Episode 3: Is Life Harder Without Alcohol?
In today’s episode I want to talk about whether or not life is harder without alcohol. As a life coach, I often hear people tell me they’re afraid to face life without alcohol. They want to quit drinking, but then they wonder what life will be like when they’re fully aware and present and they don’t have alcohol as an escape. They’re concerned with how to cope with all the craziness of life as a non-drinker. And they’re concerned with how to socialize without alcohol and how they’ll be perceived by their peers, family, and coworkers.
I also know first hand as a former drinker. Part of the struggle to quit drinking is this mind drama. You fast forward to every single event and circumstance where you normally drink and dread each and every occasion without alcohol. You paint a worst-case scenario picture. It also becomes pretty enlightening all of a sudden how much you rely on alcohol in your life, which can be scary.
When you consider quitting drinking, sadly, it’s like a break-up you evaluate. Like a break-up with a person. You think, am I better off without this person? Am I better off without alcohol? Will I make it on my own if I break up with him or her? Can I cope without this thing? It’s very co-dependent and scary for many people. You know what life is like with alcohol and even if you don’t like it, you know what to expect. You have this partner who sucks but then you think, can I do any better? Is this all that I’m capable of or all that I’m worthy of receiving?
You know 100% that you can turn to alcohol and let it wash away the moment, even if it leads to additional unwanted results…you still have certainty with alcohol. You know if you get pissed off at work or in an argument with a love one, you can drink a couple glasses of wine and it will dull your emotions…it will take the edge off…and it will erase your day for that moment. But I want you to think about that for a minute…it will erase your day….we’ll get back to that in a minute.
To know if life is harder without alcohol first requires you to understand WHY you’re drinking and what you’re using alcohol for. Because like with anything else, once you understand the why and have the awareness, the how to make changes becomes much easier. Knowing your WHY for both why you’re drinking and WHY you want to change, gives you a roadmap or a blueprint for your journey.
So let’s start with common ways we think alcohol makes life easier. So back to that statement I wanted you to think about…alcohol will erase your day. You think it’s a quick fix for unpleasant emotions and thoughts. It’s like a light switch, just turn the day off…turn the brain off and it does. Alcohol will erase, temporarily, your negative feelings. But they don’t disappear completely; however, YOU disappear when you drink. We use alcohol to erase ourselves by erasing our emotions, feelings, and experiences. You may think you’re temporarily erasing frustrations or unwanted circumstances but as you repeat this pattern, it adds up and you’re erasing your life. Especially when overdrinking.
And that’s what becomes the problem. The reliance on it. The reliance quickly becomes an overreliance. Because it’s socially accepted and increasingly so, it’s so easy to just wash everything away with a bottle of wine. It’s so easy to adapt to social settings with a drink. It’s so easy to let your walls down with booze because everyone else is… Alcohol buffers our lives away, to mute and censor our voices, our personalities, our pain, our memories, and our feelings.
And when you sit down to take the edge off, you take the rest of the day off. You don’t recover and bounce back, you’re out for the night. It’s not like unwinding for 20 minutes and then you get your evening back…it’s gone. Your cognition is useless. Your awareness and presence is done. Your participation in family events or your ability to work on a passion project or side hustle is over for the rest of the day. Any effort you could spend creating a life you love so you don’t have to deal with that shitty boss is postponed, yet again. You’re wiped out until the next day where you get to start the cycle all over again.
So, Yes, alcohol can remove the frustration of a bad day at work or a bad day with the kids. But it doesn’t stop there. It wreaks havoc on the rest of your day and can bleed into the next day, as well. You actually borrow productivity and patience from the next day when you spend a boozy evening “erasing” your bad day. And what starts out as a pick-me-up or a glass to unwind becomes THE pick-me-up and only way to unwind.
So what’s the alternative here? How can life be easier without using alcohol to wash away the woes of the day? Well, it’s really simple. Take a breath. Give yourself time and space to unwind, alone and breath. Breathing resets your sympathetic nervous system by enabling your parasympathetic nervous system. Google it. There’s all different methods of breathing for relaxation like 4:5:6 breathing. Breathing in for four, holding your breath for 5, and exhaling for 6. Just repeat this over and over…you will feel calmer. There’s other breathing methods as I stated but these are all free tools available to you. Breathing send signals to your body that it’s in a relaxed state, out of danger. So your brain may be supercharged with anger, or stress but your body is sending a response to the contrary. With relaxation techniques you can kind of hack the system here…you can relax the sympathetic nervous system and reverse the tension, cortisol, and state of stress that the body is undergoing.
Meditation is also an excellent way to recover from a negative event or day. There are a lot of misconceptions about meditation but all I’m going to cover here is creating a moment where you’re disconnecting from all the high energy sensory inputs and letting your brain relax and your thoughts wonder. Taking time to give the brain a break. Walking in nature is an excellent way to meditate. The brain actually relaxes in nature.
And in all reality, breathing and walking meditation is quicker than a drink. Alcohol takes 10 minutes to hit your bloodstream…a few minutes of breathing can do the same thing. Now it won’t erase the day you keep replaying in your head but it will help your body recover from the stress. You won’t feel as drained or unmotivated. So, let’s move on to that voice in your head.
Michael Singer does a great job of talking about the noisy roommate in our heads in his book The Untethered Soul…you know, the nonstop mental dialogue, whether our brain is stuck on repeat, replaying all the things that went wrong during the day or whether it’s being a critical asshole…telling us what we could have done better or what we should have done or said differently.
Alcohol removes the chatter. The chatter that always seems to be reminding us that we’re not who we said we were going to be. We’re not doing with our life per our original design when we were ambitious and young. The chatter that tells us nonstop conflicting thoughts. The chatter that we BELIEVE. We believe that noise in our heads and it’s garbage…most of the time. Alcohol removes the nuisance of a roommate in our brain telling us that we’re not capable of becoming who we said we were going to be. We’re not good enough, we’re failing, we’re missing the mark.
Now, do you even realize how often your brain is talking to you? Have you noticed the nonsense? Many of the thoughts don’t even make sense and they are in stark contrast to one another. One day you think your partner isn’t good enough for you and the next day you don’t think you’re good enough for your partner. One day you hate your job and your boss, the next day you’ve somehow found gratitude. It’s a lot and it’s annoying.
And when we realize alcohol quickly censors this chatter and mutes this voice it becomes a go-to source and tool for a peaceful mind. You become reliant and dependent on alcohol to again, mute your brain and erase it. So is there an easier way to get to this peaceful state of mind? Do we need to rely on a toxic substance to quiet these voices for us or can we do this naturally with innate tools?
Well, I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear me say you can do this on your own but I’m going to be honest that doing it on your own takes work and practice…so here, alcohol wins… in the short run. Alcohol works faster and consistently at shutting up the noise; however, is it sustainable and what are your other results from drinking? Do you have other undesirable outcomes that make alcohol the unfavorable choice? It’s like saying I have a drug than can help you lose weight but it causes cancer. Would you prefer to lose weight on your own or take a cancer-causing carcinogen if it’s easy?
If you can practice quieting the chatter on your own in a way that isn’t determinantal to your physical and mental health, would you want to give it a try? Again, the practice is not difficult, it just takes, well, practice.
It just starts with an understanding that your brain’s job is to generate thoughts and stories. It’s trying to find danger to alert you of threats to your existence. The brain projects drama and narratives constantly and you interact with it. You interact by paying attention and believing certain thoughts. You interact by taking orders from your brain most of the time without the awareness that a thought even existed. So, the first step to quieting the chatter is awareness. Being aware that there IS a thought.
You’re on autopilot most of the time, out of necessity. But this autopilot works against you in circumstances where you want to change behavior. So, you have to find the thought preceding your actions and bring it to light. Find the thought and ask yourself if you WANT to believe it. Is this thought serving you? Is it guiding you in a direction you want to consciously take?
Then, after awareness, you want to determine if you want to believe this thought? Just because it’s being generated in your brain doesn’t make it true. You can attempt to be objective here and see opposing views. Evaluate all perspectives not just your own. Decide on purpose what you want to believe.
Often times you can see the thought and immediately recognize it is contradictory to the actions you actually want to take. This happens all the time. Again, back to dieting. If you’re trying to shed a few pounds you might limit how much sugar you’re eating. Well, your brain is still going to crave sugar for a few weeks (it’s got some strong neural pathways built up) and it’s going to generate thoughts to tell you to eat that cookie. It’s going to tell you frequently to eat that cookie and it’s going to send cues of desire and urge. But is it aligned with the actions you want to take? No. But we believe the brain, we feel the urge, and we decide we don’t just want to feel uncomfortable until the urge goes away, and so we eat the cookie because it satisfies the craving.
The point here is that your thoughts aren’t YOU. When you’re not using your cognitive brain, your primitive brain steps in and starts generating wrench-throwing, havoc-wreaking thoughts. So, while deciding what to believe ask yourself if this thought serves you? Are the thoughts helping you create the outcomes you desire? Pick the thought that’s aligned with your purpose.
And finally, know that your brain generates thousands of thoughts every day. It can be super annoying. But, let the thoughts be there. Let them run around like little kids on a playground but work on detaching from them. Imagine sitting at this playground full of kids but tuning it out…turning the noise off and residing in a peaceful state with the laughter and shouting occurring all around you. Learn to know that the thoughts are there but letting them go…not identifying with them. I’m not saying it’s easy but I am saying it’s learned and valuable.
As I previously mentioned Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul is a great book to help practice untethering your mind from your thoughts; however, it’s not an easy read for most people. So, expect to have to read it a few times or grab the audio version and listen to it if you’re better at listening to content. But learning this skill of knowing you are not your thoughts and to stop believing your thoughts or identifying with them is a helpful step in creating a drink less life you will love. It’s a key in living without alcohol as a silencer of the mind in a sustainable, enjoyable way. In fact, it’s a key to personal development and growth in general. Learning to watch your thoughts and see them as an observer rather than the experiencer is a key to sustainable happiness and peace.
Now moving on…another reason many of my coaching students find alcohol makes life easier is as a social lubricant or its ability to lower inhibitions to allow you to behave in a way that feels less encumbered by…again…all your thoughts. All your self-conscious thoughts. Lifting this personal oppression opens the door to behave unencumbered by all the junk and stories in your head holding you back, to pull you out of our shell…it can create a chattier, more engaging version of you, so you think. Now whether it’s authentic or not is not really known at this point because which version is you?
When I quit drinking, I found I am just as conversational; however, it’s more authentic and present. It’s genuine and more inquisitive from a true nature of interest in learning about others. It’s not just idle chit-chat and superficial gestures.
But alcohol allows you to buffer away those limiting thoughts that are telling you you’re not funny, or you’re not smart or interesting. The thoughts that tell you you’re not pretty or attractive or that you’re going to have no one to talk to. All those fear-based thoughts that may come to surface when you’re at a get together or party.
So alcohol works because it’s a depressant and what that means is it slows your cognitive function. It slows your thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, and self-consciousness. Your consciousness fades. But your cognition and consciousness is what makes you human. It’s what separates you from the rest of the animal kingdom. And when you drink, you turn a little more into a cave woman, as I like to call it. I often refer to our primitive brain as the cave woman brain or cave man brain for you fellas. Your brain function becomes a little more primitive, reactive, and free. The introverted or passive qualities you don’t like about yourself will disappear as alcohol starts to hit your bloodstream. It starts to mute and censor who you are. It removes the uniqueness about you.
So if you’ve felt reserved in social settings or engagements and drank alcohol, you probably experienced your shyness or reticence to participate dissolve. This reinforces that alcohol is useful for socializing or bringing you our of your shell, so to speak. You now rely on it to be chatty, social, funny, outgoing. What starts out as a social lubricant becomes a social dependency. But because alcohol turns off the cognitive brain the result might be a little more than you bargained for. Maybe you’re a little too social, too funny, or loud, obnoxious, maybe you’re having one-night stands which no judgment here but the question is, would you do it sober? What are you doing under the influence of alcohol that you would never do without alcohol? What actions and decisions are you making while overdrinking that you really would not choose to do? Do you like these results?
So we don’t just remove who we are and what we’re feeling in negative emotional states, we remove who we are in unknown social circumstances, social gatherings, and enjoyable social settings, as well. Settings where we feel our personality limits our potential…the potential to have fun, to let loose, to laugh, or to tolerate people we for some reason are choosing to be around. So you’re an introvert, so what? Some of the best conversationalists are introverts.
So again, does removing alcohol make this situation harder? Well, yes and no. Yes it’s more difficult to socialize if you’ve relied on alcohol going into social engagements and now you’re not equipped. Because rather than working on the art of conversation and learning to appreciate your more observant approach to interacting, you’ve turned your back on who you are and turned yourself over to alcohol. So again, there’s some skill building that needs to occur here.
So yes, socializing alcohol-free can be difficult in the beginning but the upside is you also don’t overdrink and swing the pendulum the other way. You reduce the possibility that you’ll do something regrettable or overly obnoxious…because alcohol does not know the line. There is no line in the sand. It’s pretty much balls to the walls here when you’re alcohol dependent in social setting.
And this is why I also say No, it’s not harder to socialize without alcohol. You get to be you. If you’re shy, there’s a reason and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel a little awkward. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. In fact, the more you learn to feel comfortable with discomfort the better off you’ll be in this world. Your discomfort holds you back and it all starts in the brain. By living alcohol-free you have opportunities to develop skillsets and tools that are valuable everywhere in life…relationships, work, parenting, traveling…whatever it is that you want to accomplish or improve.
Loving a drink less life really depends on you. Do you want to work on yourself? Do you want to live a full life, consciously present and awake? Life can be harder without alcohol but alcohol comes with a lot of baggage. Alcohol is a cancer-causing carcinogen. Alcohol is psychedelic drug. Alcohol does create high concentrations of dopamine to spike. I know it’s a scary thought to think of life without alcohol but it’s totally worth it. Life is harder in ways and easier in others. But who said life was supposed to be easy? You’re drinking because you think it’s the easy button but in reality, it’s the postponement button.
Your anger does not go away. It goes into your body and your body keeps score. Your mind chatter does not disappear, it gets muted and then comes back swinging another day. Your social anxiety and inhibitions get suppressed so you can act like a wild child but is that really how you want to behave? You have choices. The easy way is not the best way. The solutions are simple but that doesn’t mean they are easy.