I’ll cut to the chase: I am someone who struggled with alcohol through all of my teens, twenties, and early 30s. I had lived a fast-paced, work-hard-play-hard jet-set lifestyle and had burnt out before turning thirty.
I left my career as a global health and policy consultant to “find myself,” but still found myself leaning too heavily on alcohol.
I woke up in the morning after my 30th birthday to a giant goose egg on my forehead and no idea how it got there. I vowed I needed to cut back, yet my 31st birthday rolled around and I found myself in the same situation, remembering little because I had passed out after drinking too much absinthe. It took me until a few weeks before my 32nd birthday to finally make a commitment to myself: “No more getting drunk.”
Over the past few years, I’ve not only avoided getting drunk, I’ve also successfully learned to moderate so that I only very occasionally indulge in alcohol. From my experiences, as well as my studies with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I have developed a coaching practice to support other women, helping them to learn moderation and find freedom from alcohol, on their own terms.
The thing is, for many years I felt that I was living a double life.
On the outside, I was this confident, accomplished, evolved woman. On the inside, I was plagued by anxiety, insomnia, self-doubt, and self-loathing.
I have started sharing more openly about my experiences because I have come to realize that so many other women struggle with similar issues and feel totally alone.
Because of the pervasive “all or nothing” approach to alcohol in our society, we’re supposed to pretend that everything is totally fine until it’s not, and then the only option is AA, which isn’t for everyone.
Sharing my story gives permission for others to share their experiences with alcohol with me.
What always strikes me is how much shame women feel after losing control over alcohol and how long that shame lingered. What I also find interesting is that most of what other people share with me wouldn’t necessarily be classified as “alcoholism” and most of it would probably fly under the radar of a regular visit with a physician or therapist.
Yet these experiences had a profound effect on the women who shared them with me. They all wanted a space to feel safe talking about it. And they wanted a solution that didn’t necessarily involve eliminating alcohol completely.
We often hear about alcohol as an “all or nothing” affair. It’s all good times and carefree until you admit to having a problem, and then suddenly you are a candidate for a recovery program and need to abstain completely.
You can have a problem with alcohol and not be an alcoholic. (In fact, only 10-15% of people who struggle with alcohol will ever form an addiction.)
You can have a problem with alcohol and not want to quit.
Sometimes we need to see our experiences reflected back at ourselves in order to feel comfortable making a change.
The problem with the “all or nothing” approach to alcohol is that many of us don’t relate, and therefore stay silent about our desire to change.
We face enormous societal and, dare I say it, peer pressure to drink in social situations, at celebrations, and during events. The people around us may not be ready or want to change their drinking, which can make the decision even more challenging.
Here are some signs that you might want to cut back on alcohol, even if you know you are not an alcoholic. Let this be your permission to make a change, an affirmation to what you know in your heart is needed.
Signs you need to cut back (or cut it out completely):
1. You’ve ever woken up and thought, “I need to cut back.” It might seem obvious, but we become so good at talking ourselves out of things, or letting the people around us convince us that we’re fine, or that being hungover every weekend is normal. If you feel like you want to make a change, let that be enough. As I always tell my clients, if you feel like you have a problem with alcohol and you want to make some changes, no one else gets to tell you otherwise.
2. You often wake up tired, lethargic, or unfocused. As little as 2 drinks in the evening before bed can interrupt your REM sleep and have you waking up feeling less than optimal. If you are reaching for wine in the evenings as a nightcap more often than not, developing a different bedtime routine will help you sleep better and wake up feeling rested and focused.
3. You drink alcohol more days during the week than not. The Canadian Low Risk Drinking Guidelines recommends planning non-drinking days during the week to avoid forming a habit. If you notice that you are wanting to drink more often than not, you definitely want to consider cutting back and finding alternatives.
4. Your go-to stress remedy is a cocktail, cold beer, or glass of wine. If the first thing you think of when something bad or stressful happens is how soon you get to drink alcohol, cutting back and developing other stress reduction tools may be in your best interest.
5. You feel shame around things that have happened while drinking. Instead of burying the shame under more booze, try cutting it out for a bit. It can be hard to learn how to feel and deal, but feeling and moving through pain, shame, and regret are paramount to healing. Give yourself a break and ease up on the booze while you work through some of this stuff.
6. You vow “never again” but keep drinking past the point of no return. If this happens, it is definitely time to cut back (by a lot) or cut alcohol out completely for a while. It’s not enough to say, “I’m not going to get so drunk.” Set your intention for only one drink, or better yet, experiment with cutting it out completely for an evening to see how it feels. It doesn’t have to be forever, but the key is to break the habit.
7. You find yourself putting off other activities that are important to you. If you’ve been procrastinating on pursuing your passions, or find that you “forget” what kinds of activities (other than drinking alcohol) feel good for you, it’s probably time to cut back. Once alcohol stops being your go-to for socializing and fun, you’ll have more time (and money) to prioritize other activities and hobbies.
8. You are worried about your weight. You may not want this reminder, but if you have tried to lose weight without success and haven’t tried cutting back on booze, alcohol may be the key. Alcohol is pretty much just liquid calories, and it offers no nutritional value to go with them. Yeah, the getting drunk part can be fun, but if you are serious about getting in shape, then you’re not giving yourself a fair chance if you are still drinking regularly or more than the recommended amount (cutting back by one glass of wine a day can eliminate about 2,000 calories from your diet weekly!).
9. You feel like you’ve got it all together, but alcohol is the one thing you don’t have a handle on. Sometimes you feel like you are living a double life. Everyone sees you as super accomplished and “together” but you feel differently. This might be a source of secret shame for you and carrying it around is an extra energetic burden that you don’t need! Cutting back on alcohol can help you feel on top of the world and in control of your life.
10. You have a hard time connecting with your intuition. If you wish you could tap into your intuition more easily, you might want to consider cutting back on alcohol. A lot of my clients spent years agonizing over every decision or thing that happened and questioning whether they did or said the right thing, or made the right choice. When they drastically reduced the amount they were drinking, it suddenly became easier to tap into that inner knowing and to make clear-headed and heart-connected decisions.
11. You feel like there’s something more for you. Sometimes it’s hard to even articulate this feeling but you know there’s something more waiting for you. Maybe your problem isn’t even that severe. You’re just done with feeling crappy, with hangovers, with accidentally losing yourself or doing or saying something you wouldn’t have if you were sober. You know you are meant for more. I have never met anyone who describes their decision to cut back or cut out alcohol as having a negative impact on their life. To the contrary, the majority of the people I work with experience really positive shifts in their lives within months of changing their drinking habits. So why not give it a try?
Low risk drinking is considered to be no more than 2-3 drinks per day with no more than 7 drinks per week for women, and 3-4 drink per day with no more than a total of 14 drinks per week for men (depending on which country’s guidelines you are looking at). If you are choosing to cut back, you may want to follow these guidelines, or create your own. Many of my clients find that dramatically reducing their alcohol intake helps reset their habits and shift their consciousness powerfully.
This might look like no more than 1 glass of alcohol on any evening, committing to more Alcohol Free Days during the week than days with alcohol, choosing not to drink in situations that are potentially triggering, and on the days that you feel yourself wanting to numb out, avoiding alcohol altogether.
Whatever you decide, create a plan before you are in the situation where you would normally be drinking. Know what alternatives will be available to drink or bring your own if the venue allows. Do your best to set yourself up for success and focus on the benefits you know you’ll receive from drinking less alcohol. Reach out and connect with others who are also committed to elevating their consciousness and learning to be truly present with themselves and their surroundings.
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