Becoming aware that drinking alcohol is showing up in your life in a negative light can lead you to consider changing your relationship with it. It isn’t easy to come to this realization, and it may be a hard truth to face, but it’s also the first positive step on your journey to freedom from all the useless chatter and wasted brain energy in your head.
It certainly can be daunting, with so many unknowns, and can you even do it? How will you happily live life without a substance you have been conditioned to use in times of joy, boredom, sadness, and stress? Trust me, I totally get it. I was once there, and now almost four years alcohol-free, I want to share some tools that helped me move forward in my decision to live an alcohol-free lifestyle.
When you understand what’s going on in your brain and how your beliefs and thoughts play such an important role in making a mindset shift to a different way of living, it helps set you up with openness and curiosity that will support you in creating the life you want from this point on.
When it comes to drinking alcohol, your conscious mind wants to drink less, or even stop drinking completely. You are experiencing negative consequences, and tell yourself that a change needs to be made with the way in which you are consuming alcohol. These are the thoughts you have control over that originate in your prefrontal cortex.
Your subconscious mind, which is located just behind the conscious mind in the basal ganglia and cerebellum, believes you need to continue to drink for very good reasons. Although you know alcohol is bringing you down, you feel it is still providing you with some benefits.
Cognitive dissonance is when a clashing between the conscious and unconscious mind occurs, they are not in alignment with each other, and you deal with an ongoing mental battle that can be very painful to deal with. It’s your brain saying “Hold up! Something’s not right here, I don’t like it, and it’s tough for me to deal with it.” When our minds are at peace, we feel much more calm and at ease in our lives. Cognitive dissonance ramps up stress and anxiety even more, sometimes leading to even MORE drinking!
I lived in cognitive dissonance for YEARS when it came to my drinking. I knew alcohol was not good for my health and that there were risks, yet I still chose to consume it. As we know, alcohol is an addictive substance, and looking back on it now, I see how addicted I was. The cognitive dissonance caused a constant battle in my mind that would not quiet down. It was mental stress that I could not let go of, and I kept it all inside and would not share my feelings with anyone, with the worry that I would be judged or looked down on.
I constantly worried and thought “What is wrong with me? How can I be treating my body like this, and what am I teaching my sons?” I was scared for my future health, but I continued to do it. Why? First off, alcohol is an addictive substance and it kept me stuck in the drinking cycle. Second, even though alcohol was providing me with many negative effects and consequences, I STILL felt like there were benefits and that I needed to include it in my life.
How did I overcome my cognitive dissonance around alcohol so that I could move forward with kicking it to the curb? I started to work on my beliefs and thoughts about alcohol. To help eliminate cognitive dissonance, you need to decide if the beliefs you have about alcohol are actually true. We don’t realize that many of the beliefs we have acquired throughout our lifetime are not ours – we have become conditioned to believe them due to society, family upbringing, environment, events, knowledge, past experiences, etc.
Defeating cognitive dissonance is the first step toward making a mindset shift to finding freedom from alcohol. To begin working on this process, write down a list of every reason you drink. Put your pen to paper and write as many reasons as possible that you can come up with. You may have 3 or 25 reasons, no reason is silly, and there is no judgment. Here are some of the reasons that I wrote down when I decided to move forward with making my lifestyle change:
Why I drank:
Alcohol made me more outgoing and fun.
Alcohol made everything fun.
I loved the euphoric feeling alcohol gave me.
Alcohol relaxed me when I felt stressed.
Alcohol was an escape for me.
I felt lonely.
Alcohol made me feel like I fit in with my friends.
Everyone else does it, so why not?
Next, write a list of all the reasons why you think you want to drink less or no longer drink. What are the negatives alcohol is bringing into your life?
Why I wanted to stop drinking:
I was blacking out more frequently, and I was worried about my long-term brain health.
I was worried about what I said or did when I was drunk, feeling very guilty and embarrassed about my behavior.
I was worried about my future health, especially getting breast cancer someday.
I was concerned about the example I was setting for my sons and their future relationship with alcohol, teaching them that having a drink in your hand is necessary to have fun or to deal with life.
I was tired of feeling sick and tired all of the time, especially the day after.
I was tired of all the chatter and thoughts about alcohol constantly in my mind.
I wanted a better relationship with my husband.
I wanted to start to love and respect myself.
I was not living in alignment with some of my top values – Health, Well-being, and Personal Development.
Read over both lists to see on paper the source of your cognitive dissonance. One list may be longer than the other, and that is OK. Notice how the lists are not balanced. When you begin to work on dissecting your beliefs to determine if they are even true, your cognitive dissonance will start to lessen, and you will feel more motivated and confident with moving forward with your decision to change your relationship with alcohol. Frequently revisiting this list will remind you WHY you are making this change and will help keep moving you forward.
If you have already decided to move forward with an alcohol-free lifestyle, you can keep this list as a tool in your toolbox of support and look at it daily to help solidify the reasons why you want to make the positive shift. Keep this list nearby for the next few weeks and start to pay attention if there have been any shift in the balance. Appreciate how good it feels when you start chipping away at it and have hope that a positive change can happen!