EP #53

Quit Worrying About Your Drinking

alcoholic minimalist podcast

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In this episode of the Alcohol Minimalist podcast, Molly addresses the theme of worry and its impact on changing drinking habits. Molly draws on her personal experiences and struggles with worry, exploring the nature of worry as an action that often stems from learned behaviors and societal influences. She delves into the role of the prefrontal cortex in goal-setting and future-oriented thinking, providing insights into the evolutionary aspects of worry. The episode unfolds as Watts shares practical strategies to manage worry, drawing parallels between overcoming worry and transforming one’s relationship with alcohol. The content underscores the importance of self-awareness, planning, and interrupting worry loops through activities like exercise or meditation.

Welcome to the alcohol minimalist podcast. I am your host, Molly watts. If you want to change your drinking habits and create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, you’re in the right place. This podcast explores the strategies I used to overcome a lifetime of family alcohol abuse, more than 30 years of anxiety and worry about my own drinking, and what felt like an unbreakable daily drinking habit. Becoming an alcohol minimalist means removing excess alcohol from your life. So it doesn’t remove you from life. It means being able to take alcohol or leave it without feeling deprived. It means to live peacefully, being able to enjoy a glass of wine without feeling guilty. And without needing to finish the bottle. With Science on our side will shatter your past patterns and eliminate your excuses. Changing your relationship with alcohol is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello and welcome or welcome back to the alcohol minimalist podcast. I am your host Molly Watts coming to you from a really cold and now it’s windy and going to start raining. Again, Oregon, but no snow anymore. So some of us like me, it’s a little sad to watch the snow go. But I’m sure most people are happy about it. And truth be told, I prefer to drive around without the snow here. So as we’re getting back to work this week, I’m sure that not having snow around is going to make that a lot easier. Wow. Okay, it is really 2022 That is just mind boggling for me. And for some reason. But at the same time, I’m really excited because as I recently shared with my Facebook group 22 has long been my favorite number. It was my number on sports teams in Junior High in high school. My birthday is 1111. So you put those two together, and it’s 22. And I’m not really a Numerology type person. But 22 is just a happy number for me. So hey, I will go with it. And I am going to make this a really great year 2022. Right now I’m starting out by doing dry January. This is my second year doing it. The first was just in 2021. I think I misspoke a couple of weeks ago on episodes and said 2020. But it wasn’t I decided at the end of 2020 to do dry your weary in January 2021. So just last year was my first full 31 day break from drinking since 1999. Yes, that’s right. The last time I was pregnant, it was November 2020 that I took my first mini break, which I’ve talked about to on the podcast. And now in 2022. I’m doing dry you’re wearing for the second time. And it’s really interesting reflecting back on last year and where I was right now, just launching this podcast and committing to dry you weary at the same time. And it’s actually really relevant for this week’s topic. Because at this point last year, I was definitely worried about whether or not I was going to make it for the whole month of dry you weary. And I’m sure many of you who are listening might be feeling the same way about now. If you haven’t successfully taken a month long break from drinking in years, or decades, even like me, it’s totally normal, of course, to worry. But here’s what I want most for you. I want you to quit worrying about your drinking. Actually, I want you to quit worrying in general. And in this episode, I’m going to help you understand why worrying doesn’t one, help you achieve your goals. Two, it doesn’t help you feel better. And three, it isn’t productive, and actually just wastes your most precious possession time. So I am possibly one of the most qualified people I know on talking about this subject because for most of my life, I have been a class a top notch, highly skilled worrier. To be fair, it was part of the behaviors I unconsciously learned from my alcoholic mother. But regardless of how or when I learned it, I accepted it as my default setting. And I know I’m not alone here. How many of you would describe yourselves as warriors or worrywarts? Or perhaps you’ve even been diagnosed with clinical anxiety. Now, if you have received a diagnosis of anxiety, then I want you to understand that I’m not really talking to you in this episode. I’m not here to question Shouldn’t or disregard mental health conditions. But even if you do have clinical anxiety, I’m betting you also have some worry habits that you can improve on. I just want to be clear that I think you can benefit from this conversation. But I want you to hold it out separate from your anxiety, if that’s you. So what exactly is worry? In most dictionaries that I looked at the first definition for worry is a verb, meaning it’s an action we take. And it’s described as the act of thinking about problems or unpleasant things that might happen in a way that makes you feel unhappy and frightened. Of course, worry can also be a noun, right? It’s the thing that you are worrying about the problems and unpleasant things are your worries. But I want to explore this first, as an action. In the behavior map results cycle that I talked about, specifically, within the result cycle part of this, our thoughts lead to our feelings, which create our actions. So right away, it can sound a little confusing, that worry is going into the action line, when I just defined it as thinking, which would seem to go into the thought line, right. But in actuality, within the definition of worry, it’s the action that leads us to worry, right? Worry is a looping action, that we keep feeding with our thoughts and feelings, in general, and it generally spirals downward, until we’re paralyzed. And it’s the only action that we feel capable of taking. And it’s obviously an action that we tend to have a lot of beliefs about to write worry is actually something that seems logical to most people. And it’s culturally encouraged. I’m pretty sure most parents, and I’ll use that term to include those of us who have children, those of us who have fur babies, those of us who have who are godparents, to someone else’s children. If you’ve nurtured anyone or anything, even a gardener who tends to a garden, you have likely worried, and you’ve felt justified, purposeful, right? And 100% Convinced that you’re worrying was necessary. There’s a quote, I’ve seen that says, telling a mom not to worry about her child is like telling water not to be wet. It’s just a part of the job, right? Worry comes with the territory, where this one, mothers don’t sleep, they just worry with their eyes closed. So all joking aside, I think most moms would tell you that they think worrying is part of being a good mother. Like if they don’t worry at all about their kids, they would be a bad mother. Now, I’m a mom. And I’m certainly not going to tell you that I’ve 100% mastered not worrying when it comes to my children. But I have put into practice much of what I’m about to share with you to help me not only change my drinking habits, but also improved my worrying in general. So we’ve defined worry as an action. And I want you to think about the last time you were really worried about something. I want you to separate out the action of worry from the thoughts and feelings that led you there. I will describe a situation that happened to me recently. So it was a normal workday morning. And I received a text that said, one of my son’s whose cell phone is connected to mine had placed a call to emergency services. Yes, for real. As a mom, I got some auto generated message from Apple. And of course, my heart went into overdrive. And I immediately started calling my said Son, of course he didn’t answer. I texted him he didn’t answer I called again and again and again. And he didn’t answer. So my brain has gone from the circumstance which was receiving an autogenerated text to all sorts of thoughts. He’s been in a car accident, he’s hurt, which led to the actions I took of calling and texting him, right. So I’m doing something. But then the circumstance became him not answering those calls or texts. And then my thoughts became more like he’s dying. He’s been kidnapped. He’s in a fire. You know, the paranoid totally catastrophic type thoughts that create feelings of intense fear, anger hysteria, which led to a major worry fast. I kept feeling those feelings of fear and panic with more negative options. Oh, and I forgot to mention that it gave me the address of where the call was made from and it wasn’t his home. I’m address. So he’s been working for UPS. And so I created this whole story in my mind of how he might have been in some sort of altercation with someone, someone tried to rob him that he could have been shot, you know, the crazy absolute worst case scenarios possible that in reality are really highly unlikely to ever happen. But it was where my brain went anyway. Now my older son, who was home at the time, tried to talk some sense into me, he told me that the other my other son probably fell asleep on his phone, or it was just some glitch from Apple, like, there might be a more sensible, non catastrophic reason for the text I received. But of course, my brain kept on throwing out all of the terrible stories. And I kept on worrying until my husband drove across town, located his car, knocked on the door, to find him asleep at his friend’s house, and perfectly fine. Now, this is kind of an extreme, I’ll admit, and I’m not even sure the best mind managers could completely avoid worrying in this scenario. But I just want you to notice that the worrying was actionable. And I kept fueling it, which added to my suffering, it didn’t change the circumstances, it didn’t solve any problem. And it just made me feel worse and worse and worse. And this is really the crux of worry. It might appear or feel like you’re doing something productive, like you’re taking unnecessary action. But in reality, all worry does is make you feel worse. And for many of us who’ve developed a habit of drinking, when we feel worse, we turn to alcohol to help us feel better. And to turn off the worry. Of course, for me, my drinking habit, became a circumstance that I threw into a worry loop. Instead of actually changing my behavior, I just worried about my drinking, and worried that I was going to become an alcoholic for years, like decades of my life, spent worrying about my alcoholic genes, and what felt like an unbreakable daily drinking habit. And I just thought it was who I was, it was the consequence of growing up with an alcoholic mother, and drinking more than I should be more, at least more than I logically knew was healthy for me. And that’s the thing about worry, it also felt it felt, for me at least. And I think this is common, it felt protective. It felt like I was preventing myself from actually becoming an alcoholic, like my mom, because I worried about my drinking. Does that make sense? Like I worried enough about it, that I would keep myself from actually tipping over the line to becoming an alcoholic. Now, if you’re a worrier, if you recognize a habit of worrying in your life, this doesn’t make you bad or weak. Worry is really normal. And it’s also pretty much uniquely human, when we talk about the human brain. Now, if you’ve listened to this podcast before, you know I like to use the triune brain model. It’s a little simplistic, but it meaning that the brain is very complex and complicated, but for our purposes of learning how to manage our minds better and master the behavior map results cycle, I believe the triune brain explains enough. In the triune brain model, the brain is basically separated into three areas, the primitive or lizard brain, which is the automatic functions that happen your breathing, the parasympathetic nervous system, things that we cannot control at all or change. And that’s the primitive or lizard brain, the mammalian brain or limbic system, which developed after and, you know, evolved later on in the evolutionary cycle. And that part of our brain is responsible for attaching emotion to certain behaviors to perpetuate the species basically. So it’s a it is what is drives all of our most primitive emotions, fear, pleasure, right? So we’re constantly seeking to avoid pain, seek pleasure and conserve energy. That’s the goals of the mammalian brain or the limbic system. And lastly, we have the human brain or the prefrontal cortex. And this is where humans evolved more than other beings. And it’s what allows us to actually worry in the first place. Now, why do I say that? Worrying is to some degree, predicting the future, right? It’s anticipating scenarios that might happen, which scientists believe is a uniquely human trait. For instance, R and wools can learn from their experiences like think training your dog, which means that they will repeat a behavior if they’ve associated a route or reward with it in the past. But scientists do not believe that your dog can think about tomorrow. And whether or not you’ll ask him to sit and how he will respond when you ask him to do it. Right. So it’s that kind of thought, thought process, the being able to imagine the future and predict it, that is a part of that prefrontal cortex and is uniquely human. This is a quote from the introduction to an article written on the future of future oriented cognition in nonhumans. Theory and the empirical case of the great apes, okay, and we’re not going into that whole article or that kind of study. But I think this, quote, kind of talks about what this unique human feature is, we humans have the distinct feeling of being able to mentally to pre experience future events, we readily and continually make plans for future goals. Many think of this cognitive future orientation as one of our most advanced and unique cognitive feats. future oriented cognition, in a sense, presents a puzzle for cognitive science, the future does not exist, neither does backward causation. The future cannot influence a current behavior or thought. notions, such as foresight or future orientation are mere metaphors from the spatial domain. Cognition is always based on past causation, the products of evolution, ontogeny, and enjoy the individual experiences, at the same time anticipating and influencing future outcomes is at the core of cognition. And probably the main reason reason why cognition evolved, few would disagree that for cognition to have evolved, it must have given organisms a readiness that affects their future, numerous researchers regard the brain as essentially a prediction making simulator of the environment. Okay, so what did all that mean? Well, it means for our more primitive ancestors, before the prefrontal cortex evolved, our mammalian brains developed emotional connections to experiences that helped us learn to avoid pain, seek pleasure and conserve energy. avoiding pain seeking pleasure and conserving energy was necessary for the species to survive. And so our primal emotions encouraged these behaviors. And I’ve talked about the different areas of the brain in many of the past episodes that you know, and all of this, all of the triune brain and I will link relevant episodes in the show notes, I also want to say that in my book, breaking the bottle legacy, I go into more depth to explain the triune brain, and especially why learning about the brains functions in the brain’s different areas really helped me in changing my drinking habits. So there’s a link in the show notes for the book as well. But I really suggest you, you look there for more understanding of why that’s relative, especially to changing your drinking habits, or especially to learning how our brains function with thoughts, feelings and actions. Anyways, for this episode, just know that it is our more developed prefrontal cortex, which is more logic based, which allows us to set goals to plan predict the future. And it also, of course, means it enables us to worry. The good news about your beautiful human brilliant human brain is it’s also what makes it possible to not worry. Because of that prefrontal coordinate cortex, we have the ability to observe our own thinking. We call it metacognition, and it’s also a uniquely human trait, observing our thoughts is how we can stop worrying, and stop taking more productive action. Now, most of us go along without ever learning to observe our thinking. And we barely notice the thoughts that we apply to the circumstances in our lives. We think, well, I worry a lot because I have a lot of worrisome things in my life. So that’s never the case. It is never the case to say, Oh, well, who wouldn’t worry in this situation? It’s the reasonable thing to do? No, you have to understand that your mind is the creator of all of your worry. Now we’ve spent a bit of time defining worry, explaining why we worry from an evolutionary perspective, and also letting you know that it’s natural, right? If it’s natural, if it’s a part of our evolution, what’s the big deal? Why is it even a problem to worry? Well, let me tell you why. It was a big problem for me. Number one, worry made me feel awful. Oh, it made me sad, feel hopeless. And like I was powerless worry kept me from taking real action that actually helped me change the circumstances of my life, where we added suffering to situations that were already challenging in the first place. And the biggest part of worry for me, especially when it came to me changing my habit of drinking, is that I was so worried about not being able to change, worried about what I perceived, failing to change my relationship with alcohol meant about me, that I simply chose to not try at all. For years. I didn’t even want to commit to taking a week off drinking, because I was worried that I wouldn’t make it. Does that sound familiar to anyone listening? How How many of you have thought about doing dry you weary but you talked yourself out of it? Before you even started? Because you were worried you wouldn’t make it. Now, if that’s you, and you’re listening to this on January 5, when this comes out, or within January at all, I want to ask you, why not decide to choose a different thought to choose another possibility to choose a what if that is? What if I was able to take an extended break from drinking? What would that mean? What if I could do it? What would that prove to myself? What might that be the beginning of I was in the moderation management Facebook group the other day, and I responded to a member who was undecided about doing dry weary because they were worried about a commitment in the month they already anticipated drinking out. And in their mind, having one day that they drank during a 30 day plan to break would negate all the positive benefits. And because they were worried about not being fully committed, they were anticipating that they would automatically fail. And they had past experiences that had proven that to them that that’s what they had proven to themselves in the past. And my response was something along these lines, instead of worrying that the whole month will only be successful if you make it the whole 30 Why not commit to the drier month with your intention to be alcohol free, most if not all except for that one predetermined date. And choose ahead of time even for that day, how much you’ll drink, make a plan. At the end of the month, you will have succeeded in experiencing urges without giving into them. That’s a win in my book, you will have succeeded in sticking to a plan. That’s another win. And overall, you will have made a lot of progress in moving your relationship with alcohol forward. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing if you don’t allow the worry to keep you from trying at all. Now, I’m not going to tell you that stopping your habit of worry will be any easier than breaking your habit of drinking alcohol. These two habits were very intertwined for me. And I absolutely still have to practice mind management all the time. When my brain wants to throw out worrisome thoughts. Here are five strategies to use if you are a warrior like me. Number one, create a worry period or worry bucket, set a timer and write down all of your worries and thoughts and stick to the time limit. Number two, challenge your anxious thoughts and look for a different perspective. This is my favorite tool and I use it all the time. Watch for all or nothing thinking black or white thinking overgeneralization and focusing on the negative to the exclusion of the positive, right that that happens all the time. Or assuming responsibility for circumstances that are out of your control. challenge those anxious thoughts. Number three, distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worries. We can’t control everything in our lives, we need to make sure we remember what we can and cannot control. Number four, interrupt the worry loop with exercise or meditation or deep breathing or a hot bath if you’re like me. And lastly, talk about your worries to someone else. Often when we share our worries with someone they give you a perspective that you hadn’t even thought of yet. And it’s always a little more like my son, right? Trying to tell me and it sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s certainly helpful. Right? All right, my friends. That is all I have for you today. If you want to get more information or want to join dry weary, you absolutely still can and get great support for it at WWW dot dry you weary.org Or come join my private face Book Group. The link is always in the show notes for both and well at least for the Facebook group and it’ll be there right now for dry you Arey. Or you can also go to Facebook and search groups for alcohol minimalists. That is where we are and I would love to see you over there. All right. Make it a great week. And until next time, choose peace. Thank you for listening to the alcohol minimalist podcast. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Use something you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible. You have the power to change your relationship with alcohol. Now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com