A few months ago my boyfriend and I decided we were going to go alcohol free throughout the duration of an 8 week challenge we were in.
It was his idea and I thought, "Heck it! Me too!"
I even announced it on my social media with the idea of some extra accountability. (Actual picture from the post)
My typical intake was maybe 1 beer through the week and 1-4 beverages on the weekends. I'd been thinking about cutting back a little just for my health in general so just up and cutting it out didn't seem too crazy.
I didn't think it would be all that hard, but I ended up having a few realizations as I tried to follow through with this decision:
Drinking alcohol had become a habit
There wasn't really a whole lot of thought put into it. It was just a normal thing to have a beer as soon as I got to my boyfriend's place. We'd go hang out with friends and have a drink. We'd go to the liquor store and see if they had any nifty stouts I'd never had before. There was no doubt that if it was a weekend, at some point, there'd be a beverage in my hand. Plus, sometimes if there was a night during the week where I felt particularly drained I'd sometimes sip a shot (yes sip-I've never been very good at shots) or have a beer. I didn't notice all of this until I was like "oh wait, I'm not supposed to be drinking right now..." Then I realized...
I don't do very well trying to quit habits cold turkey
I found that trying to stop drinking alcohol all together just made me want it more. I don't mean uncontrollable fixation/cravings/like I NEED this now type of thing. I'd just debate with myself..."should I have one? No I'm not supposed to! But it's been a long week! I can drink something else." If I did choose to go ahead and have one then...
I felt a lot of guilt
I had somehow put this moral value on whether or not I had a drink and that made it really uncomfortable. I wasn't paying attention to the fact that I was still drinking less which, in the long run, was the main goal. Especially in situations where I'd normally drink and I was drinking less or not at all. From that...
I noticed that I tend to associate certain drinks with certain activities
Coffee goes with waking up and being productive. Alcohol goes with chilling out and winding down or hanging out with friends. I was able to plan ahead a bit when I paid attention to that.
Here's what I learned:
We are habitual beings and sometimes don't even realize it until we try to change something. We rely on these habits, whether consciously or subconsciously, because they give us a sense of order and/or control over what's going on in our lives which in turn gives us a sense of calm and safety. This goes for both good and bad habits.
Trying to stop a habit or start a new healthy habit with a "balls to the wall" mindset right out of the gate almost never works. If anything, it leads to feeling guilty because of not following through perfectly or "all or nothing" kicks in and any attempts at change get thrown out the window.
Paying attention to when/where the habit happens is key for making changes. First thing in the morning, at the end of a tough day, when you're socializing- knowing this can prepare you for having an alternative in place-like when I sometimes replaced alcohol with another type of beverage.
Key takeaways from my random brain dump:
Understand your habits are buried deep and will take time to change.
Don't go balls to the wall-take small steps at a time.
Figure out when the habit tends to take place so you can be ready for it.
Replace one habit with another to make the transition more doable.