On Willpower

“Why can’t I just stop?” is a question a lot of people ask.

Alcohol is a highly addictive substance, and habit is a powerful driver. I found that giving that addictive voice (you know the one, the one that says “you’ve been doing so well, I’m sure you can have a drink now, it won’t get messy like it did last time,”) a name and identity of its own, was very helpful. Your drinking voice is not you. You can tell this because it doesn’t want what’s best for you, it just wants you to drink. Belle Robertson (“Tired of Thinking about Drinking”) calls her drinking voice “Wolfie”. Mine is named after a horrible bullying classmate at school. Once it had a name and an identity, I could recognise when it was my drinking voice talking and I could ignore it more easily.

I also found that because alcohol is a highly addictive substance, it’s very difficult if not impossible to “just stop”. Willpower is a finite resource. It gets used up in hundreds of tiny little ways from the second your alarm goes off to the second your head hits the pillow at night. So by the time the witching hour came around, I found willpower was running very low and habit, “I’ve finished work for the day, time for a glass of wine”, was running very high.

So I had to reinforce willpower with scaffolding. I signed up for the year-long course from This Naked Mind. I changed my routine, I set new habits. On working from home days, I’d mark the end of the working day with fifteen minutes of meditation, or going for a walk, or reading some quit lit, or listening to a sober podcast, and then I’d have a non-alcoholic drink in one of the fancy glasses. On days I was working in the office, I changed my commute so I caught a different bus that doesn’t stop outside the supermarket “oh, I’ll just pop in for wine.” I got groceries delivered so there was always food and drinks in.

For me it helps that I live on my own, so I control what comes into my home. I don’t drink, so I don’t buy alcohol. I make sure the fridge is fully stocked with alcohol-free drinks so I’m not tempted to go “nothing to drink, going to nip to the shop for wine.” My partner is incredibly supportive and his fridge is always well-stocked with alcohol-free drinks as well.

I built up a sober toolkit and some stuff I still use, some stuff I only used in the first year. I recognise my triggers (clothes shopping. I hate clothes shopping. I find it stressful) and I plan in advance how I will deal with that. If I felt I was struggling again, I would go into the toolkit and start using more supports.

For me, it’s about reinforcing neural pathways, about constantly doing the thing sober so that becomes the habit, and the old neural pathways, the “I should be doing this with a glass in my hand” falls away. It’s about breaking old habits and forming new ones, so the new ones are stronger than the old ones. It’s about not relying on willpower not to drink, it’s about making it as easy as possible not to drink, so the “not drinking” habit is at the forefront of your mind when you do the thing.

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