EP #58

Emotional Maturity: Build it and Change Your Drinking Habit

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In this episode of the “Alcohol Minimalist” podcast, Molly acknowledges the unpredictability of life events, humorously referencing Oregon’s weather forecast and encourages listeners to engage by leaving reviews or joining the Facebook group. The episode delves into the complexities of feelings and the impact on drinking habits, emphasizing the need for emotional maturity, articulating emotions, and understanding the behavior map result cycle. Molly shares personal experiences, challenges long-held beliefs, and stresses the importance of recognizing thoughts, unveiling the truth about feelings, and practicing emotional articulation. The episode concludes with a call to practice thought work, introspection, and the power of changing one’s relationship with alcohol through understanding emotions and behaviors.

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 pretty darn spectacular Oregon if I am honest, it was incredible yesterday, it was pretty darn good today. And here’s the great news. It is February and my 10 day forecast shows no rain for 10 days. Now, of course, we can’t put all of our eggs into a 10 day forecast basket because lord knows they’re not always all that accurate around here. But you know what, if it’s even 50%, I’m going to take it because sunshine, Oregon, February, doesn’t always add up that way. So it’s been amazing. And I cannot be happier about that. Hey, just a little bit of housekeeping around here. First, we have a winner this week for some of our alcohol, minimalist swag. We do that every other week. And this week’s winner is DeLee 52 Dilly 52 If you are listening, and I think I know who that is, you will need to email me Molly at Molly watts.com, let me know that you are the winner of the alcohol minimalist swag. And if you would like to win some swag yourself, I’m going to tell you it’s just little. But you know what, it’s nice, right? It’s better than nothing. It’s really easy to get your name into the drawing, you just leave a review of the podcast on whatever podcast platform you listen to. Or you can leave a review of my book breaking the bottle legacy, and you will be automatically entered to win. And you can have more than one entry. So review both if you’d like or review the podcast on different platforms. And that’s awesome. More than one entry. So reviewing the podcast really helps people find us who are looking for information. So it’s a way for you to support me support the show, that’s really pretty easy for you to do. And it doesn’t really cost you anything except for a few minutes of your time. And hey, you might be our next winner. Right? So there’s that too. Actually, I want to take a quick moment to say thank you to everyone that has recently started listening and found the show. We have had a lot of new people joining the Facebook group and download numbers have been exploding. And I really appreciate you sharing your time with me. I know there is nothing more valuable to me than time. So i Truly, Madly Deeply appreciate you spending yours with me. All right, on to this week’s episode. So this month, February 2022, I’m going to do a month long focus on emotional maturity or emotional intelligence, mental well being and brain health, they call it and it’s going to be really great. I’m just super excited because it’s just so so important. It’s important in big and small ways. And I really want to open your eyes to emotional buffering, and how you can become more emotionally mature as you work on changing your relationship with alcohol. If you’re thinking to yourself that four weeks sounds like a lot of time to be talking about healthier brains and mental well being and not exactly what you were expecting from a podcast about changing your drinking habits. I understand. You might be thinking, you know, you just really need some tips and strategies to cut back on how much you’re drinking. You want to know how to stop wanting alcohol as much as you seem to. Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, you know, I don’t have a mental health issue. I’m a pretty happy person. I just need to know how to break this habit. And it’s possible that you’re not struggling with a bunch of negative emotion. You simply love the taste of wine and can’t imagine not having a glass or two with dinner. And hey, weekends are supposed to be fun, right? So you work hard, you deserve to blow off a little steam, and enjoy some drinks with friends. But maybe you notice it’s hard to stop drinking sometimes. And too often you end up drinking a bottle of wine, not just a glass or two with dinner. And the weekends are lit leading to not feeling great the next morning, and you are left contemplating your drinking and wondering, thinking, knowing that something needs to change. Well, you’re absolutely right, that something needs to change. And while it’s quite possible that your drinking is beyond low risk limits, mine certainly was. And for that reason alone, I would tell you that your drinking habit, the repetitive action of drinking alcohol, absolutely needs to change. But to really change that action, we need to recognize what’s leading you to taking that action, and that is your feelings. Here’s what I know about the habit of drinking. Well, really any habits first, habits happen. By design, our lower brains commit actions to habit so that we don’t need to expend much energy on them. We repeat an action in response to a cue. And when we do that enough, over time a habit is formed. The cues can be time based or activity based or emotion based. When it comes to a habit like drinking alcohol, drinking a substance that changes our neuro chemistry, and impacts our ability to process thoughts and feelings. We need to understand that even though it very well may be that it has become a habit loop for you. It started because you were seeking that change in neuro chemistry. You wanted to change how you were feeling. You wanted the relaxing buzz, you wanted to have some fun and lose inhibitions. You wanted to ease your awkwardness in a social situation, whatever it was, you were looking for, you believed that alcohol could help you feel it. And let’s be honest, in a very limited temporary way, alcohol does change how you feel. I’ve shared many times on the podcast that alcohol has a very limited therapeutic effect. When you keep blood alcohol content to 0.055% or below, you might experience that euphoric relaxing feeling. And it’s pleasant for a short period of time. But it isn’t a solution for whatever it is that’s causing you to seek relief in the first place, right. And the problem is that our brains get this hit of dopamine from alcohol, that makes it believe that more is better. And the dopamine encourages us to get more of the alcohol encourages us motivates us to seek another drink. Our brain associates the release of dopamine with pleasure and creates a reward system habit loop for alcohol. So you drink alcohol, your brain releases dopamine, it makes you feel good. And therefore your brain assumes this is a reward and encourages you to repeat the behavior, even though alcohol may not be the healthiest choice for your body. So the habit exists, it’s fueled by dopamine, which makes it harder to unwind. But before the habit has ever started, what decided the action of drinking alcohol in the first place was your feelings. And that’s why we’re going to talk about it. That’s why we’re focused on it. Because before there was a habit before there was this, you know, unbreakable thing that you can’t seem to can’t seem to end or can’t seem to reduce your drinking around. Before any of that habit started. existed your feelings and you were trying to change how you were feeling increase the fun, take off the sadness, reduce the stress. That’s why people turn to drinking in the first place. And that’s what we got to talk about. So I want you to visualize the behavior map and results cycle, I always see it as a linear thing moving from left to right, kind of like a real map with a road between two places with the circumstances on the left if my life on the left and with the results on the right. And in the middle between those two ends, is the results cycle. Our thoughts, feelings and actions. Now I introduced the behavior map results by cycle way back in episode number 11 and 12. So and I’ve talked about it many times after but if you haven’t listened to those two, I will link them in the show show notes and you might want to go back and find them to get a little more foundation of what I’m referring to. If you haven’t And that already, but what I want to reiterate is that in the middle of that behavior map and results cycle at the center of both our our feelings. Remember the behavior map results cycle is just a way for us to understand our lives better. It’s a model that covers everything, and anything in our lives. Everything in your life fits into one of the five spots that we just talked about the circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, results, everything fits into one of those spots in this behavior map results cycle. And if you want to change something about your life, you can literally start by figuring out each of these five things and plug them into the map. Now, here’s a spoiler. Everything will trace back to your thoughts. All right, the circumstances on the far left, you can’t control those, you can’t change those, they’re neutral, you cannot do anything about them. Your thoughts. That’s where you can change everything. Okay, but right now, this month, we are going to talk about the center of the model because being able to feel all of your feelings, being able to articulate them better, and truly believing that you can handle any emotion you have. That’s what I want to help you work on this month, because it is truly how I successfully broke my 30 year daily drinking habit. And it’s why I no longer worry about my relationship with alcohol. So let’s be honest, I think most people are trying to figure out not just how to exist in this world, but we want to feel better, we want to feel good, or at least feel okay doing it right. And we’re sold a lot of stories on how to make that happen. For a lot of us, we believe alcohol can help us change how we’re feeling. And as we outlined before drinking to change how we’re feeling does work in the moment, we get the dopamine hit and our brain slow down all of those out of control thoughts. And for as long as that buzz lasts, we don’t have to think as hard we can just relax and enjoy altered neurotransmitters. But it’s not sustainable. It’s not healthy. And it’s not a real solution. The good news is that the behavior map result cycle is a real solution. And honestly, as I’ve said before, practicing and mastering, which I will say I’m certainly not a master yet, I’m further down the path than you might be. But this is a tool that I will be using and refining for the rest of my life. So all right, we’re dialing into the center of the results cycle. And here are three things I hope you take away from this conversation about emotional maturity. And let’s just be clear, first, I’m using the word emotional, mature words emotional maturity, but you can also call it emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, emotional fluency, it all comes down to the same skill set. And these three things are key to that skill set. Number one, you have to be willing, and believe that you are capable of feeling every emotion you have, not just the happy, joyful, calm and pleasant ones. But the angry, sad, awkward, uneasy, nervous, bored, completely unpleasant ones willing and capable. Number two, being more emotionally mature, means you can articulate your feelings and describe what happens in your body. When you experience your emotions. Now, I’m actually going to say that, one and two, they’re important to kind of work on before you even start trying to change how much you’re drinking, and I’m gonna talk about that in a bit. But they are important before you even start trying to work on the habit. And number three, you can allow uncomfortable emotions to be there without trying to change them. So do you find yourself wanting to avoid your feelings? You’re certainly not alone here. I know, for myself, I definitely had a lot of fear surrounding negative emotions. I didn’t see my emotions as something that my own brain could influence. I never understood my own power in creating emotion. And I looked towards the circumstances of my life as the cause for everything I felt. So it seemed like thinking about a bunch of stuff that I couldn’t change was not productive. And focusing on that negative stuff was just going to make me feel more and more hopeless. I just kept pulling up my bootstraps, and making it through the day. And by the time the evening rolled around, I was like, you know, I need a few beers. So all of these feelings just don’t overwhelm me. Drinking was just another way to avoid feeling anything that I didn’t want to feel. Or to help me feel better since most of the time I chose to write stories in my own brain of stress and anxiety. At least during the week. On the weekends. I tended to want to have fun I feel happy and enjoy my time off, which again, I didn’t see as something I could do could be, you know, that I could be doing on any given day with my own thoughts. But it was a factor of the circumstances of being off the clock. That’s what I thought was creating the fun. And I also believed that drinking added to the more fun and happy off the clock feelings. When I learned the behavior map and result cycle, I realized that basically everything I thought I knew about my feelings was wrong. Like, seriously, I was just totally emotionally immature. Even though on the outside, I was a successful career woman, I had a strong social circle and friends that would have told you, I was grounded, not a reactive person, I have kids who I think would tell you that I was a good mom. And for all of that, I’ll only say that I was still emotionally immature. Because I committed to this process, I figured out these three pieces of emotional maturity. And the first really was understanding that I was capable of handling every emotion that I could feel, and I didn’t need to buffer away any feelings at all. Now, how did this happen? First, I had to accept and embrace the idea that the circumstances of my life, the events that happened each and every day, were all completely neutral. Oh, I still struggle with this one. When a tragedy happens, especially, I want to hold it up as an example of why the behavior map and results cycle is wrong. Truly I do. But if I step back, and I look at the data, even with the most horrible of tragedies, even though 99.9% of us would agree that it’s a tragedy, it is still a subjective thought, not a recording of what happened. I keep thinking of, you know, COVID and how I feel like everyone in the whole world thinks COVID was a tragedy, right? Don’t we Isn’t COVID a tragedy, but no, COVID isn’t a tragedy. COVID is a virus COVID is a pandemic. These are the facts, the circumstances, the thought that it’s a tragedy that is 100% My own opinion. And when I feel like it’s tragic, it makes me feel sad and despondent. There’s other people that might choose to think that COVID was an opportunity to stay home with their kids, and work from home. So maybe they didn’t see it as a tragedy at all. Maybe they haven’t been touched by it in terms of having not been sick. And maybe they, their businesses have taken off. Who knows. But the fact of the matter is that the circumstance of COVID is not a tragedy. COVID is a virus COVID is a pandemic, the tragedy is my own thinking. So my life is nowhere near tragic, by the way, and I don’t want to use that word anymore. But like every one else, there are a series of things that happen every day, and some are more challenging than others. The thing that that being more emotionally mature requires us to do is to accept that we’re the ones who determine our own subjective thoughts. And those thoughts are what create the feelings that we’re having. One of my favorite people that I listen to all the time, and I share her all the time, Elizabeth then then the primal potential, she talks about, it’s a focus before, it’s a feeling, right. So we get to choose what we want to focus on in our lives. And that helps us create the feelings that we want to have, versus the feelings that we might already you know, the feelings that are making us feel bad. So it’s a focus before, it’s a feeling, it’s a thought that leads to the feeling. So about this whole behavior map and results cycle. If you’re not just trying to enjoy intellectually understand it, if you are actually going to use it as a tool that you can employ to change your relationship with alcohol, you will have to internalize this first part two, you will have to experience life from the perspective of directing your thoughts to change how you feel about the circumstances in your life, and stop believing that it’s the circumstances that create your feelings. Now, this does not mean that we’re going to try to change our thoughts around difficult situations into rainbows and unicorns. Okay, it doesn’t mean that I think, Oh, I’m so grateful that my alarm didn’t go off this morning, and I’m 30 minutes late to work. No, it doesn’t mean that at all. But it also means that I don’t add drama to the equation and make the situation worse, with a bunch of crappy thoughts that make me feel worse. I’m capable of recognizing that my alarm not going off is a circumstance. Me being late is another circumstance. And what I think about those circumstances, those are what’s going to create how I feel. I can allow thoughts about the circumstance to create a small feeling of tension. You know, because I’m out of sync, I’m having to hurry. And that’s okay. It’s not a problem to feel tension, I can handle a brief period of tension, I can notice how it makes my heart beat a little faster, my shoulders get a little bit tight. And I can realize that it’s temporary. And I don’t need to make it mean anything else. And that’s where I think many people stumble with this thought work, it can sound like the goal is to always change your thoughts, so that you can immediately feel better, right. And that’s not always the case. I had a member of my private Facebook group reach out to me this last weekend. And she’s been working on her relationship with alcohol for a few months now, and mastering this behavior map results cycle. And she shared with me that she had to put down a beloved older cat somewhat unexpectedly, and she was in her own words, got it. But she was also thankful. And she told me that having these tools was so good, because it was really helping her navigate it. She was doing some writing, wrapping herself in comfort. But she didn’t try to buffer away the emotions, she just recognized them and articulated them and allowed them to be there without adding to her suffering, by drinking over them, or by telling herself that she shouldn’t be feeling what she was. The feelings weren’t comfortable, but she is totally capable of handling them without even trying to convince yourself to feel better. And that’s something I want you to do, too. It’s another part of emotional maturity. I want to take a quick minute also to just say that I’m not talking about mental health conditions. Right now, we are not talking about clinical depression, or other diagnoses, that and if that’s something you are navigating, you will want to work with your health care provider and get professional help. Even if you are much like I talked about when I did the episode on worry, which is a few episodes back, becoming more emotionally resilient, is something that’s important for all of us. Even if you are battling a diagnosis like that this is work that can be done. After you get more stabilized. Right, but emotional maturity and emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, it’s at the core of any transformation. And it’s a learnable skill. With the behavior map and results cycle, we can literally practice becoming more emotionally mature by taking the time to write it down and understand how our behavior happens. All right, the last thing I want you to take away from this episode is that you need to practice articulating your emotions. Before you really dive into changing your habit of drinking, I touched on that just at the beginning, or in these three things. Why I’m saying this, okay. I always encourage people to start by meeting themselves where they are in terms of making a plan ahead of time for drinking. So before you start reducing your drinking or working in alcohol free days, I want you to recognize how you’re feeling when you would typically reach for a drink. Understanding how you’re feeling, identifying and labeling the feeling is important if you want to change your drinking, because drinking is that quick, quick and easy fix to change how you feel right. So if you want to change your drinking, you need to identify how you were feeling in the first place. Now, especially if you tend to use alcohol to buffer away negative emotion, like stress, anxiety, these are the things I did for decades, then I know you know, and I know many of the people that I work with do the same, you’re definitely going to want to work on this. Recognizing that feeling and really doing the the thought work in terms of getting all the parts of the behavior map result cycle outlined, when you are feeling that and when you’re reaching for a drink. When that happens, you want to take you do this work before you actually start to cut or try to cut down. Okay? And here’s why. Because when you decide to cut back or take an alcohol free break, you are going to interrupt this habit cycle right. And when you do that, the moment that you say no to your desire to drink, the moment that you don’t act on an urge, you are going to feel anxious, restless, and uncomfortable. So you need to be willing to feel those uncomfortable emotions from the get go. First of all, you have to be willing and capable. We’ve talked about that. But let’s say before that desire to drink appeared, you were already feeling a negative emotion. Maybe you were heading to a party you were already feeling a little anxious about you know, being socially awkward. You got home from work and you were already feeling stressed from work. You want it to unwind. Maybe you’re feeling lonely or bored. Now you’ve got Got a double dose of negative emotions to deal with if you haven’t already recognized those, because you’ve got the negative emotion that you were starting with, and then the negative emotion that you’re going to feel when you interrupt the habit cycle. So before you bring in the discomfort of not responding to an urge, it will really help you to work on the feelings that you have in articulating those and writing out that thought work and the behavior map results cycle the elements of that, before you ever start to try to, you know, incorporate the feeling of an urge as well. So, alright, just a little side note. One of the hallmarks I think becoming more emotionally mature, is being able to see your emotions as productive, even when they don’t feel great. So your feelings can give you clues to what you are thinking how you are assessing and judging what is either happening around you right now, or what has happened in the past, looking for the whys behind why you are angry, why you are anxious, why you are sad. Once you pinpoint that feeling, you can ask those questions and you can start to find the cause. Which is always, always, always, of course, your thoughts. But that’s, you know, that’s That’s step two. So you might start with a small exercise, and this is actually from my book, breaking the bottle legacy. To get better at creating the feelings we want in our lives, we must be able to describe our feelings. And notice the physical sensations we experience with those feelings. Here’s how you do it. Turn off all distractions. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and sit quietly for a minute. Now of course, if you’re driving, just you’re not doing this now come back to it later. You’ll be able to find all this information in the show notes. Alright, so turn off all distractions. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and sit quietly for a minute. Choose any feeling from the outer two rings of the feeling wheel. This is a tool that I share from Dr. Gloria Wilcox, and I will include it in this week’s show notes as well. So choose any feeling you have an any feeling from the outer to outer rings of the feeling we’ll choose a feeling that is the most predominant feeling you are experiencing right now and write it down. Continue to sit quietly and pay attention when you focus on that feeling. What are the physical sensations you are experiencing? Write them down. This might include a rapid heartbeat or shallow breathing or your stomach might be feeling like it’s kind of in knots or your body temperature. Is it cold or is it raised? You also might want to time yourself because according to neuroscientists, Jill Bolte Taylor, the physiological response to an emotion lasts only 90 seconds, after which it dissipates on its own. Now I know that may sound crazy to you, and you can likely recall quickly, if not right now, an example of a time when your feelings lasted longer than 90 seconds. But what’s really happening there to sustain feelings, our brains have to continue thinking thoughts. And by default, it’s often those long held stories and beliefs that we keep playing in the subconscious that perpetuate feelings, mostly, especially negative ones. With the feeling you have written down, uncover one thought you are thinking that might be causing the feeling. The easiest way to find these thoughts is by asking yourself the question, Why am I feeling blank? When you do this, see what thoughts come up. And there will be more than one even when you write down a few. I’d encourage you to ask yourself, what else? And if your brain wants to throw out? I don’t know. You might try. What if I did know? What would it look like? Uncovering those deeper self limiting beliefs that run in the subconscious? takes work and repetition? When I’m working on uncovering thoughts, I imagined myself as a detective or a scientific researcher. I look at my thinking with curiosity and compassion, not negative self judgment. Because here’s the thing, we can’t change what we can’t see. So don’t stunt your progress by judging your thoughts on top of everything else, right. Let’s recap. Number one, you have to be willing and believe that you are capable of feeling every emotion you have. Not just the happy, joyful, calm and pleasant ones but the angry sad, awkward, uneasy, nervous, bored and completely unpleasant ones to number two. Being more emotionally mature means you can articulate your feelings and describe what happens in your body when you experience your emotions. And number three, you can allow uncomfortable emotions to be there Are without trying to change them. So, becoming more emotionally mature is at the core of positive transformative transformation. And I really hope you’ll use the behavior map and results cycle to practice this. And to grow your own emotional resilience. I promise you, it is how you really will change your drinking habit. Even if it sounds like a lot of hard work in the beginning, it is worth it. The people that hang out with me in the alcohol, minimalist Facebook group, they they tell me all the time, this work is so worth it. And they feel great that you can create that too. So I don’t know what you’re doing. Getting ready for Super Bowl Sunday weekend. I am excited about it. I can happily say that I really won’t have to practice too much emotional maturity this weekend because my team isn’t playing. I really don’t care that much one way or the other who wins. I like both of them. As a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I’m not really I shouldn’t be rooting for the Bengals. But I kind of like Joe burrow, so it’s hard not to, but I really like Matt Stafford and the Rams too. So you know, I like them both. I’ll be happy. I just want a good game. It’s the last football game of the season. I’m excited to watch it with my 94 year old dad, and wherever you are. I hope you have a great weekend ahead, too. All right, my friends. That is all I have for you this week. Until next time, choose peace. Thanks. 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