The Confusing Cognitive Distortion of Quitting Drinking

THE CONFUSING COGNITIVE DISTORTION OF QUITTING DRINKING

When you quit drinking, you stop waiting.

-Caroline Knapp, Drinking, A Love Story

In most facets of life, we are encouraged to not think in polarised – black and white or ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking. These are formally known as cognitive distortions

Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us that a particular belief about ourselves is true, despite contrary evidence that it is not.

Living in the grey is logical for most of life’s wonderment. We have to be flexible and open-minded to live in contrast and to attain personal growth.

This is true except for that which does not positively serve you.

If you want to honour your highest self – your soul consciousness, aka you who is always there, but often disconnected due to your Ego’s interference – you must choose things that serve you and enable you to grow in positive alignment with your path.

When it comes to alcohol (or anything that is an addictive component in your life), living in the grey is not an option for some people. So, it’s a confusing cognitive distortion.

via GIPHY

One cognitive distortion for some drinkers is that they can limit or cut back on how much – or what – they drink, and then they will be okay.

You know this is true if you’ve ever made up arbitrary rules about alcohol.

“I’ll only drink between 5 pm on Fridays and 8 pm on Sundays.”

“I’ll only drink red wine. It’s got health benefits.” (I love this one).

Which soon becomes:

“I’ll only drink on days that end with ‘day'”

“I will drink any wine only. Red, white, it doesn’t matter – it’s all the better for me than the hard stuff.”

via GIPHY

The cognitive distortion that you can drink sensibly, without any negative consequences – as long as you follow a made-up rule book – is one that many people who eventually quit drinking have tried time and time again.

We convince ourselves that THIS time we’ve figured out the way, we can have a sensible relationship with alcohol.

But it’s not true. Because you can limit the type, time and frequency of your alcohol consumption, but it doesn’t change the effect or the consequences.

Try as we might, we convince ourselves that we can have a healthy relationship with drinking; it is simply not true.

You can limit the type, time and frequency of your alcohol consumption, but it doesn't change the effect or the consequences. #soberoctober #sobriety #noalcohol #alcoholfreeliving #sobercoach Click To Tweet

Maybe, on occasion, you have played by your rule book, and you didn’t say or do something you shouldn’t have, or you didn’t wake up regretting your decision. But for every time you succeeded in sticking the landing of your mental gymnastics, there are fifty times you woke up trapped in the vicious cycle of denial.

It’s a cognitive distortion to believe otherwise.

To test the validity of cognitive distortion, you can apply Socratic Questioning – Cognitive Restructuring – to challenge an irrational thought by replacing it with a restructured version of the question.

Thought to be questioned: “I can drink sensibly as long as I don’t drink on weeknights, and I only drink wine.”

Three examples of Cognitive Restructurings (Socratic Questionings) of this thought:

  1. What is the evidence for this thought? Against this thought?
    -Have you been able to achieve this?
    -Have you tried this but still failed?
    -Do you still feel at peace about this decision, that it’s serving your life positively since you’ve put this in place?
    -You don’t drink less; you drink less frequently?
    -Your feelings towards drinking aren’t any different, are they?
  2. Am I basing this on facts or feelings?
    -Are you drinking less and feeling less desire to drink during the week? What is the evidence?
    -Drinking only wine is better for me and avoiding it during the week makes me appreciate the need to moderate my consumption? What is the evidence?
    -Do you have more control over your drinking by abstaining during the week? How does it feel?
    -Do you have as much health and vitality on the weekends as you do during the week when you’re not drinking? How does it feel?
  3. Is this thought black and white when it’s more complicated?
    -Can you succeed in not drinking during the week without issue?
    -Why have you had to set this rule in the first place?
    -Is it your belief that people who have a healthy relationship with alcohol also have to place parameters around their drinking or is it not an issue in the first place?

Most former drinkers will agree that, for them, there is no grey area when it comes to alcohol. The grey area exists, but, for them, they cannot participate without ending up in the black.

Before I quit drinking, I did two weeks without booze, ‘Dry January’, six weeks without booze, ‘Dry July’, no alcohol on odd days, on even days, no alcohol on Mondays — you get the idea.

I would engage in the white part of ‘black and white thinking’, and then I would start the cognitive distortion that I needed to place arbitrary rules, and then I could comfortably live in the grey.

But there is no shade other than white that works for some of us.

And that’s okay, no mental gymnastics required to stick that landing.

When Not Drinking Makes Others Uncomfortable

when not drinking makes others uncomfortable

When I decided to stop drinking, I understood that coming as a shock to people who know me.

I had always been down for cocktails, wine, and drinking socially (and non-socially).

So, when I would meet up with people and the conversation of alcohol came up, it would be a needle scratch on the record moment when I would order a diet soda instead of a large glass of cabernet.

“ARE YOU PREGNANT?!” No.

“ARE YOU DYING?!” No, I mean – we all are, technically, but not yet.

“ARE YOU ERIN?!” Now, that’s just rude.

I expected this knee-jerk reaction from people who had ever spent any amount of time with me. It was a shock to their system in addition to mine.

Then comes the secondary questions:

“ARE YOU AN ALCOHOLIC?!” I prefer to not label it as such, but my relationship with alcohol was no longer working for me.

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST CUT BACK?!” Been there, done that. It didn’t make sense just to cut back.

“ARE YOU NEVER GOING TO DRINK AGAIN?!” I am not a psychic. If I could predict the future, I would have far more interesting insights than whether or not I’m ever going to slam another box of Rose again before I croak.

Then comes the main question most people have when they find out I quit drinking:

“IS MY DRINKING GOING TO BE A PROBLEM FOR YOU?!” No. But, is YOUR drinking a problem for YOU?

Because the truth is, the people who ask these questions — well-meaning as they may be –are confronted with an opportunity for self-reflection.

You are probably thinking, “that’s not true, I know I don’t have an issue with alcohol” — and I sincerely hope that you don’t.

But when people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that you are choosing not to drink alcohol, you have to wonder if a part of that is a projection of what alcohol means to them.

How dare I?

When people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that you are choosing not to drink alcohol, you have to wonder if a part of that is a projection of what alcohol means to them. #sobercurious #sobriety #noalcohol #alcoholfreeliving Click To Tweet

Well, because I used to ask the same questions of non-drinking acquaintances. And I always felt weird about drinking around them, because deep down, I knew they were making a brave choice that I was in no position to make yet for myself.

Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff?

When not drinking makes others uncomfortable

I’ve been part of the flipped script. I know what growth and change in others brings out of ourselves. It’s awkward and what tends to happen next is that person doesn’t get invited out anymore or included, not because the assumption is that they won’t enjoy an event with alcohol, but because they are still making another person’s choice to not drink about themselves. And it sucks, but it’s not a bad thing, and I will tell you why.

  1. You are not receiving support in that situation, so removing yourself from it – involuntarily or not – is protecting your decision to remain sober.
  2. You are causing another person to evaluate their relationship with alcohol and allowing them the (uncomfortable) contrast to decide how this will affect their relationship with you.
  3. You can be there for them when and if they need your support, but it is not your job to continue engaging in that which doesn’t serve you because it causes others discomfort.

It may be just a coincidence that once a person decides to give up alcohol that they start to drift away from certain friends and acquaintances. But as Deepak Chopra says, “I do not believe in meaningless coincidences. I believe every coincidence is a message, a clue about a particular facet of our lives that requires our attention.”

I believe that the message goes both ways when it comes to how others react to your decision to stop drinking. The reality could be that other people serve as co-creators and reflectors of what we put out into the world.

When discomfort occurs because of a shift in another person’s behaviour, we owe it to ourselves to ask the question “why am I uncomfortable?” and proceed accordingly.

Have you ever experienced this?

Repairing Health After Alcohol

Repairing your health after alcohol erin's life bites

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

-Jim Rohn

So, maybe you’re taking a break from drinking or decided to give it up for good – whatever the duration or reason there are some lifestyle adjustments that can be made to maximise the break to your mind, body and soul.

Steps for Repairing Health After Eliminating Alcohol

  1. DRINK MORE WATER. Even if you are a religious drinker of water throughout the day, after kicking the sauce, you are going to want to switch to water and make sure that you stay hydrated and flush the body out by consuming a litre or more (6-8 glasses) of H2O each day.
  2. INCORPORATE VITAMINS AND MINERALS DAILY. Alcohol consumption inhibits the body’s ability to fully absorb all of the nutrients it needs, so a great habit would be to incorporate a multivitamin and B Vitamin regimen daily. Many vitamin supplements these days include all the essentials (including B complex), antioxidants and probiotics. An excellent all-in-one to check out is the Complete Multivitamin Complex by Bulk Powders.
  3. EAT A BALANCED DIET. I don’t know about you, but even though I tried my best to eat a healthy diet when I was a drinker, I cannot deny that after a few glasses of wine I would automatically want crisps, pizza or chocolate. Drinking screws with our insulin and hunger regulation and therefore we can feel like we have no control over the food choices we make while on a night out — or through a hangover. Incorporating a diet full of balanced whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, whole grains and beans will help to regulate blood sugar, meet nutrient requirements and help to create usable energy the body can access throughout the day.
  4. LIMIT REFINED SUGAR. Many people increase the amount of sugar and sweets they eat after they quit alcohol (as well as after quitting smoking). Sugar can have the same effect on our brains as drinking can as the same response of dopamine release occurs when we consume sugar just as when we drink alcohol – especially when paired with a conditional habitual response pattern. Even if sweets are convenient and help to keep you from ordering a glass of chardonnay, the better choice would be a piece of fruit or a handful of almonds (which are fabulous for liver health, btw).
  5. GET A DEFICIENCY SCREENING. If you’ve been a regular drinker – or what would classify as a heavy drinker, you may have been missing out on the absorption of vital nutrients. A nutritional professional can help screen for any deficiencies that you may have to determine the best course of action for your dietary needs going forward.
  6. REJUVENATE YOUR LIVER. The liver takes a beating throughout our lives as it serves as a filtration system of toxins, metabolises drugs, and makes essential proteins required for many vital bodily functions. After making a lifestyle change, such as eliminating alcohol, it is a good idea to focus on rejuvenating your liver by choosing a balanced, whole foods diet that includes fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. So, to get started, here are some foods you can include in your diet today are carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, almonds, and oats.
  7. GET EXERCISE. Regular exercise helps the body by promoting lung, kidney, intestinal, and overall immune system health which all support the body’s efficient natural detoxification processes. Aside from the physical health benefits of a fitness routine, exercise helps to produce endorphins which can help reduce anxiety and depression. If the root cause of your alcohol habit was stress or response to stressful events, finding healthier strategies to cope with these feelings will encourage positive behaviours and better health choices overall. Check out my free eBook for jump-starting fitness as well as my workouts for free guidance on how to get (and stay) fit!

And in case you need a reminder of how you can work on repairing health after alcohol, I have created this handy-dandy infographic. Be sure to pin this graphic and share with friends and family or anybody who may be looking for ways to start repairing their health after eliminating alcohol from their lifestyle.

Have you recently eliminated alcohol from your life? Check out these 7 tips for repairing your health after alcohol. #alcoholfree #soberlife #sobrietytools Click To Tweet

These tips are great for anyone looking to take charge of their health – knowledge is power and you do have the power to change your life mind, body and soul.

Three Things I Learned About Myself After I Quit Drinking

THREE THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF AFTER I QUIT DRINKING _ ERIN'S LIFE BITES

Strength of mind rests in sobriety;  for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.

-Pythagoras

I love that quote.  The reason I love it so much is the bit about reasoning clouded by passion.

I believe that passion and passionate people can struggle with logic and reasoning; I put my hands up entirely and say I am a super emotional person and this is why I believe in the struggle.

I know that passion clouded the way that I thought and made sense of the world around me and I attribute a lot of this to the fact that I used to drink at times when I needed to be clear-headed the most.

For the majority of my adult life, having a drink was synonymous with relaxation, de-stressing, celebrating, mourning, fighting, socialising and the list goes on.

If you see a theme in that laundry list of things I associated the reasons to drink with you can probably gather that I drank for a number of reasons and most of them were the for the wrong ones.

And to be clear, I have known my entire life the perils of drinking as my mother continuously reminded me that my grandfather wasn’t around for her life because he drank himself to death.  I have known multiple people who lost their lives because of alcohol.  I had numerous mental and physical health professionals tell me that they thought I drank in response to anxiety and stress, but I never thought that what I was doing was any more hazardous than the people around me.

I wasn’t wrong (to an extent) I wasn’t really drinking more than others around me, but here’s the thing, we are always surrounded by a culture of addictions.  Whether it be to food, sex, gambling, drinking, drugs, social media, exercise, approval and so on – people are addicted, compulsive, and it’s everywhere.

So, sure, I wasn’t drinking more than the people I was surrounded by, but the thing is, most of those people were drinking too much too.

You know the saying, “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”? — that’s where I finally landed a year ago and here are three things that I have learned about myself since then.

THREE THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF AFTER I QUIT DRINKING _ ERIN'S LIFE BITES

3 Things I Learned About Myself After Quitting Drinking

I can handle things without booze.  My go-to solution for any problem (and I mean any problem) was wine.  Red, white, whatever shade, it was what I needed on-call to deal with whatever stressors or emotional triggers I experienced.  It probably seems like common sense to people who don’t drink or deal with the mishaps in their lives without a “crutch”, but I truly believed that if I didn’t drink when the alarm bells in my head went off, I wouldn’t be able to cope. I was wrong. It turns out, I can deal with what life throws at me, and I don’t need a giant glass of Merlot to do it.  Truthfully, at first, it was extremely uncomfortable for me to deal with things in the absence of wine, but stepping back, breathing, and even writing down what I am feeling has helped me to work through things; the emphasis being on “helped”.  Approaching bumps in the road with a clear head and a steady hand has helped me realise that I can handle more than I ever gave myself credit.  It’s not easy, but it is possible.

I am a morning person.  People who know me will probably argue with me about this discovery, but I will urge them to hear me out.  I am still a bit bitchy and groggy first thing in the morning, but once I am up, I can get things done.  I have always been a morning exerciser, even when I would wake up dehydrated and hungover, but now I can tackle the workout, emails, chores, etc. without the feeling that I am forcing myself to do it because if I don’t do it now, I won’t do it. Which isn’t something I could have ever said with a straight face ten months ago.

I am an introvert, an INFP-T if you will.  Now, I believed for my entire adult life that I am extroverted because I can be chatty in most situations and that for some strange reason I don’t have a massive amount of stage fright when talking in front of large (or small) groups.  However, it turns out that what I was is what I like to call an “alcotrovert” – a reserved person who becomes outgoing after drinking and conflates that enthusiasm for extroversion.   Do you know what can confuse the hell out of you when you’re an introvert who drinks? Going to an event centred around alcohol and not drinking.  About two weeks after I stopped drinking, my husband and I went with friends to a comedy “pub crawl”, and I was on the non-alcoholic Kopparbergs and soda water while everyone around me was slamming down pints of liquor.  I had severe anxiety about going out to a pub-centred event just weeks after giving up drinking, but I discovered that I could not only have a good time without drinking but that I am quite observant when I am sober.  As a self-professed shit talker, I was most surprised by this fact.  I was happy keeping to myself and didn’t need alcohol to be in social situations because I finally realised that nobody cares what you look like, drink or do when everyone is out for a good time.  Also, if you ever want confirmation that not drinking is rewarding, spend five hours around shitfaced people when you’re not drinking and realise how terrific it is not to have to point and stammer when telling the same story four times to the same three people.  Seriously, try it.

Of course, there are more things that I learn and discover about myself with each day that passes, but so far those are the three things I have learned that have made the most significant impact on my self-awareness.  I have also noticed physical and spiritual changes since the day I quit drinking, but that is for another post!

I never honestly thought that I would gain anything out of quitting drinking, but what I’ve acquired in exchange is too valuable to give credence to at the moment.  As I learn more, I will share my thoughts and feelings.  I also know that this is a one day at a time journey and the minute I start to think I’ve figured it all out is the moment I could potentially backpedal on my progress.

Have you thought about quitting drinking? Read about the three things I learned about myself after I quit drinking! Click To Tweet

I would love to connect with other people who have had similar or different (or whatever) experiences after they decided to give up drinking alcohol.  If you would be interested in sharing your experience with quitting drinking, email me at erin@erinslifebites.com and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for new content!

Until next time!