Make dry Jan­uary last longer than a wet week­end

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Padraig O’Mo­rain

If you joined those who de­cided to do “dry Jan­uary”, you are by now in the very early stages of your 31-day jour­ney.

Whether the jour­ney is look­ing tougher or eas­ier than it seemed at the start, here are a few tips to help you along the way, based on my own ex­pe­ri­ence.

First, you need to ac­cept you will en­counter var­i­ous trig­gers to make you want to drink.

Your brain has a re­mark­able learn­ing sys­tem which re­mem­bers that, say, it’s five o’clock in the evening and you nor­mally have a drink in the next cou­ple of hours.

Or you’re in the kitchen mak­ing din­ner and it says “hey, isn’t this when you get to have a glass (the eu­phemism for two glasses) of wine” as you work? Your brain has learned when to ex­pect a drink and it trig­gers the urge.

The main thing to re­mem­ber is that this is nor­mal and that urges usu­ally pass within 20 min­utes – of­ten more quickly – as long as you don’t dwell on them. Al­low­ing that urge to pass through with­out giv­ing in to it or run­ning away from it is called “urge surf­ing”.

Here’s an­other trap: imag­in­ing that ev­ery­body but you is hav­ing a fan­tas­tic time throw­ing back the booze in warmth and con­vivi­al­ity. Well, first of all, if drinking is nor­mal for them it’s just giv­ing them a nor­mal time.

It only looks fan­tas­tic to you be­cause you are not drinking.

And as for the idea that ev­ery­body else is hav­ing a drink and you’re some sort of freak, about one fifth of adults never drink at all – and lots of them are do­ing just fine when it comes to warmth and con­vivi­al­ity.

Also, there is a grow­ing trend among young peo­ple of not drinking. Re­mem­ber­ing this can help when you feel like you’re the only per­son in the world who isn’t hav­ing a drink.

Am­biva­lence

Be pre­pared also to ex­pe­ri­ence am­biva­lence, which is a fea­ture of the ex­pe­ri­ence of dropping any­thing you are de­pen­dent on. By am­biva­lence I mean ar­gu­ing with your­self over whether you need to do this dry Jan­uary thing at all. Isn’t it all a bit much, re­ally? How can it help your qual­ity of life not to drink? That’s one side.

Then, on the other side, your brain says well, ac­tu­ally, it’s not all a bit much at all – it’s some­thing I choose to do be­cause I think it might be good for me and I don’t have to con­vince you any­way.

Am­biva­lence is one of the traps that leads to peo­ple fall­ing off the wagon so you need to side­step these ar­gu­ments, and keep your sights firmly set on Jan­uary 31st. I men­tioned trig­gers at the start. A prac­ti­cal strat­egy for deal­ing with these trig­gers is to sub­sti­tute other ex­pe­ri­ences for drinking.

These can in­clude drinking tonic wa­ter or sparkling wa­ter in­stead of al­co­hol, watch­ing Net­flix with­out fall­ing asleep, go­ing to movies, walk­ing or run­ning on Satur­day morn­ing when you would or­di­nar­ily be nurs­ing a hang­over, or any of the tril­lions of other things that we can ac­tu­ally do be­sides drinking.

Al­ter­na­tives

If these ex­pe­ri­ences seem ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous to you com­pared to down­ing a glass of wine or a pint, you might be more fond of the drink than is good for you. Give the al­ter­na­tive ex­pe­ri­ences a chance.

If drinking is nor­mal for them it’s just giv­ing them a nor­mal time. It only looks fan­tas­tic to you be­cause you are not drinking

You could do worse than make a habit of glanc­ing at the tired­of­thinkingabout­drink­ing blog which I rec­om­mended here be­fore. Its au­thor, Belle Robertson, takes a hu­mor­ous and com­mon-sense view of ditch­ing the drink, com­bined with a full aware­ness of the tricks the mind, which she calls “wolfie”, likes to play.

I’m also a fan of Jason Vale’s book Kick the Drink . . . Eas­ily!.

I stopped drinking for a year on a whim (though I had been mov­ing ten­ta­tively to­wards that whim for the pre­vi­ous year) five years ago.

Ever since then, on Jan­uary 1st, I won­der if it’s time to take it up again, can’t make up my mind (there’s that am­biva­lence) and give my­self an­other 12 months.

Happy new year.

Padraig O’Mo­rain is ac­cred­ited by the Ir­ish As­so­ci­a­tion for Coun­selling and Psy­chother­apy.

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