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“How much did you drink?” Why I realised that was the wrong question

When I first decided to take a break from drinking, a few people asked me how much I was drinking.

They didn’t come right out and say it but I could guess they were thinking something along the lines of “Oh my God – I didn’t realise she was that bad”!

I would guess that they also wanted to benchmark their own drinking – if I was drinking more than them, then they were ‘safe’.

I get it because I had been asking the same questions myself.

However, I started to realise that asking “how much is too much?” was the wrong question.

So were the questions: “Have I hit rock bottom” or “Am I an alcoholic?”

The question I should have been asking was: “Is the way I’m drinking serving me well?”

I had this conversation during my recent Present and Sober Podcast interview with hosts Sam and Ellie.

On the podcast we also talked about:

  • How I struggled to moderate my drinking thinking there was something wrong with me because I found it so difficult
  • My concerns about what my drinking was doing to my health
  • My fears around taking a break
  • How my drinking changed when I separated from the father of my children

You can click here to listen to the podcast episode or search for the Present and Sober Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Are you questioning your drinking?

If you’re questioning your drinking and want more support, feel free to reach out to me. I offer:

One-on-one coaching

Online Alcohol Reset program (this is about to launch but you email me and I’ll add you to the waitlist)

Free 30-minute discussion call

How to contact me

I’d love to hear from you. You can:

Send me an email.

Book a free 30-minute discussion call

Join the Alcohol Reset Facebook group (if you have not already done so)

How can I change the way I drink?

The question – “How can I change the way I drink?” – was recently sent through to me and I thought it was one that many of you may have.

It was certainly a question I struggled with.

After years of trying to moderate my drinking (spoiler alert: it didn’t work) I finally changed the way that I drank and now have a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to alcohol.

The key was to stop trying to change my habits, which only worked short term, and instead work on changing my mindset.

While it was simple and profound, it did take some professional guidance to work through it.

The methodology that I used to break free is the same one that I now use with my clients in my one-on-one coaching sessions and my online program.

As a certified This Naked Mind coach this liminal thinking approach, called the ACT technique, is about finding freedom from alcohol rather than living with constant restrictions and rules.

What’s the ACT Technique?

This is a very short overview to help you understand the steps involved:

Identify your beliefs around drinking. For example, my key beliefs were that drinking helped me to relax and I needed a drink to socialise.

Use the three-step ACT technique to work through each belief. This is the technique I use with my one-on-one clients to work through their beliefs and there are always a few a-ha moments! In a nutshell it’s:

Awareness: Name the belief (e.g. I use alcohol to relax)

Clarity: Where did this belief come from? Look back on your own experience, what you have observed and absorbed from society to understand why you believe this.

Turnaround: State the opposite of the belief. Phrase it in a range of different ways, e.g. alcohol actually stresses me out or alcohol makes me anxious. Then work on reasons why these statements may be truer than your original belief. E.g. Alcohol actually stresses me out because I’m worrying so much about my drinking and the impact it is having on my health, etc.

Then go back to the original belief and consider whether it is still true.

Then let it be. Don’t push it. Don’t try to make it true if it doesn’t feel true. There is a method to work through these beliefs to find a turnaround that resonates for you.

This is not about stating the opposite and suddenly believing that is true. It’s unpacking your thoughts and beliefs and really questioning them.

The beauty of this technique is that it works on a whole range of things besides alcohol, e.g. beliefs around food, smoking, etc.

It may feel strange – and a bit too simplistic at first (at least it did for me) – but once I started using it to work through all my beliefs around alcohol it was really powerful.

I went from trying to moderate my drinking (which wasn’t working and was making me feel like I was doing something wrong) to changing the beliefs that were getting me stuck.

Can I use this technique myself?

Some people can use this technique themselves to great effect while others need support to go through the process.

This is one of the key reasons my one-on-one coaching clients work with me – to help them work through their long-held beliefs and other things that are holding them back.

If you want to try this technique, you can click here to download the ACT Technique worksheet – a free resource that will help you work through this process.

What my clients say

Here’s feedback from a recent client summing up how this technique worked for her:

“I experienced a fundamental mind shift. I realised that I was a product of my environment but I didn’t have to be and, for the sake of my health and quality of life, I very much needed to make a change. Two months later both (my husband) and I have reduced our drinking by 90% and have cut out hard liquor completely (we did love our martinis!). It’s been a game changer.

The cliche of feeling like you are now free from a trap is so true. And man I feel good! We both do! The massive change was truly because of you.”

Want to know more?

I am about to launch an online, self-paced course where I guide people through this mindset work. I also offer one-on-one a coaching for clients.

Feel free to book an obligation-free 30-minute discussion call if you are interested in either of these.

Podcast interview: How to give up alcohol and still have a social life

I really enjoyed my conversation on the Menopause, Marriage and Motherhood podcast chatting with Karen O’Connor about the reasons I chose to go alcohol free.

  • why I chose to take a break from drinking, 
  • why you don’t have to hit a rock bottom to rethink your drinking and 
  • that your social life doesn’t have to take a hit just because you’re swapping out your drink for something alcohol free!

You can listen or watch the episode using one of these links:

Menopause, Marriage and Motherhood Website

Watch here 

Listen here 

Or download from wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ask me anything: Why am I able to drink more than I used to?

Many years ago I had a night away with a friend where, over the course of the evening, we polished off two bottles of wine.

We were sharing our experiences of being newly separated single mothers who were struggling to make ends meet and, while it might sound a bit glum, we also had a lot of laughs.

We drank one bottle of wine each however our reactions to it were quite different. I ended up throwing up in the toilet while she seemed barely tipsy.

At the time I was embarrassed that I was such a lightweight drinker and couldn’t keep up with her.

My tolerance levels increased

Fast forward from that night and, over the years, my tolerance levels increased until drinking a bottle of wine didn’t end up with me being sick.

In fact, I was the one who barely seemed tipsy after a bottle.

My body had become so used to that amount of alcohol that I rarely drank less than a bottle of wine if I was drinking.

While I may have become used to the increased quantity of alcohol, my body was definitely feeling the effects of drinking too much:

  • Waking during the night unable to get back to sleep
  • Nausea and headache the next day
  • Lack of energy
  • Low mood

So how do we develop tolerance?  

Tolerance is simply our brain adapting to the effects of alcohol so that over time we need more of it to achieve the same effect.

Often we are congratulated for being ‘piss fit’ or being able to handle our drink but the ability to consume more than we used to is actually a sign that we’re travelling down a dangerous road.

For many of us we get to a point down that road that we realise the amount we are drinking is impacting our health and happiness.

We decide to do a u-turn and return to that sweet spot of drinking – back to being a ‘normal’ drinker.

It’s only then, usually when we try to moderate our drinking, that we realise how difficult it is to cut back.

How can alcohol coaching help?

As an alcohol coach I work with people who feel stuck – they’re drinking more than they want to, they’re worried about what it’s doing to them and they are blaming themselves because they can’t go back to the way they used to drink.

If this is where you are you are probably realising that simple habit changes don’t work, particularly long term.

So what does work? Understanding the thoughts and beliefs you have around alcohol and working on your mindset is the key to getting unstuck.

The brain is an amazing thing – while it makes us build up tolerance to alcohol in the first place, it is also the thing that can give us freedom and escape.

In last week’s blog I mentioned one of my favourite Elizabeth Gilbert quotes:

“I don’t know what my life is supposed to be ….. but it’s NOT THIS”.

If you’re feeling that way about drinking feel free to reach out for a free 30-minute discussion call to chat about the various programs and resources I provide.

I knew my drinking had to change, I just didn’t know how to do it

For years I struggled with my drinking, wanting to cut back but finding it difficult to do so.

The mental energy I spent on trying to figure out what I needed to do was exhausting.

The conversation in my head went something like this:

“But everyone around me drinks like me.”

“It’s getting scary that you’re forgetting parts of the night and waking up in the early hours of the morning unable to get back to sleep.”

“Yes, but everything else in my life is okay – family, job, finances – I’m managing. It’s not that my life is unravelling. I need a drink to deal with the stresses of the day.”

“You need to cut back.”

“I’m trying to – it’s just hard when I actually start drinking. Once I start I keep going.”

“If you can’t cut back, you’ll have to quit.”

“NO – I’m not that bad.”

And so it went on and on and on ….

When enough is enough

It took me years of trying to moderate – and failing to do so – before I realised I had to change my approach.

I love this Elizabeth Gilbert quote: “I don’t know what my life is supposed to be ….. but it’s NOT THIS”.

That’s exactly how I felt when I’d had enough of the way I was drinking.

Finally finding the solution

It wasn’t until I read Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind, that I discovered a different way to approach my drinking.

It helped me realise why the moderation techniques I’d been using were not working and, more importantly, that it wasn’t my fault. It was the way that alcohol works in our brains and bodies that makes moderation so hard.

That book, and then doing the This Naked Mind Alcohol Experiment, were the keys to helping me look at my drinking behaviour in a whole new way.

I gained back control of alcohol, my health (both physical and mental) improved and I was so inspired by the whole approach that I went on to train as a certified This Naked Mind coach.

I didn’t want other people to go through the years of struggle – and feeling alone in that struggle – that I had.

Looking to make a change

If you’re worried about your drinking and want to try a new approach, This Naked Mind is running its Live Alcohol Experiment in May and I’m excited to be one of the coaches on the program.

I’ve provided more details in the box below but feel free to email me if you want to ask me anything about the program.

If you want to register for the LIVE Alcohol Experiment or find out more, click here to go to the site.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

As a weekend drinker, long weekends were great … until they weren’t

When I was trying (and failing) to moderate I put all sorts of restrictions on myself, one of which was restricting myself to only drinking on weekends.

Being a weekend drinker meant that long weekends were a real ‘treat’ as I was ‘allowed’ extra drinking days.

This is actually how I bargained with myself – using words like treat and allowed – and justifying every occasion that I drank. It was exhausting.

And, speaking of exhausting, I generally felt wiped out by the end of a long weekend.

I would get to the end of three or four days off and instead of feeling relaxed and refreshed, I would be tired, grumpy and lethargic.

It was like I had undergone some sort of torture where I’d been deprived of sleep, water and (good) food. Which of course was the case – I was sleep deprived, dehydrated and fueled by crap food.

But I considered all of it a ‘treat’!

Now that I’m taking a break from drinking I can compare my alcohol-free long weekends with those during my drinking days and it’s quite a stark difference.

Weekends then

The last working day before the long weekend I would spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about when to have my first drink. I’d make sure the wine was chilled and ready to go.

As soon as I’d get home – or to the pub if we were having after work drinks – I’d reach for a glass of wine and say ‘cheers’ to the long weekend.

I’d continue celebrating into the night probably watching sitcoms that I’d have a hard time remembering the next day.

Invariably I’d fall asleep on the couch.

This pattern would repeat throughout the long weekend.

If there were any social events, figuring out the logistics would be an extra complication:

  • which one of us would drive? (neither of us wanted to draw the short straw on that)
  • would getting an Uber be easy on a long weekend? (the answer was always no)
  • could we go for a short while then make our excuses to leave so we could carry on drinking at home?

I look back and I’m shocked that so much of my time and mental energy went into planning my social life around my drinking.

Then finally after three or four days of ‘getting on it’, I would have the back-to-work blues on the final afternoon of the public holiday. Not because I disliked my job, simply because my mood was low.

And then when I did wake up to go to work I would feel far from refreshed after the long weekend. In fact, I’d feel sluggish, hungover, exhausted and in a bad mood.

Yet somehow I looked at drinking on a long weekend as a treat and a celebration.

Long weekends now

Now I look forward to long weekends because they give me so much time to do all the things I want to do.

When I knock off work the day before a long weekend I treat myself to an alcohol free drink (a mocktail in a fancy glass or an alcohol-free gin with good quality tonic) and do something relaxing.

Bubble bath, start a new book, get out the paint brushes … who knew there would be so many ways to unwind besides getting sloshed?!

When I wake up the next morning I’m not hungover so I can go for a hike with my partner or catch up with a friend for brunch.

There seem to be so many more hours in the day because I don’t spend half of them sleeping in or slumped in front of the TV because I don’t have any energy.

If we have a social event, that’s great:

  • I can drive (no wasted time trying to figure out the logistics)
  • I can spend the time socialising with the people I’m with rather than focussing on when I’ll have my next drink

Comparison

Comparing the two scenarios is a bit of an eye-opener.

I genuinely believed that drinking was making my long weekends – or any weekend really – better but seeing it laid out in black and white, I know that isn’t true.

Sometimes it’s not until we step back and really look at the reasons why we drink and question whether it’s serving us that we can consider that there may be a benefit in trying a different way.

Want more information?

If you’re concerned about your drinking and would like to discuss it on an obligation-free 30-minute discussion call, feel free to book in a time to chat.

If you prefer to email, you can reply to me at rachael@inspiredtochange.com.au

And, if you haven’t already joined the private Alcohol Reset Facebook group, you are welcome to join and be part of the conversation.

Acting like a 21-year-old at my son’s 21st

When I look back at my embarrassing drinking sessions there are a few – actually a few too many – situations that I am still hesitant to talk about.

However, if you’re reading this you’re probably concerned about your drinking so I consider this a safe space.

So, deep breath, here it goes.

A few years back I went to my son’s 21st birthday party, which was held at his dad’s house. His father and I had separated about 15 years earlier and, while we were on okay terms, it wasn’t as if we were besties who hung out every weekend.

I felt awkward about being at his home with his partner, friends and family all there.

I had invited some of my friends and family for moral support and my two sons and their friends were there.

But I found the situation awkward so I turned to my usual “anxiety buster” – white wine – to quell my nerves.

I had a few glasses in quick succession when I got there to take the edge off.

Now that I know how alcohol works I realise that those first few glasses were also creating all sorts of reactions in my body and brain that would lead me to drink more as the night went on.

Which of course is what I did.

The night starts going downhill …

The main meal was served late – a spit roast that took longer to cook than expected – and I barely touched the nibblies, so I was drinking on an empty stomach. Never a good idea but especially when you’re feeling overly anxious.

By the time the speeches came I was well and truly tipsy (sloshed would probably be more accurate).

I gave a speech but who knows what I said and I do remember my younger son gently pulling me back, a subtle sign to let me know that I was rambling.

I should have called it a night then as many of my friends and family had already left but my inhibitions were completely gone by that stage and I was up for a big night.

Thankfully, one of my friends (who’s also a big drinker) stayed on.

I can’t remember much of the rest of the night – I do remember playing a game of pool, accidentally walking into a glass door (thankfully nothing was damaged – me or the door) and having conversations with various people (although who knows what we talked about).

My memories are very fragmented and blurred although I do remember my friend and my son (the one celebrating his 21st) walking with me around to the front of the house for our lift home.

I was wearing high-heeled boots and tripped and fell. Thankfully, it was out of sight of the party goers.

I later justified it on the uneven ground but only hours earlier I had walked across that same uneven ground in the same high-heeled boots without tripping and falling.

Morning after the night before

The next morning I woke at my friend’s house feeling terrible – not just physically but feeling awful about the way I had acted.

I asked myself the usual questions I did after a night like that:

“Where am I?” and “What the f*ck did I do last night?”

And when I started to piece together the fragmented memories of the night before, I felt sick and I don’t just mean hangover sick – although the headache was horrendous and the nausea next level.

Forgiveness

I have since spoken to my son about it and, in his typical laid-back way, he has shrugged it off as nothing to worry about.

But I did worry about it and part of me still feels embarrassed that I behaved in that way.

However, I can now give myself grace and forgiveness around it.

Why?

Because I now understand that my response to alcohol – particularly in a situation like that when I was feeling incredibly anxious – was a coping mechanism.

I used alcohol as a crutch and then once I was a few drinks in I kept on drinking because of the complex way in which alcohol was working in my brain and body.

Once I understood that, I could give myself greater leniency.

Understanding why

However, it took me a long time from wondering what was wrong with me to figuring out that it wasn’t because I was weak willed or not able to handle my drink.

That’s why I became an alcohol coach so that I could use my experience, along with the knowledge and strategies I have learned through my training, to support other people who are going through the same thing.

Most importantly, I hope they don’t have to spend as many years as I did trying, and failing, to gain back control.

If you want to reach out to me to chat about your situation and how I can support you, I invite you to schedule a free 30-minute discussion call.

You can also join the private Alcohol Reset Facebook page.

Take a break from drinking without white knuckling it

Whenever I would take a break from drinking, such as Dry January or FebFast, I would follow a similar pattern.

The first few days I would be inspired and motivated so would find it fairly easy.

“Nailing it” – I would think!

But as each day went on, the novelty would wear off until by the end of the week when I would start questioning my decision.

Sometimes I would cave, particularly if there was a social occasion where I felt I “had to drink”.

But other times my stubborn nature would triumph and I’d vow to make it to the end of the month without a drink.

From motivated to white knuckling

This is when white knuckling it through the month would kick in.

I’d start by counting down the days until the end of the month and have constant debates with myself about why I was taking a break.

The conversation in my head would go something like this:

  • “Why are you even taking a break – you’re not that bad. It’s not like you’re an alcoholic.”
  • “You’ve been so good, you deserve a treat.”
  • “It’s been a crappy week – surely this calls for a drink.”
  • “You can’t go to out on the weekend without drinking. Everyone else will be knocking them back.”

It was relentless and exhausting … and not a lot of fun.

So what’s the alternative?

Whenever I would take a break from drinking I would always look at it as a month of depriving myself and therefore expected it to be difficult, boring and a challenge.

However, once I changed my mindset around drinking my approach was completely different and, best of all, it didn’t require white knuckling it through.

The difference was that I didn’t approach it simply in terms of a habit change (although that was important too) but as a mindset shift as well.

I started to look into the subconscious beliefs I had around alcohol.

They were so ingrained (hence being subconscious!) that I had never even questioned them.

My beliefs were that alcohol helped me to:

  • Relax
  • Socialise
  • Cheer up
  • Numb sad feelings

So, whenever I needed to relax, go out, treat myself or drown my sorrows I would reach for a drink because it ‘fixed everything’.

Once I started to question whether or not it was really doing those things, I realised there were other things I could do besides having a drink.

It may sound simple, and it actually is once you start delving into your subconscious beliefs, but it does mean looking at it in quite a different way.

I love it when I’m working with clients and they have the a-ha moment when they realise that they don’t ‘need’ alcohol the way they thought they did.

And better still, that realisation helps them to cut back or take a break without feeling like they’re depriving themselves or white knuckling it through.

Looking for support and community?

If you’re interested in learning more feel free to reach out for a discussion call with me.

And, if you haven’t already joined the private Alcohol Reset Facebook group, you are welcome to join and be part of the conversation.

Am I the only one who is questioning my drinking?

When I first started worrying about how much I was drinking and whether I was heading into dangerous territory, I thought I was alone.

Friends and family who were drinkers fell into two groups:

  • Those who barely drank – the ones who could sit on one glass of wine for two hours taking a small sip every now and again (how did they do that?!); or
  • Those who liked to drink – this was the larger group (particularly among my friends and family) and were the ones who enjoyed a drink or two or much more.

I well and truly fell into the second group.

But when I felt my tolerance to alcohol was increasing and started worrying that I was drinking more than I should, it felt that no-one around me was having the same concerns.

Even those who drank a lot were seemingly unconcerned about it.

While I worried about hazy memories of the night before or was waking at 3am unable to get back to sleep, they laughed it off as a necessary evil – the price you pay for ‘enjoying’ a drink.

The importance of community

I now know that there were others who were questioning their drinking – it was just something that no-one talked about.

When I started figuring out why I wasn’t a ‘normal’ drinker, I turned to books, podcasts and social media where I read, listened and followed other people whose experience was similar.

And that sense of community helped me realise there was nothing wrong with me – or at least nothing that I couldn’t overcome.

I realised that I didn’t need to hit a rock bottom to change my relationship with alcohol.

Being able to form connections with others who were in the same boat was so good because I could finally talk freely about my concerns and hear from others who were dealing with similar questions.

Interested in joining a private Facebook Group?

I have launched the Alcohol Reset Facebook Group – a judgement-free and private space where people can join in the discussion, ask questions and get tips for gaining back control of your drinking.

And we’ll also include the light-hearted stuff because we all need a laugh.

The more we can open up the conversation, the less alone we’ll all feel. I’d love for you to join – click here to join the private Alcohol Reset Facebook Group.

Are you a keen exerciser but also enjoy a drink? You’re not alone

I saw the following post on my Facebook Memories the other day and it reminded me how I used to justify my drinking, even when I was trying to stay fit. The Facebook post, from nine years ago, reads:

“Just finished Kokoda Grunt – a 13km run (7km uphill) with 26 challenges. The whole thing took more than four hours. Worse thing was I only decided to do it this morning so had drinks last night! Glad I did it though. Recovering with an ice pack on my knee and a glass of wine. Such an athlete!”

It amazes me that I ran a four-hour obstacle course after a night of drinking, then celebrated afterwards with a glass of wine.

At that point in my life I was doing a lot of running, competing in half-marathons and triathlons. Not at a high level – in the bottom half of finishers rather than those who broke through the finishing tape – but it was the way I kept fit and healthy.

I never considered that my regular wine habit was at complete odds with my goal of being fit and healthy.

Higher fitness levels = greater alcohol consumption

It seems I wasn’t alone. A recent study showed that higher fitness levels were significantly related to greater alcohol consumption among a large cohort of study participants.

The researchers suggest that it may be due to the ‘licensing effect’ – that phenomenon where when we do something ‘good’ we can allow ourselves to do something ‘bad’.

I ate well and exercised regularly so my rationale was that wine was ‘my one vice’. I looked at it as my naughty little treat and, in doing so, increased its value.

Instead of seeing it as something that was impacting my fitness and health – which of course it was – I saw it as a reward for being ‘good’.

Justifying the healthy / unhealthy behaviour balance

It’s interesting how we view our behaviours to justify why we make certain decisions.

At that point it would never have crossed my mind to even consider that alcohol was not doing me any favours.

Even though the evidence was there – trying to exercise the morning after a night of drinking was much harder than normal and often I didn’t exercise at all due to a hangover.

But if I had any niggling thoughts about that, I’d ignore them.

I’ve written about this in a previous blog: Beer yoga is now a thing – is nowhere safe from our expanding drinking culture?

Now that I’m choosing not to drink I realise that I don’t have to ‘treat’ myself for exercising.

The exercise itself is the treat – I get the feel-good endorphins without any side effects.

The runners’ high is real and it’s a lot better for you than other highs!

If you are worried that your drinking is getting in the way of your fitness goals, and want support to work through it, feel free to send me an email or reach out for a free 30-minute chat.

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels