Episode 5: Next Time You Romanticize Alcohol…
In today’s episode I’m going to talk about watching your brain romanticize alcohol and a give you a few intentional thoughts to think when this occurs. I say intentional because romanticizing alcohol is unintentional thinking. It’s a collection of thoughts being generated by your unconscious or what I like to call cave woman brain.
So let me start with unconscious thinking or unintentional thinking. Out of necessity, we live on autopilot. Out of not knowing we can do better; we live on autopilot far too often. We have a part of the brain that has a job of keeping us alive without exerting much energy. There’s actually three general parts of the brain: what’s often called the lizard or reptilian brain, a mammal brain, and the human brain, which is the cerebral cortex where all the analytics, decision-making, and rationalization occurs. I like to combine the lizard and mammal brain and refer to it as my cave woman brain. Essentially the non-cerebral parts of the brain.
Unintentional thinking occurs all day every day. And it’s this cave woman brain generating these thoughts. She knows you thrive on autopilot and her goal is to continue to learn your habits to create more and more automatic functions. Because if it’s running automatically, it’s not using much energy. And you don’t have to re-learn something every single time you do it. You learn it once, which may take repeated effort, but once you learn it, she sets it to autopilot and forgets it. These are neural pathways.
I find all this stuff fascinating…how the brain works. Hence my business name This Brain of Mine. We’re really amazing creatures that we have consciousness and we can think about our thinking. We can see our thoughts being generated and we can analyze them. And its this consciousness and awareness that are the key to interrupting your unintentional, autopilot thinking. When you’re living automatically by the instruction of the cave woman brain, you’re not thinking. Not really. You’re taking direction from whatever thought gets produced and identifying with it which then brings it to life. You take this unintentional thought which is completely arbitrary, and you make it mean something.
You give it power by accepting it, believing it, and acting on it. And this process happens all day long with nearly everything you do. It leads to overdrinking, overeating, irrational behavior, general undesirable or unwanted behavior. But what’s amazing is you can choose to not take direction from your cave woman brain. You can choose to use that cerebral cortex and live consciously. On a side note, this is what life coaching is all about…helping you live more consciously and intentionally.
So let’s do a recap quickly before diving into the four things to remember when romanticizing alcohol. I want you to understand the brain functionality because this is exactly what’s happening when you start romanticizing alcohol…this unintentional thinking.
You have your cave woman [or cave man] brain and your cognition or cerebral cortex. The cave woman takes an interest in everything you do. She learns everything you learn and tries to automate all of it. And that’s fantastic! We can’t live without it! However, she wants to take over all of your thinking. She wants to take over and control your whole life. She doesn’t want you to have free will. The more you learn and try to change behavior the more she has to learn and automate. So she gets a little cranky. She gets a little fussy when you want to turn an automation off. And the fussier and crankier she gets, the more thoughts she generates…unintentional thoughts.
This is her way of communicating with you and your cerebral brain because ultimately, it’s your cerebral brain and consciousness that make the call. So she communicates with you through stories and images and feelings. Fear is her favorite language. Deprivation is probably her second favorite language. The thoughts she produces create these feelings like fear and deprivation. And it’s those feelings that cause us to act. We act based on emotion but the emotion is caused by that thought. And when the thought is unintentional you get unintentional results.
Have you ever heard the saying, “change your thoughts to change your life?” Well, this is exactly what this means. Because your thoughts create a chain of events, you can change that chain of events with a new thought. You don’t have to buy into the unintentional thinking. Because when you start to believe that thought…when you start to buy into the story, it floods your body with feelings and emotions. And once you feel it, you believe it 100%. You take an unintentional thought, identify with it, feel the associated feeling and then you’re hook, line, and sinker tied to this thought. So the goal here is to learn to live intentionally by using cognition and the cerebral cortex MORE often and following the direction of the cave woman less often.
And as I stated she learns through you…through your experiences, senses, behaviors, and environment. And you learn through observation, imagery, and modeling. This is how you first learned about alcohol. As a child and young adult, you were bombarded with messaging that alcohol and fun go hand-in-hand. You watched adults drinking and laughing and you were likely told you had to be an adult to imbibe. Of course, we all have that person who let us taste alcohol at a very young age, mine was my father, and it was a nasty can of beer but I still remember it to this day.
So when you were a little older, of course you wanted what you’ve been told you had to wait for. You saw commercials on TV romanticizing alcohol and showing how fun life can be with booze. So you dipped your toe in and despite the vomiting on occasion, you bought into it. We all do. The brain gets this concentration of dopamine that’s equivalent to like ten chocolate cakes and the mind numbing, mind-altering effect feels pretty cool. This pretty much seems like proof that alcohol is exactly what you were sold. A good time drink.
But, let’s call a spade a spade here, alcohol is a drug. It’s a psychoactive drug like cocaine, marijuana, meth just in different form. And this may surprise you but I’m okay with legalizing drugs, all drugs. But I do think they should be properly regulated and people should be educated about what they’re putting in their bodies. You were never given the proper education on alcohol. So let’s pull back the curtain, and face the music: you’ve been lied to you. So here’s four things to remember when you start romanticizing alcohol.
#1 – It’s Not Sexy
If you look at marketing, TV shows, movies, and Google images, alcohol messaging is sophistication and sexy. This romantic perspective may have felt true when you were a young adult and finally legally able to drink, although who really waited until they were of legal age? However, now that you have years of experience and proof that alcohol dulls your senses, interrupts your rational brain, and leads to drunken escapades, do you really believe that drink is going to add sophistication to your image?
I’m sure you’ve seen a video or picture of yourself and you were a bit horrified. In the moment you were confident and charming but in reality you were a bit of a mess. Have you ever seen that Dear Alcohol letter? It reads “Dear alcohol, you promised to make me funnier, smarter, and a good dancer…I saw the video, we need to talk.” Isn’t that the truth. I used to cringe when someone would show me a picture or video of me when overdrinking. I’m a pretty reserved person but not when drinking. So when my sober self saw how my overdrinking self was behaving, it was a bit of a jolt.
The simple truth is, alcohol is an industry. Their job is to sell product. And, once advertising became commonplace in the U.S., consumption of alcohol significantly grew. Marketing objectives are to show you the transformation in your life that will occur with their product. This is why all the commercials show fun, smiling, sexy women. They really want to cement in your brain that alcohol is the elixir of life. It’s going to take your dull evening and transform it into a fairytale.
Your cave woman brain has all these images on standby. So when you try to quit or cutback, she’s not a fan. You’re making her life harder by disrupting one of the automations she created. She will use these images as proof that you’re better with alcohol. But you have a more powerful tool with your cognition. You can recall all the actual proof and real-life experiences that show otherwise. So when you see those unintentional thoughts bubbling up, shift out of auto into drive and remind yourself of those embarrassing moments you definitely don’t want to repeat.
#2 – Fast-Forward to the End
When I first quit drinking, part of me still had the mindset that I was missing out on something. For instance, I liked having a drink (or two or three) while I was getting ready to go to an event. Then of course I had plenty more once I got wherever I was going. So after I quit, while getting ready to go to out, my brain automatically triggered that I was missing that pre-evening drink. You know, that cave woman brain that likes rituals and habits. My conditioned mind initiated an unintentional thought based on my routine on my behavior.
But when I became aware of the thought, I was able to trace out the evening from past experience and make a conscious decision. Cognitively, I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t want the drink my brain thought I did. I didn’t want to show up at the event already a little overserved (self-served) and wired to be the party. I definitely didn’t want the hangover and a morning filled with flashbacks of less than desirable choices. And I surely would be happy to get through an evening without getting into an argument, saying something inappropriate, or throwing up. Not to mention all the binge eating that occurs when you return home or the next morning.
Think of your life as a movie but the last scene gets played first. You know those movies or shows where they show you a few minutes of the ending first and then they back up and start from the beginning? You can use your cognition to do the same. Remember when I talked about the chain of events that begins with a thought? This is your chain of events moment. Take the thought that says have a drink and play out your evening. Do you like how it looks? Be realistic, don’t pretend you’re going to have just one unless you’ve been successfully practicing moderation.
Then take the thought to not drink and play out the evening. Again, be realistic. So you may have to force yourself to socialize consciously versus letting alcohol do it for you. You may have to think of things to talk about and interesting questions to ask. If this creates fear and anxiety, it’s just your cave woman brain acting up. But which result or outcome do you prefer? Is it better to use a sober social engagement as practice to sharpen your social skills or possibly end the evening with another less than impressive performance?
When I started fast-forwarding through my evenings with that first thought of a drink, I was able to quickly counter my habit-based brain and shut it up. Often times when that little desire pops into our consciousness we immediately react with fear and resistance. I suggest you make your counter-argument. It might take repeating yourself but it works.
#3 – You Can’t Drink a Situation Fun
I really did believe that alcohol made a situation more enjoyable; I mean, I believed I had proof through my late teens and twenties; but, those days were like a psychedelic experiment. The situation wasn’t more fun because I was drinking. The situations were fun because I was with friends. I could have been doing anything with a group of friends and having fun. The difference with these binge-drinking moments is that everyone was overdrinking so it was like a massive mind-altering experience. Everyone was doing something stupid.
But as I got older, I still held onto this belief that alcohol made everything more pleasurable. And it took a while, but I can clearly see why I thought that and why I was wrong.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions so if you’re reserved, like I am, it removes those barriers or walls for you. It gives you loose lips once that social lubricant kicks in and literally alters your personality. You get a little louder, chattier, a little more gossipy, you become an open book, and your comedic sidekick comes out. You’re not being you. You’ve turned into another version of yourself that you believe is better. You’ve also eliminated being able to feel any social awkwardness and having to use your cognitive brain to engage in an interesting conversation. You took the escape route. YOU left the building and left your alter-ego there.
Here’s the problem with this…your alter-ego doesn’t have to deal with the repercussions…you do. Your alter-ego doesn’t care what she says or does, it’s not her mess to clean up. And if the evening was fun, you wouldn’t even know about all of it because you weren’t there, she was. Alcohol peels away at your cognition with each sip and hands the keys over to your cave woman brain. As your cerebral cortex loses power, your behavior becomes more primal.
I know you’re trying to recall fun memories filled with drinking but alcohol was never the reason you had fun. It was the friends, camaraderie, and socializing that was fun. We are social beings (even us introverts) so it feels good when we are engaging with friends and loved ones. To be part of a community was necessary for survival as we evolved and socialization is hard-wired into your brain, even if it feels uncomfortable. So alcohol lowered your inhibitions and pulled you out of your shell, but you can do that without alcohol. It just takes practice. Practice you’re not getting by drinking.
And I know there’s those social occasions that aren’t exactly enticing, whether it’s a first date or a kids birthday party or a company event, but alcohol does not actually change those circumstances. It only changes YOU. You’re using alcohol to escape from somewhere you’d rather not be…so how about either not attending, start turning down invitations or giving it a try and seeing if you could actually enjoy yourself. You might be surprised.
Now that last thing I want to touch on is drinking alone. I used to drink and clean my house. And maybe that first drink made it more enjoyable but it was never just one drink. So my whole day would pretty much be shot because of a couple hours of cleaning. Totally not worth it. Now, I listen to music or podcasts on my headphones and it’s much more enjoyable AND I still have the rest of they day to enjoy.
#4 – Alcohol is a Toxic Drug
Do you know this? I’m still surprised that people don’t know this. I realize the alcohol industry doesn’t want this known but I thought all the information was out there. Maybe you have to be searching for it, so I’ll share. Alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer. Google it. Google alcohol group 1 carcinogen. Want to know what else is in this group 1 category? Asbestos, tobacco, radiation, and processed meat. What is a group 1 carcinogen? It’s classified as carcinogenic to humans, not possibly, not probably but carcinogenic to humans.
I know this is not a fun topic but it’s education. Know what you’re putting in your body. Know what you’re drinking. You’re educating yourself more and more on the products you’re eating and putting on your body. Don’t turn your back on educating yourself on alcohol. So, as you’re buying organic veggies, wild-caught fish, mercury-free tuna, non-GMO crackers, and paraben-free hair products, think about what you’re putting down your throat, through your esophagus, into your stomach, leaching into your bloodstream, and processed by your organs.
I can only guess why the regulations on alcohol haven’t been changed to mimic the tobacco industry but regardless, it’s a cancer-causing, organ-destroying drug. It disrupts or deteriorates nearly every system in the body.
We evolved to be able to digest fermented fruit as we moved from tree animals to land animals. Our chemistry changed over thousands of years to allow us to migrate on land and eat fallen fruit (rotting fruit) without dying or becoming ill. By being able to eat these fermented fruits, we were able to travel farther due to the caloric intake.
And ethanol is what is produced in that fermentation process. There are very few species that can ingest ethanol without becoming gravely ill or dying. Some cultures still have not evolved to be able to handle alcohol. But regardless, our bodies are not designed to ingest ethanol in the quantities we do. Fermented fruit likely had less than 1 or 2% ethanol. The effects were barely noticeable. But when we’re drinking alcohol, we’re drinking a much higher ethanol concentration for a longer period of time. Our bodies can’t handle it.
I also think it’s interesting to share that ethanol, the same ethanol you drink, is used in E85 gasoline aka flex fuel, more than 50% of E85 is drinking alcohol. And hand sanitizer is made from ethanol. During the 2020 pandemic when hand sanitizer was hard to find, alcohol manufacturers were able to quickly pivot to making hand sanitizer to help with supply. I think a tequila manufacturer must have been the leading producer because there’s been countless times when I’ve used sanitizer in a store and leave with my hands smelling like tequila.
But, I would guess that you’re aware alcohol destroys your kidneys and liver but I’m not sure you’re aware it destroys nearly every organ in your body and every system in your body. It wreaks havoc on your body and creates nutrient deficiencies. It destroys your gut microbiome (known as the 2nd brain) and creates brain lesions and can lead to dementia. It’s actually dangerous to your heart despite the fake news that drinking resveratrol in red wine is heart healthy. It suppresses your immune and reproductive functions and can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
And I have yet to mention weight gain, premature aging, the drain on your finances, and the destruction it causes with intimacy. Okay, I’m done. I know this sounds scary but it’s true. The good news is that this is reversible. The sooner you learn to love a drink less life, the better off you’ll be. So don’t let this information scare you, take action. There’s no use in worry it’s like sitting in a rocking chair expecting to go somewhere. Continue to educate yourself and find the resource that works for you.