Mindful drinking can be an important tool for people wanting to change their relationship with alcohol. Research shows that awareness without judgement is the key to lasting habit change. As my friend and mentor Annie Grace would say, "all change happens on the other side of awareness".
When we have been trying to cut down or stop drinking for a long time we can end up losing our trust in ourselves. Through mindful drinking we can rebuild that trust with loving compassion. When you keep trying to unsuccessfully stop or cut down your drinking it can get really demotivating. Mindful drinking gives you the opportunity to celebrate your awareness as a tool to move towards your goals with alcohol. You can stop trying to stop drinking and start trying to understand why you drink.
Important to this is the understanding that alcohol is an addictive drug and the way it works on the brain means that we are programmed to want to drink more of it because of the way it floods our brains with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us to survive. It is the brains way of rewarding helpful behaviours like eating something good and having sex. Alcohol tricks the brain into thinking that the body needs it to survive.
So one of the most important parts of mindful drinking is letting go of the shame, blame and judgement that often accompanies alcohol misuse. This stigmatisation of a drinker finding they are drinking more than they want to is what keeps people stuck in a cycle of self-recrimination. Which leads them to drink more as a coping mechanism for dealing with those painful feelings.
Mindful drinking - or 'The Pause' as we call it in the This Naked Mind group is all about learning about our patterns of behaviour and reward cycles. I like to imagine I am an alien come to earth to examining our (very normal) human behaviour with alcohol in order to learn and report on it.
Mindful drinking involves observing not only the behaviours, but the wants and the needs being met by alcohol use. It is only by understanding these that we can challenge and change them.
There are so many hints and tips to mindful drinking but the main one is observation, so journalling or voice demoing or keeping recording in your phone notes or what your patterns of behaviours are:
When does alcohol start to come into your thoughts in the day and what do those thoughts consist of? What are the routines you have around alcohol? What situations does alcohol enhance? When do you feel like drinking? What are your triggers for drinking? What is the feeling that you want to escape from or achieve by drinking? And the you move on to the actual ritual and experience of drinking, what happens and how does it feel? What does it feel like drinking the first drink, how does it make you feel physically and mentally? What happens after 20 mins? When do you take your next drink? How does it taste? What happens if you delay the first drink by 30 minutes or an hour and the second? What does it do to your speech and your thoughts? And so on …. Carrying on this observation throughout the night and Into the next day and the after effects.
When clients work with me 1:1 and as part of This Naked Mind's year long programme The Path we encourage them, where they are not already in momentum with not drinking and they are open to the concept of starting their journey with awareness to do just that. It certainly worked for me!
Evidence shows that a combination of knowledge, emotion followed by action is a great way to get into the right headspace to successfully change your relationship with alcohol. It is possible to start with action and then gain the knowledge and emotion to support that journey as you go along. But generally people find the transition easier when they have done some of the work around the limiting thoughts and beliefs they might be holding around alcohol, and they have learnt how alcohol works in the human body.
Once we have the irrefutable facts around alcohol and how toxic and damaging it is to the human body, an understanding of how it works chemically to ensure that we want to keep drinking and to keep drinking more, it becomes easier to start questioning those beliefs that we hold to be true but are actually societal conditioning like 'alcohol helps me relax', 'alcohol makes me fun', 'socialising is not fun without alcohol' etc.
Once we start to understand the indoctrination we have been subjected to regarding alcohol and the supposed benefits that it brings to our lives, then we can add the other magic ingredient positive emotion to propel us towards a life where alcohol plays a small and irrelevant part. We start to see how positive and fulfilling life could be without alcohol and how it might feel to be free from alcohols control, and mental real estate space. We start removing the limiting beliefs that are keeping us stuck believing that alcohol use has any benefits for us at all.