Advice from members: How to avoid swapping alcohol for other habits
Lulu from Norfolk is new to changing her drinking habits, and has started blogging about her experiences. Here is one of her Sober October tips that will help you get through the first few weeks.
Spread your pleasures
This is my main advice for today. If you’re anything like me, you have a tendency to obsess – to direct a lot of your hopes, dreams and attention into one thing. I’m an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket kind of person. I’m a master of habit formation. My neural pathways are apt to develop a superhighway towards my latest fad faster than urbanisation in the developing world.
I find a meal combination I like and I eat it until I can’t stand the sight of it. I have a really limited range of outfits, for a woman, and I wear them till they fall apart at the seams and I’m devastated that they’re kaput. I learnt to knit once and I made an expensive plethora of ill-fitting, itchy garments. I flog that dead horse, binge til I’m blue in the face and then feel empty and sad when I’m done.
If I get a buzz out of something, it can be risky if I don’t notice it. Take this blog, for example. I’ve always written stuff but rarely shown it to anyone. I’m getting a buzz out of the incremental increase of readers on my stats, having an audience for the first time ever (thank you, you don’t know how much this means to me, mwah). I’m brimming with ideas about what to write about next. I’ve set myself the target of 31 posts in 31 days to give out handy tips and pearls of wisdom for Sober for October participants. Talk about putting pressure on yourself…
Blogging during mindfulness
Anyway, I’m sat writing about mindfulness and meditation a couple of days ago in a speedy frenzy. It’s as if I’ve got an explosive vest on and a tired finger on a dead man’s switch (watch Bodyguard on BBC iPlayer if you haven’t already, cripes…). I’m tense, my shoulders are hunched but I bang into it and type my way through meal times. I end up with a monster headache through forgetting to drink water and a furrowed brow in danger of becoming permanent. It’s like being at work, this is supposed to be cathartic. During meditation, I am writing blog posts in my head and it’s all I can do to follow a couple of breaths. I am in danger of turning a pleasurable hobby into an unhealthy habit if I don’t take steps to calm the fuck down…
…but I noticed it. I noticed the tendency to dependency that’s the backdrop to my existence. I started to recognise this in myself at the turn of the century when I had been cripplingly depressed, pouring alcohol on that depression, and was in therapy. At that point, I likened my life to me being adrift, floating about on a small inflatable in the middle of the open ocean, miles from land. The therapist said I had a dependent personality and all I had to depend on was that small, fragile inflatable. He told me not to get too dependent on one thing, hedge your bets, spread your pleasures. That way if one person/place/object/activity doesn’t work out, you’ve got some in reserve to use as your life rafts.
The key is to be wary of letting habits bed themselves in too far. Mix ’em up a bit. Don’t let the B-roads of your many neural connections, firing up in response to various stimulants in life, get bulldozed for the 8-lane motorway of a neural pathway to addiction. If you relentlessly pursue one pleasurable thing you’re in danger of ‘over-learning’ through the action of a brain region called the ventral striatum (a major player in reward signals and goal-directed behaviour). Your B-roads will become choked with weeds and impassable and you’ll only have one route to travel. We all know where that can lead if we’re not careful.
So make a list of things you used to love to do until they floated away on the tsunami of booze that washed away your interests. Jot down things you’ve always wanted to try out but haven’t. Aim to gradually have a go at them as you start to feel better walking through October (and beyond?) alcohol-free. See what floats your boat and keep them in your mental toolbox. Get them out at intervals and intersperse them with other interests and things to do.
I started to make macrame plant pot holders until I made more than I had plants for, granted, but it is something I have seen about and wanted to try and make. I’ve started knitting again. I’ve recently become a big true crime podcast fan and I’ve signed up for Netflix. I’m managing to not put the telly on until the evening though, if at all, which is a good sign. For me, watching TV in the day is like drinking in the morning. Sometimes you need(ed) it but it makes (made) you feel dirty. I’d rather go and find some trees to walk about in instead.
You can read more on Lulu’s blog here.