no matter what choices we make regarding drinking, we must always remember to be kind and loving to ourselves and always have our own back. Beating ourselves up and hiding in shame, is never going to give us the results we want. Join me in the Brain BS Podcast this week to discuss this further!