Want to Cut Back or Stop Drinking Alcohol? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Photo by Kyle May / Creative CommonsBack in December of 2012, I decided to take a one-year break from drinking wine. I love(d) wine: how it tastes, how it soothes, and how it brings people together. But I also didn't always like how it made me feel physically, even from drinking small amounts. I also didn't like that I'd made it a near-daily habit, and that I found it difficult to give up.

My decision to take a year-long break stems from my desire to rewire my relationship to alcohol and to have it take a backseat in my life. This is something that I already feel I've been successful with -- wine who? I enjoy talking about my former struggle because I know there are so many others out there who have a conflicting relationship to alcohol, but are discouraged from addressing their issues because of the confusing myths surrounding the "impossibility" of solving drinking problems on one's own.

Read More: 5 Amazing Lessons I Learned by Giving up Alcohol for One Month

If you are thinking about cutting back or stopping drinking, here are 5 questions that may help prepare you for the journey.

1. How does alcohol detract from your enjoyment of life?
A fight over the telephone encouraged my decision to take a break from drinking. The fight had nothing to do with drinking in that I was not drinking during the phone call; in fact, I hadn't had a drink in a few weeks. The content of the call is irrelevant, except to say that a loved one was acting extremely disrespectful towards me.

The day after the phone call when I was still stewing and running over the argument in my mind, I wanted to distract myself and ease my anxiety. So I poured myself a large goblet of red wine with dinner in an effort to medicate the many destructive emotions I felt in the wake of that phone call. That glass of wine disrupted my sleep that night, which was a big, flashing signal for me; I was finding disrupted sleep to be a deal breaker when it came to my enjoyment of alcohol.

I also noticed in the days that followed that I was annoyed by cravings for alcohol, and that the cravings themselves served as a distraction from the real problem I had, which was a close relationship with a loved one that was a complete mess. As long as I was distracted by cravings, it was easy to ignore the real issues surrounding this relationship, which I wasn't sure how to solve.

All of these observations made me realize that alcohol was detracting from my enjoyment of life. I was using it to dull difficult emotions. When we use external sources to numb emotions, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn how to handle tough situations with grace. While we're busy numbing out, we also miss out on the emotions that make life wonderful, like connection, happiness and gratitude.

Read More: 5 Shocking Lessons I Learned in Two Months Without Booze

2. Would you regret not cutting back or quitting drinking?
I began to see two possible paths I could take: one in which I am a high-performing, high-energy person who knows how to take charge and make my life magnificent and amazing, or the other path in which I can struggle, frequently feel overwhelmed, and give in to cravings and distractions, whether they be for television, surfing the internet, unhealthy foods, or wine.

Can you see two paths? One in which you hurt your health and hide from emotions or experiences? And another in which you thrive, handle life's difficulties with aplomb, and live out your days with the feeling like you're winning at the game of life?

I didn't want to have regrets. I knew I could make my life amazing, but I feared alcohol was one of those things keeping me mediocre. Sitting down at night in front of the television with a glass of the grape was a nice way to relax and not accomplish too much. In a sense, I liked that alcohol kept me very normal, very small. I could hide out that way. I couldn't achieve too much if I was frequently feeling tired or run down. Putting my name out there and getting a business started made me fear failure, embarrassment, judgment and criticism. (Guess what: as part of the human race, just stepping into a grocery store exposes us to the judgments of other humans! It can't be avoided, and the secret is to not care.)

One of the ways I was staying small and invisible was by allowing myself to become overweight. Extra pudge was like my invisibility cloak. Wine made it easy to make excuses for my weight; I could have a drink, and then I wouldn't feel guilty for overeating because the guilt would be numbed by the wine.

I had to accept the fact that I have this amazing chance to live on this earth right now and that it's imperative that I take advantage of each moment, each day to live the amazing life that I'm meant to live. I didn't want to squander this privilege. This is my time to shine, and so I'm ditching the wine. Here I am, world!

Read More: 5 Inspiring Lessons I Learned in My Third Alcohol-Free Month

3. Do you have a vision of how great life could be without alcohol?
A few years ago, I happened to read Julia Cameron's memoir, Floor Sample, and Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. These two women, both former drinkers, are committed to lifelong abstinence. I recall while reading, I had a reaction like, "Ugh. A life without ever having a drink again? GROSS!" What I didn't understand was the very simple premise that alcohol can detract from one's life, since at the time, it wasn't detracting from mine. I thought life included working a full-time job; I was trapped inside an office for the majority of my time and wine was very helpful in letting me forget how much that sucked. I didn't yet have a vision for how amazing and wonderful life can be. I hadn't yet realized that I can control my time and work however I want, and when life is that awesome, you don't want to miss a minute while you feel fuzzy-headed or numb.

Once I came up with a vision for my life that was compelling and thrilling to me, I realized that alcohol is neither here nor there. It's not that special, frankly, even though I used to think it was. I can laugh my face off during my weekly very-early-for-a-Saturday meeting for entrepreneurs, and we're obviously not drinking at that hour. So knowing I can feel silly, happy, and giddy anytime I want is pretty darn great.

In the words of another woman who gave up wine for a year, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, "Clarity can be its own drug." I had to learn to embrace my life, messes and all and understand it was never going to be perfect. I can laugh, cry, and swear my way through it by being present and loving the chaos.

4. Have you tried practicing abstinence?
Let's talk about common misperceptions about alcohol problems. There's a myth that says to give up drinking you have to hit rock bottom, a prophesy that could spur plenty of people to start digging. Another myth says the only way to give it up is to admit you are powerless, which implies that you don't have self-control, another great way to live into a prediction of doom. These myths are scary because when someone thinks, "Hm, I don't like the road I'm going down with alcohol. I think I'll cut back," and when that inevitably proves to be difficult because all habits are intrinsically difficult to break, people think, "Oh crap. I'm screwed."

Here's the funny thing about alcohol abuse and the myths surrounding it. These are myths in that they are not universal for the majority of people who struggle with alcohol as proven by the largest and most comprehensive study of alcohol use in America, yet the common misperception lingers that if you even suspect you have a drinking problem, that these myths automatically apply to you -- and that any doubt about that means you are in denial -- a myth that reinforces these myths!

Here's a secret for you that applies to many of life's struggles and triumphs: whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. An initial failure at abstinence doesn't mean that you are incapable of quitting. It just means that you haven't found the right approach yet. You haven't yet learned to detach from excuses. You haven't yet learned how to recognize your triggers and to interrupt the cue that sparks the habit. You haven't yet chosen to view alcohol as something that you are bigger than and something that you are perfectly capable of releasing. You haven't had enough practice yet to be successful.

I practiced abstinence on and off for close to a year before I made the decision to go for a full, consecutive year of abstinence. Over time, I learned what I liked and didn't like about drinking, and what kind of limits I wanted to establish. I only learned by doing, not by sitting around thinking about it, and certainly not by thinking that I'm helpless to solve the problem.

5. Do you want to quit just for now, or forever?
This question doesn't need to be answered right away. Many people take a break and decide they never want to go back. Others just need distance from the habit prior to creating new limits for themselves.

Many people don't address their alcohol problems because they fear that the only solution is lifelong abstinence, and they think they already know for sure that they don't want that for themselves. And so they do nothing. They will never know how freeing abstinence feels until they take a meaningful sabbatical from drinking. Plus once you have distance and perspective, alcohol might give you a "meh" feeling, and total lifelong abstinence might not be necessary.

I never anticipated how great life feels without wine and with this finding, my relationship to alcohol is forever altered. My motto might very well become: "never to medicate, only to celebrate." But then again, I don't need to make any decisions now. One thing I know for sure: we can only make these decisions for ourselves. Whatever you choose and whatever you discover is right for you lies in your hands.

If you ever feel "off" about your feelings around alcohol, know that your issues can certainly be resolved, no matter what approach you take. Don't let discouraging myths prevent you from experimenting and learning what works for you and your life.

This post was written by Katie Morton of The Monarch Company.

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