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Creating Lasting Change

Life Without Alcohol

If you have reached the point in your journey to quit drinking alcohol where you have been through the withdrawal stages, have experienced the highs of the Honeymoon period as you adjust to life without alcohol, and have arrived at some kind of equilibrium in your life then you have no doubt experienced a great deal of change in your life already.

And you now find yourself in the phase of the New Reality – that is the reality of life without alcohol, and a life where you deal with all the highs and lows that life inevitably brings (“the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, as Shakespeare put it) without resorting to alcohol as a coping mechanism. This is about restoring and maintaining balance in your life.

How well you manage to achieve this, and as a result, how well you manage to avoid relapse during the coming months will depend upon the level to which you have truly embraced the changes into your life that quitting drinking both demands and requires.

Living without alcoholIf at some level in your psyche you are still resistant to the thought of forever abstaining from alcohol, either consciously or unconsciously, then sooner or later this will rise to the surface of your thinking to challenge you.

In this respect, the levels of change you embrace can be viewed as layers of an onion. For example:

The outer layers:

  • Changes in the undesirable behaviours.
  • Acceptance of the need to change and of the anti-social consequences of your drinking.
  • Acceptance of the physical and emotional damage it causes to you and others.
  • A desire to make positive changes.

The inner layers:

  • Identifying and addressing the degree to which you use alcohol as a coping strategy.
  • Changing social and environmental factors such as the people you associate with and the places you hang out.
  • Changing your attitudes towards drinking, and your motivations as to whether you drink or not.
  • Willingness to seek support from outside agencies.
  • Admitting the extent of your problems and disclosure to others.

The core;

  • Your fundamental beliefs about alcohol.

Even if you have done a great job in addressing all of the outer and inner layers this far in, and have fully embraced all the changes that this requires, if you still have issues concerning your core beliefs about alcohol, then relapse will still be a real and ever present risk for you, and lasting change cannot be assured.

Creating a Paradigm Shift

True and lasting change only becomes possible when we have a fundamental shift in our beliefs and attitudes – when we see things from a totally new perspective which alters how we perceive things from that point onwards. This is often called a Paradigm Shift.

Obvious examples of paradigm shifts from the past are Galileo’s discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the earth being at the centre of the universe, and Columbus’ discovery that in fact, the earth was not flat.

Everyday examples might be the discovery that the delicious delicacy you are enjoying is actually made from sheep’s testicles, or finding out that the person who so rudely ignored you after bumping into you in the street had just learnt of the death of their infant child.

In all cases, once a paradigm has changed, the earlier paradigm become irrelevant. All the attitudes, beliefs and attitudes you may have previously held are irrevocably and permanently changed.

Change Drinking Thinking

So how does this relate to making a lasting change in our attitudes towards drinking, and in the quest to remain permanently abstinent?

Essentially this means that at our very core, we must hold the belief that drinking alcohol is a deeply abhorrent and damaging thing to do. That to do so would be alien to the beliefs and principles we hold, and would be incomprehensible to us intellectually, morally and rationally.

To illustrate this, consider the following:

  • How would you feel if asked to drink a shot of pure bleach? If you drank it, would you feel compelled to order another?
  • How about a pint of someone else’s vomit?
  • What if you were offered a pint of vinegar – would you drink it?

If not, why not?

Although you can identify certain “logical” reasons why you wouldn’t drink these things – the vile taste, the damaging effects, the stomach churning thoughts, and so on – there remains a central over-riding “You just wouldn’t!” belief attached to doing such things.

When the thought of drinking alcohol invokes such a state shifting, over-riding reaction in your own thinking, you can be sure that you will not touch alcohol again.

Of course this sounds easy when expressed in this way, but the reality is that our ingrained beliefs about alcohol and all the perceived benefits we have associated with it over the years are very hard to remove, such is the nature of addiction and the insidious hold that it retains over us, even when we have been sober for a lengthy period.

The first step in changing your “drinking thinking” is to uncover what your unconscious beliefs might be about the benefits of drinking. For example,

  • Drinking is enjoyable
  • Drinking makes me relaxed
  • Drinking makes me more sociable
  • Drinking relieves stress
  • Drinking is harmless
  • Everybody drinks, so why shouldn’t I?

rejecting alcoholThe thing to understand about such statements is that they are “perceived” benefits. That is, when properly examined they turn out to be untrue, but they have become almost universally accepted lies that we are fed, and accept as being true.

Imagine that alcohol has been nothing more than an abusive partner to you in the past – one that you have gone back to time and time again, taken in by their lies of “things will be different this time”, only to be hurt, deceived and abused once again. If you can, get really angry about this – feeling indignant about being treated in such a way.

Test the “truths” for yourself, also. How many good times has alcohol really given you, if you are totally honest with yourself?  Maybe at the start of your drinking career when you could stop at 2 or 3 drinks, but once alcohol took its grip over you, was it really enjoyable?

And if you were to drink again – would you really receive all these benefits and no adverse consequences?

Next, try to identify any part of you that, despite all your hard work and good intentions, still isn’t ready to quit.

It is a common trait for many drinkers who manage to get sober that they never really accept that they can never drink again, or even more fundamentally, deep down they do not really want to quit.

Although they may have genuinely believed that they wanted to quit for good initially, this is often just a desire to stop the pain they are feeling at the time. They quit because they want relief from the suffering (both physically and mentally) that their drinking is causing, or to escape from some crisis that their drinking has caused.

But for many, stopping is merely a means of giving themselves the time and space to get well enough to begin drinking again.

When you tell yourself that you want to quit drinking, does every part of your being feel in harmony with this desire? Listen out for the small quiet voice inside that says, “Yes, but…”

For example:

  • I want to stop (but what I really want is to feel well again)
  • I want to stop (until the fuss dies down)
  • I want to stop (but I want to drink as well)
  • I have to stop (but I don’t really want to)
  • I have to stop (but it’s not fair)
  • I want to stop (but I’ll probably drink again one day)
  • I want to stop (but it won’t last)

If you have identified any “buts” in your own beliefs about quitting, you now have the critical and core elements that you need to address in order to achieve the paradigm shift necessary to irrevocably and permanently change your thinking about drinking.

Trigger the Change

The exact “trigger” to achieve such a shift in thinking will vary from individual to individual, but whatever it is that works for you, be sure to keep the image in your head so that whenever your mind starts to drift towards drinking thinking, you can fire the paradigm shifting belief and trigger the required change in your thinking.

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