How to Not Drink When You Really Want to in Three Steps
There are times when I drop into a down state for a few days.
Not depression. I’ve had clinically depressed family members and that is a different beast entirely.
I’m talking about a low that comes from the loss of a relationship, rejection, humiliation, or fear about the future that makes me want to say “F” it, crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and hide for a few hours.
These are times I. Just. Want. To. Drink.
I’ve also been in situations or with someone when I would normally drink, and really feel like I want to drink or keep drinking, but feel conflicted because I don’t want the negative consequences of overdrinking.
Wanting but knowing better, I used to agonize the choice—order another or not?
Whether out in public with a group wanting a drink, or home alone wanting to numb yourself with alcohol, here’s a way to move through the urge to drink without drinking or using willpower.
Part mindfulness, part psychology, these techniques are very effective with a little practice.
Let’s say you’re in a restaurant with friends. You’ve had one drink, which you decided earlier is your limit, but now you really want another, bad.
Try the following.
STEP ONE: Take note of all details surrounding you as if watching a movie in slow motion.
What is the scene? Look around and notice everything. The lighting, furniture, color of the walls or lack thereof.
What do you hear? You may hear conversations, the clank of dishes or glasses in the kitchen or at the bar. The entrance or kitchen door opening and closing.
Listen for ambient sounds like music or traffic outside.
Consider what you observe with all five senses. Is your chair soft or hard? Do you smell food, cologne? Stale beer?
Who surrounds you and what are they doing? Look at your companion(s). Are they laughing? Chatting? Standing? Sitting? Moving to the music? On their phones?
Notice others—guests, servers, cooks, hostess, managers—and what they’re doing.
STEP TWO: Notice what’s going on for you physically, emotionally, and in your head.
A. TUNE IN TO YOUR BODY PHYSICALLY.
Are you cold or hot? Hungry or full? Do you feel a buzz from the alcohol you drank?
Are your shoes hurting your feet? Waistband too tight?
Is there tension in your jaw or shoulders? Stomach feeling clam or agitated? Are you comfortable in your seat or in an awkward position?
Move through your body starting with your toes and feet and work your way up through your legs, stomach, shoulders, down your arms to your hands, up your neck, in your face and to the top of your head.
Consider each area and what you notice on a physical level.
B. IDENTIFY THE ONE-WORD EMOTION THAT CAPTURES EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL.
What are you feeling emotionally? Be as specific as possible.
If you feel uneasy, pinpoint if you’re disappointed, nervous, or something else. It may be as simple as desire (as in “I want another glass of wine, STAT”).
Notice how you experience the emotion in your body.
Does it feel like a vibration or tingling, or more like smoothness?
If you had to describe the emotion to someone void of emotion, think of the words you would use.
C. ISOLATE THE ONE-SENTENCE THOUGHT CAUSING THAT EMOTION.
Watch the thoughts in your head.
You may have mind chatter you weren’t consciously aware of, such as “I can’t believe I thought I wouldn’t drink. That was a stupid idea. I’ve already had one. What does it matter? One more won’t hurt. Everyone else is drinking…”
Summarize these thoughts into one sentence.
For example, if the emotion is desire, your sentence may be, “Another drink won’t matter.”
If you’re feeling deprived, your sentence may be, “Everyone else gets to have fun and drink more, so I should be able to.”
If you’re feeling bored, your sentence may be, ”This is going to be a long night, I may as well try to liven it up and entertain myself with alcohol.”
STEP THREE: Allow yourself to fully feel the emotion as long as it lasts.
Studies show we experience an emotion like a wave--it builds, crests and falls or dissipates. That feeling an emotion lasts about 90 seconds unless we renew the feeling by repeating the thought causing it, or we have a new thought about it.
Be completely present with the emotion while you notice it rising, peaking and falling away. Allow it to wash over you and settle throughout your body as long as it lasts.
Watch it build, fall and go, as if you ride the wave.
Then order a club soda or something nonalcoholic.
Repeat steps as needed—you can do all steps within minutes.
If you’re home alone, combine the process with journaling, meditation or even a nap.
Add herbal tea. I recommend ginger.
—Julie Ernst, CCJD
P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.