How to redefine your relationship with alcohol through self-compassion
I haven’t always known what it means to redefine my relationship with alcohol, but I’ve known for some time that alcohol doesn’t always serve me well. I didn’t have my first drink until my last year of high school. I had a few friends over for a sleepover with the intention of just “trying it on”. We mixed all kinds of weird concoctions together that left me dizzy, nauseous and reluctant to ever drink again… that is, until the college got up to speed. It was a perfect storm of crisis in young adult lives, peer pressure, and drinking culture. Sometimes it was fun. Sometimes it was chaos.
Going through my twenties, I had several epiphanies besides alcohol and I didn’t always get along. It served as a depressant (that’s what it is): alter my ambiance, disrupting my sleep and preventing me from achieving maximum productivity. It physically affected me: by encouraging an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, contributing to inflammation, and stimulating severe flare-ups of eczema that left my arms covered in raw, red, itchy bumps.
With all these symptoms you might think that I would never have to drink again. But for me, having a drink can be romantic, enjoyable, and most of all, a connector (I mean… I met the love of my life at a party.) And so, redefining my relationship with alcohol , cutting it off completely was not for me. It’s more about reframing how I let myself go and, more importantly, Why. I have the right and the power to choose. The danger is allowing the substance to control me, rather than taking over and finding control within myself.
Almost two years ago, while exploring Whole30, I read a book by Holly Whitaker called Stop like a woman. It completely transformed my perspective on alcohol and its relationship to oneself, the collective and society in general. By studying the contribution of alcohol on a universal level, I have been able to be introspective about its place in my life.
To deepen this subject, I interviewed Amanda kuda, writer, speaker, coach and teacher who helps high performing women renegotiate their relationship with alcohol. Scroll down to read our conversation and resonate in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This is a personal account of my experience redefining my own relationship with alcohol. We recognize that everyone’s journey is different, so if you think you might be struggling with addiction or would like to seek treatment, please check out the resources below:
Do i have a problem?
When I first began to explore my relationship with alcohol, I started out with self-criticism. It was not at all productive. Shame and regret followed which poisoned only all the positive attachments I had to the substance. I played with quitting completely and even went six months without drinking.
The problem with assessing the impact of alcohol on ourselves is that we immediately think that if we have a problem we must be addicted. As Amanda kuda says, “Alcohol is an addictive substance and the addiction is real.” But just because it’s addictive in nature doesn’t mean we’re addicted. In fact, Kuda points out that only a small percentage of drinkers suffer from what is called an “alcohol use disorder” (according to a 2018 report by SAMHSA).
What i learned from Stop like a woman is that all humans suffer from some degree of addiction. We may not fully sacrifice our lives or be hurt so much that we cannot find each other again. However, we all suffer and we all look outside of ourselves to deal with this suffering through habits, patterns and attachments.
As Kuda says, “yYou don’t have to have a problem for alcohol to be problematic in your life. “
Where do I start?
Rather than starting with research (Google will scare you), consider starting with introspection. Whitaker shares some great prompts:
Does alcohol harm my happiness, my life, my self-esteem?
Is it hindering my dreams, or maybe it just isn’t working for me?
Does it cost more than it gives? Does it shrink more than it expands? Does it cut me pieces that I can’t get back?
Does that make me hate myself, even just a little?
Personally, memories help me immensely when it comes to considering my identity and my life experiences. They help me remember so that I can consider why I am behaving the way I do. Redefining my relationship with alcohol began with reflection. In support of this method, Kuda says, “So often we are obsessed with what everyone else is doing or saying. When it comes to changing a habit in your life, you are the guru.
“Only you know if a habit is really useful to you or if it is holding you back.”
What does exploration look like?
My approach to drinking quickly became a spiritual one. I joked that I am a life purist. I cherish integrity and transparency. I expect this from myself and I expect the same from others. Therefore, I wondered if alcohol was keeping me from being my best. Does it dilute mindfulness, intentionality and empathy? Whitaker talks a lot about routines, meditation, human connection, and healthy lifestyle changes in conjunction with wiping out alcohol use. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was stunting my personal growth by continuing to indulge myself.
But what I have found is that (for me) there is a time and a place to drink. I don’t have to live in extremes and I don’t have to make permanent decisions. My life is fluid and as long as I live it according to what I really want at the moment, fulfillment is achievable.
Kuda talks about a term coined by writer Ruby Warrington, called Sober Curious. It is used to describe a person who has an alcohol free lifestyle. They may try to moderate or take long periods of abstinence, but they are not really committed to a sober lifestyle for the long term. They might ask: Is there a healthy way to drink alcohol so that the substance doesn’t control you? Her best advice for someone exploring a low-key lifestyle is:
“Your inner guide does not whisper random ideas to you. If you’ve started to get curious about exploring a low-key lifestyle, that curiosity was put there for a reason: explore it.
How do I know which lifestyle is right for me?
While my own soul-searching and reading has provided insight into the culture of drinking and the lifestyle in general, I did not feel equipped to explain why a person might choose to continue drinking, drinking moderately or stop completely. Whitaker convinced me that I couldn’t reach my greatest potential with alcohol in my life. She explained that the alcohol was ethanol. If we put it in a pill, it would be the most popular drug on the market. And… she’s right.
I gained a better understanding of lifestyle choices when it comes to alcohol from my conversation with Kuda. She talks about the difference between choosing sobriety because it is a means of survival and quitting smoking “for your health”. She lists three reasons why someone might stop drinking for the latter: physical (wanting to feel better), mental (wanting to be more present), and metaphysical (feeling a deep calling or feeling that alcohol is bothering you. the world). Whatever your choice, she said;
“If you commit to exploring your relationship with alcohol or adopting an alcohol-free lifestyle, you will have a competitive advantage that cannot be achieved.”
How could I create an alcohol-free routine if my drinking habits are related to my surroundings or the time of day (i.e. a glass of wine at every dinner)?
Habits are linked to a bigger picture. They are part of a larger system of being. In order to better understand where your behaviors are coming from, you need to fully understand your current lifestyle. For example, I know that I have always chosen to drink because of my social environment. From college to the waitress through parties, family reunions and celebrations; drinking acted as a satisfying accessory. It’s a “ fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants ” type choice, live for now. To prepare for success (not to regret, not to suffer), I have found that active planning helps me avoid a “yes, I would love to have a drink”.
It takes time and patience. Kuda says to ask yourself if you are a natural “moderator” or a “teetotaler”. She notes; “Most people who want to change their relationship with alcohol are abstinent, which means they do best with all-or-nothing goals. Non-voters find freedom in restriction because they don’t have to worry about setting rules to determine how to moderate. If you’re sober, consider setting a reasonable but empowering goal for trying out a new routine. ”
She advises that you can also consider replacing an alcoholic drink with non-alcoholic wine, kombucha, or another mocktail.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, just remember that trust comes from the commitments we keep to yourself. So avoid ‘exceptions to the rule’ and ‘cheat days’ when creating a new routine, ”says Kuda.
What if the people around me don’t understand why I care about my relationship with alcohol?
Human connectivity is so important to me. Naturally, I was very scared about the dropping of the drinks. It’s no different from telling my grandmother I can’t eat her sweet potatoes because I stopped eating dairy products. There is so much pressure to join in the fun, especially when people are looking at you like you’re crazy when you say, “I’m not drinking right now.” But… drinking is normal, right?
Kuda encourages us to reframe our mindsets around alcohol-free socialization. It is courageous to explore your relationship with alcohol, in part, because not everyone will understand or support this choice. You can maintain a wonderful and active social life without drinking. However, you may find that there are things that kept you entertained and now only annoy or annoy you. Kuda says,
“In fact, if it’s more fun without alcohol, it probably was never fun in the beginning. You were just using alcohol to distract yourself.
Redefining your relationship with alcohol is a learning process that requires compassion and grace. Kuda reminds us: “IIf you identify with yourself as anything other than a ‘once in a while’ or ‘take it or leave it’ drinker, “it can be very difficult to really develop a healthy relationship with alcohol.” Why? Because most of us drink unintentionally to change or dilute our personality. We drink to be more fun, more relaxed, more social.
She adds; “Like it or not, when you drink to become ‘more’ of something, you are sending a subconscious message that you are not alone enough. Not everything we do for lack of rigor can be really healthy. “