Six steps to changing your relationship with alcohol
For many years I was a heavy drinker. Although I rarely drank everyday, I got drunk two or three times a week for over 20 years.
In 2017, I quit drinking completely and have happily not had a drink since.
In the last couple of years, I’ve taught hundreds of people how to use meditation to help them cut down or quit drinking through my We Meditate To Quit Alcohol program.
In this blog, I will share six steps that helped me get back in control of my drinking.
Whether you want to quit completely or just cut down, these steps will set you on the right path.
STEP 1: Accept that life would be better, overall, with less alcohol
My transition into a non-drinker didn’t happen overnight. From first cutting down to giving up completely took three years. It doesn’t have to take that long, but that was my journey.
The revelation I eventually came to – something that is now blindingly obvious – was that I could go out and not drink. I could enjoy socialising and having fun with my friends without mildly poisoning myself!
I knew other people could and did do this, but it had seriously never occurred to me to choose not to drink when there was nothing stopping me from drinking – like having to drive.
I also noticed, after I learned to meditate (see Step 3), that I was feeling less stressed and generally happier. Rather than needing a drink to escape how I was feeling, I felt good and realised that when I drank it actually made me feel worse.
There are many ways to define “better” – more memorable, more hilarious, feeling more content, more peaceful. What is important is the qualifier “overall”. If you added up how you felt across every day of the week – would it be higher overall without alcohol?
For me, being able to experience MondayWednesday as regular days to get on with things rather than having to survive them was worth more than a few hours of raucous fun on Saturday night.
STEP 2: Believe in the wise version of you to steer you back on course
We often think of ourselves as a single unchanging entity. But we have different aspects to our personalities, different habits and tendencies. Some of these serve us well – and some don’t.
We have a wise part, which we have access to when we’re relaxed and feeling good. And we have what writer Tim Urban calls our Instant Gratification Monkey.
It’s the Instant Gratification Monkey that thinks it’s a good idea to gorge on a whole packet of Tim Tams or finish the bottle of wine.
The wise part makes healthy new year’s resolutions when we’re feeling positive and determined at the beginning of the year or decides to have an alcoholfree drink, knowing you’ll feel better for it in the morning.
Once you’ve recognised you’ve got this wise part of yourself, the next step is finding what habits and behaviours put this part of you in charge more of the time.
STEP 3: Put the wise version of you in charge through meditation
In 2014, I went through what I call my early mid-life crisis. I’d just turned 35 and realised I couldn’t keep living how I had been indefinitely. From my teens to that point, I’d been a regular heavy drinker and had built much of my life around alcohol. Most of my friends were heavy drinkers and many of the things I did involved drinking as much as possible.
By 35, I realised I didn’t want to keep going like this forever. I got fit and started a self development quest that eventually led to meditation. Although I didn’t quit booze right away with meditation, I found I had a lot more freedom with my drinking from the start.
Before learning to meditate, I found it hard to say no to any invitation to go drinking and I usually couldn’t stop when I’d started. But afterwards, even after only a few days of meditating, I found myself saying no – with no guilt or regrets.
It’s not just me and my students who experience these benefits. A 2006 study by University of Washington researchers (Bowen et al) showed that a group of prison inmates taught to meditate drank 87% less over a three month period.
If you want these results for yourself, why not start a 15-minute a day meditation practice, ideally one that doesn’t involve concentrating or trying to clear your mind. If you don’t know where to start, try my We Meditate To Quit Alcohol program – there’s a free trial.
STEP 4: Re-write your personal story so it’s headed somewhere you want to go
In 2016, a few years into my health kick, I set out to run my second marathon. My aim was to do it in three hours, which was 30 minutes faster than my first attempt.
Just under the halfway mark, things started to go wrong. A pain I've had before that begins in my hip and goes down my leg to the outside of my knee flared up.
My dream of a three-hour marathon was crumbling. I was already a few minutes behind schedule. But more importantly, I could barely keep moving.
I'd built the time up so much in my head that the thought of running a slow marathon, even slower than my previous attempt, seemed pointless.
My main problem, I realised in retrospect, was that I was running the wrong storyline. The story I was so attached to was running a three-hour marathon.
Judged against that storyline, I was failing.
But then I remembered that people had sponsored me. I wasn’t running just for personal glory – I was raising money for charity and that gave me the motivation to make it to the end.
If we tell ourselves the right stories, we can make the most of any situations.
This is an example of rewriting a story in real time, but you can go back and change the meaning and significance of any story you want.
STEP 5: Create a habit to keep the wise part of you in charge
According to happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, “Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and about forty percent of what we do each day is shaped by habits.”
If meditation is the best way to access the wise part of yourself, then creating a habit around meditation is how you maintain access. It’s a way of taking control of your conscious experience and not leaving your mood up to external events like whether it’s raining, how bad the traffic is or whatever else happens in your day.
When creating solid habits, what worked for me was to make things non-negotiable. To become a daily meditator I was non-negotiable about fitting it in. It wasn’t enough to want to do it and hope for the best. It was going to happen no matter what – even when there were a lot of other urgent and stressful things on – especially when there were.
What habits make you feel good and energised and which drain you of energy? Drinking and social media ultimately leave me drained, but meditation always gives me a boost.
Choosing alcohol-free drinks is a great habit to create to maintain a social life without compromising your health.
STEP 6: Share your story and inspire others
One of the best ways to stick to a habit is to socialise it. The more people who know about what you’re doing, the easier it will be for you to stick with it.
We have an in-build tendency to be consistent with people’s expectations of us. So if people already expect you not to drink, it will make it easier for you to uphold their expectations.
In the early days of quitting or cutting down, what can make things hard is having to defend or justify your decision with friends, family or colleagues. But once everyone knows, they soon get bored of bothering you about it.
And once they know what your alcohol-free tipple is, they’ll happily get it for you.
You’ll also be surprised by how many people will want to join in. Rory Kinsella is the creator of We Meditate To Quit Alcohol, an online program that uses meditation to make cutting down or quitting alcohol easier.
More info: https://we-meditate.co