The most difficult thing about giving up drinking was my deeply ingrained belief that alcohol was a good thing. I romanticized drinking.
This kind of thinking came from years of pairing alcohol with celebrating good times and relieving bad times. It was there for every occasion, big or small, as part of a ritual of relaxing, partying and letting go.
It’s no wonder, given the way the brain works that I would believe in the benefits of booze. I have dopamine to thank for reminding me to always want more. The function of this neurotransmitter is to tell the brain – hey, this feels good. Remember to repeat.
Despite the sleepless nights, the hangovers, the agitation and the regret – my brain could not seem to gather the long-term perspective that could have reminded me, drinking nights never end well. And while it was good to gain a basic understanding of how the brain works, this conscious perspective did not stand a chance against thirty years of a drinking behavior plus the addictive components of the drug.
Once I decided I wanted to quit drinking (after several years of ambivalence) I was faced with breaking a pattern and confronting the altered chemical state of my brain. As much as I wanted to just decide to quit, there was the lingering and ingrained sense that I something was seriously wrong (when I wasn’t drinking). It was a constant battle between my rational mind and my deep-rooted feelings and instincts. I wanted to quit drinking, but it felt so bad – so frustrating, annoying, sad and desperate, to fight against my drive to drink.
Through reading over a hundred books on the subject, I learned a couple of things. Firstly, that the feelings of craving or frustration always pass. Secondly, that practice is the key to changing behaviours and beliefs. The only way to make sobriety my new normal was to practice it. I had to challenge, accept and let pass all of the feelings that told me I was doing the wrong thing. I had to constantly remind myself that I was in fact creating new normal and it was the right thing.
If you are struggling with ambivalence about drinking I suggest you read as much as you can about it. Find someone to talk to about it, and surround yourself with people who can show you that not drinking – is normal and a good thing.