I had planned to post this on December 8, but I decided to sit on it for awhile, just to be sure I wanted to go public with it. Having returned from a wonderful Christmas visit with kids and grands in Colorado, and now as I prepare for our (almost) annual New Year’s Day/St. Basil’s Day party on Monday, I have decided that I want to share this important part of “my story.” This clarity came to me yesterday as I was checking out at the liquor store, where I purchased three bottles of liquor for “Mississippi Bourbon Punch,” a hit at many of our parties, and 8 bottles of wine. I realized that although I will be drinking sparkling water as I enjoy the afternoon and evening with friends, watching the bowl games and playing board games on the breakfast table, I won’t be “missing out” by abstaining from the (delicious) bourbon punch and wine. I didn’t know I would feel this way back on September 8, when I made a life-changing decision. So, here’s the post I wrote 90 days later….
0 Meetings in 90 Days—December 8, 2017
I’ve considered quitting drinking for a number of years, and I even visited an AA meeting once, about ten years ago. I read a good bit of their literature, and as happy as I am for the millions of people it has helped, it has never resonated with me personally. So, today I’m sharing a different approach that I discovered a few months ago. Why today? Well, if I was in AA, today I would be getting my 90-day “chip.” My last drink was on September 8.
AA encourages people to go to “90 meetings in 90 days” when they first quit drinking—either on their own or in a treatment center. I understand their reasons—those first three months can be tough, and people need support. It’s just that my support has come from other sources. I’d like to share a little bit about those sources, beginning with a book.
I don’t remember how I heard about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, and Change Your Life.(Check out the reviews on Goodreads for responses from more readers.) I read This Naked Mind over one weekend (September 8-10) and made the decision to quit drinking before I even finished the book. This is the first time I’ve ever made this decision, although I’ve thought about it for many years, being concerned about the effect alcohol was having on my body and mind. But every time I considered it, I couldn’t imagine dealing with anxiety, stress, physical pain, and even social events without it. And now—90 days in—I’ve never been more hopeful about my life and my health.
There’s not one word about God or faith in this book—it’s strictly scientific and anecdotal. But I prayed fervently as I read, and I continue to pray every day for God’s grace to continue the journey. It’s been nothing short of amazing so far. Sure, there have been times (almost daily) when I’ve craved a drink, but by God’s grace I’ve been able to remind myself that (1) one drink is never enough and (2) any amount of alcohol is bad for me. You might not agree with that last statement, and I have no desire to argue or convince, but if you’re curious, Grace’s book has over 250 endnotes, many citing academic/medical/scientific sources to back up her mission, which she states clearly near the end of the book:
My mission, the mission of This Naked Mind, is to change how our society views alcohol, to expose the truth and to provide tools to change our direction.
Grace believes that alcohol is bad for everyone, not just for people who have or have had “problems” with it. Her view is that the alcohol is the problem, and that’s it’s bad for everyone. It’s an extremely addictive drug. She even discourages drinking moderately, citing how bad one or two drinks a day is for your health. She’s definitely an anti-alcohol vigilante, spreading her message through her book, websites, workshops, etc.
One thing that struck me as different about Annie Grace’s approach than any I had read before is that she blames the drink, not the drinker. Her tone throughout the book is positive, hopeful, and non judgmental. Her own story is woven through the narrative, which gives it a strong, personal message.
So, what does Grace mean by “the naked mind”? In Chapter 1 she says:
Did you know your unconscious mind is responsible for your desires?… Unconscious learning happens automatically and unintentionally through experiences, observations, condition, and practice. We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.
She explains in much detail, which I won’t do here, how stressful it is when our conscious and unconscious minds are at war with each other, which she calls “cognitive dissonance.” And then she says:
Your opinions about alcohol and your desire to drink spring from the lifelong mental conditioning of your unconscious mind…. The goal of This Naked Mind is to reverse the conditioning in your unconscious mind by educating your conscious mind…. You can easily and peacefully end the conflict inside your brain.
And somehow, by God’s grace, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 90 days. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? And yet, I am experiencing this right now. Every time my unconscious mind tells me that a drink will help (relieve anxiety, stress, or pain, or enhance pleasure) I choose (with my conscious mind) to believe that it will not help, and I don’t take that drink. Whenever I’m tempted to have “just one,” I remind myself that one is never enough. That over the years I’ve conditioned my body to need more than one drink in order to get the relief or pleasure I’m seeking. And the conflict between my unconscious and conscious mind is lessening every day.
If you’re interested in what Grace has to say about how the alcohol industry markets their products (fascinating and scary) and also the details about the specific ways that alcohol is bad for you, read the book or check out her web site. And for my friends whose lives have been blessed by Alcoholics Anonymous, I hope that I haven’t offended you. I’ve just never been able to accept the theory that people who are addicted to an addictive drug have an incurable disease. As Grace says:
The nebulous idea of an addictive personality allows us to protect our precious alcohol. We focus on the addictive personality, which makes alcohol dangerous for them but not for us. We protect the alcohol and blame the individual. This takes hope away from the alcoholic, encouraging them to believe they are powerless against their personality…. A collection of traits, which can have positive or negative implications for someone’s life, should not be stigmatized and labeled as “addictive.”
I’ll close with a comment from Grace about moderation, which had been my goal before reading her book. She explains about how dopamine creates tolerance, so that the brain craves more than just one drink. Her words ring so true to me, 90 days in:
Moderation is like an alcohol diet that will continue for the rest of your life.
Instead of struggling with moderation (and poisoning my body in the process) I am choosing to abstain, and I feel better than I have in years.