How to Overcome the Bad Habit Your Brain Loves (Lent, Day 20)

During previous breaks from drinking, I always counted the days until I could end my self-imposed exile from alcohol and enjoy an afternoon glass of wine again.

I would tell myself that the new me would be different. I would stop at one glass (magically!), and I would skip days in between drinking.

rarely a time out that didn’t involve a red solo cup filled with an alcoholic beverage

It’s funny that I never noticed the correlation between alcohol and anxiety.

Never did I stop to think that the rules I was setting in regard to my drinking were a major warning sign that my self-control was haywire.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop drinking. I wanted to, but I didn’t want to.

I needed alcohol, but I also consciously knew I didn’t really need it. (And not just alcohol, but food, social media–anything that could potentially become addicting.)

I craved the way it made me feel, but I despised it the next morning.

It was an overdone evening that ended my drinking for good woke me up to the conflict in my life surrounding alcohol and my ability to control myself when drinking it.

I’d long known that I was drinking as an escape. I’d figured it out during one of the worst periods of my life, when I was using my nightly wine sessions as a way to forget all the pain of the day.

My job was awful, my marriage was crumbling and I was in a full-blown midlife crisis.

I was unhealthy and I was unhappy.

But I didn’t know how to change.

The truth was, all of my problems with alcohol were hidden in my problems with change.

It wasn’t the drinking of the alcohol that was bothering me. It was the shame I felt because I couldn’t stop.

I couldn’t change the things in my life that were bothering me.

But the reason I couldn’t change was because my thinking was all wrong.

Because I’d been raised in a traumatic environment, my thinking had become based on survival.

Survival mode is the lowest from of thinking, as Mel Robbins calls it, thinking from the “lizard brain.”

Baseline, lizard brain thinking is when your brain flies on autopilot and seeks comfort as a means to survive.

Changing your life is anything but comfortable.

My brain was protecting me by doing the thing it did best: making decisions for me based on comfort.

But the comfort was bringing me anxiety, which was creating conflict in my brain.

The conflict was a signal that I needed to heal; but because I also suffered from something called Black/White Thinking, I didn’t know how to heal. Healing felt too hard because black/white thinking is all or nothing thinking.

All or nothing is impossible. Humans aren’t made for perfection. We learn from failure and mistakes.

I woke up the morning after my binge with a realization that I could remain in conflict with myself and probably die, or I could live with a few years of discomfort if that’s what it took to change my habits.

Slowly but surely, month after month, I began my change.

It started with replacing my morning social media scroll, which made me feel worthless, with a Bible study and a 15 minute dumbbell workout. I still allow myself 15 minutes on social media, and I make time for pinning goodies on Pinterest, which my creative brain loves. But I no longer stay stuck in the frozen zone.

I also replaced my afternoon-that-went-into-the-evening wine session with a cup of aloe vera juice in a beautiful glass. I get just as much pleasure but zero anxiety because I know I’m making a better choice.

I choose beautiful pieces for my home that make me happy.

Finally, I now write my concerns down before I sleep. Nothing about my life has changed all that much. I’m still not crazy about my job, I’ve settled with the understanding that my marriage is never going to be a Hallmark movie, and I’m constantly working on my weight.

But when I write those cares down and release them to God (you’re free to call Him whatever you’d like), I go to sleep in relative peace, knowing they’re out of my control and I’ve done all I could that day.

Forgiveness has also become the biggest change–and the best gift–I’ve given both myself and others. Nothing soothes the soul like truly letting go of the past.

And over time, my brain has formed new habits. I’ve retrained my pathways to find new things I love.

I’m not perfect, and I never will be.

But I’m content, and that’s good enough for me.

See you soon,


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