This isn’t meant to be a self-help blog, but every now and then we need a little help.
Part of my problem with energy is due to things I do to myself. Amongst those self-sabotaging things, alcohol is my chief kryptonite. Alcohol is kryptonite pounded into dust, heated to a boil, and poured over rocks of frozen kryptonite.
Alcohol drains my energy, causes me to pass out before I finish reading stories to my kids (who am I kidding? I don’t even make it off the sofa after dinner), disrupts my sleep, makes me go to the bathroom multiple times during the night, gives me a hangover in the morning, kills any chance of me working out, adds pounds to my waistline, depresses me further, and doesn’t solve a single, damn problem that drove me to drink in the first place. In fact, it usually makes things worse by draining my money, enabling fights with my wife, disappointing my kids, depressing me, and on and on.
But last night, I broke the cycle. Again. It is a constant battle that I often lose, but something was different last night. I thought I was going to lose…and then I didn’t. It was the closest I’ve come to losing, and still keeping my head. And then I wrote about it. And then I wrote about it again today.
So I thought I would share it in case anyone else is struggling with some craving that is sapping their energy (sugar, screens at night, etc.). It’s not impossible to break the cycle. It’s just very, very hard.
So, how did I avoid the temptation last night? What did I do right?
The first thing that I think made a difference was that I knew in my gut that I could beat the craving. I don’t want to underestimate this knowledge. Even though the craving was so strong that I almost assumed I would give in, I knew in the back of my head that I was physically and mentally capable of beating it. I primarily credit Bryan Johnson’s work with Optimize.me for giving me this knowledge. He has a great course on being antifragile. This gave me the following tools to get through this ordeal.
So this knowledge kind of flashed through my mind as well as the knowledge that I could use those tools to beat this – by breathing, by waiting, by changing my mind. I also reminded myself of all the awful things that would happen if I did drink – like gaining weight, feeling worse in the morning, and it not really solving anything.
But hardly any of that mattered in the moment.
In the moment, I was consumed with an urge to numb the pain. I wanted to escape. I wanted an easy fix. I wanted the comfort of my old companion, alcohol.
I felt the pressure in my teeth. I felt my taste buds jangle with craving. I had trouble focusing on anything else. I had tunnel vision and alcohol was the only solution.
Trying to drag my mind away from it to any other possibilities felt like an insurmountable struggle. I had lost hope. I felt like a forgone conclusion. I almost wanted to lose faith in myself. I wanted to give up and collapse into the arms of alcohol.
But, in the moment when I might have capitulated, I had the urge to know what I was giving up. I knew I hadn’t had a drink in a while. More than a couple months. So I looked up my run streak on my phone (Streaks app) and saw that I had made it 80 days without alcohol.
I didn’t want to lose that streak, as meaningless and arbitrary as that might be.
That gave me one straw to counterbalance the overwhelming weight of alcohol’s arguments.
Then I remembered to breathe. To be honest, I couldn’t do much else but breathe. I sat in my chair and noticed that my breaths were coming short and shallow – almost ragged. I exhaled all the way out and breathed in for the count of six. Then I breathed out for the count of seven.
I wasn’t able to do this for long – maybe 20 or 30 seconds – but that must have been long enough to add one more straw to the scale, because then I really tried to remember the lessons I had learned from Optimize.
After I had watched the antifragile course, I had created this little bookmark of my favorite pieces of wisdom. I kept it in my journal for emergencies, hoping it might be the difference between winning or succumbing to temptation. This was just such an emergency
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my bookmark on me (I have recently switched from my handwritten journal to Roam Research to track all my notes for this book across multiple devices and with speed – can’t recommend Roam enough).
The only thing I could only remember from my bookmark was that everything is mental and that I can always change my mind. That felt pretty flimsy in the moment, but it was one more straw.
Exhausted, frustrated, and confused about why I had such a huge craving, I opened Roam to journal simply to try and puzzle this out. I wasn’t even thinking of journaling as therapeutic. I just wanted to get this feeling out of my head and down in words to try and understand it. I wrote this down, “Panic attack in the afternoon accompanied by a huge urge to drink. Currently sitting with the anxiety, trying my breathing exercises, and turning on the fan to cool down. I’ve made it 80 days without a drink, through harder temptations than this. What is this – a little career choice crisis? It’s nothing! Completely self imposed. It’s in my mind and I can change my mind. I would feel worse tomorrow. It wouldn’t solve anything. I would only feel better temporarily.”
It wasn’t much, but it somehow made me feel better – fourth straw.
Then…I’m not sure what happened.
My mind wandered? I got interrupted at work? I don’t remember. But the next thing I knew, thirty minutes had passed and I felt better. I wrote down in my journal, “Within 30 minutes, it did pass. What a strange attack! It was so powerful and debilitating. If I had emotionally committed to going to the liquor store after work instead of trying to let the feeling go, I would be headed there now. Thankfully I chose to wait it out. I’m still not sure why that anxiety was so strong. It almost felt like possession. I can see why the ancients wanted to blame certain things like that on evil spirits. It didn’t feel like me.”
This is the secret to being antifragile. I’m not sure what I did right. Maybe it was all the things in combination. The distracting myself at the end wasn’t even on purpose, but it was the most powerful of all. I just got my mind off the craving until it passed.
That might not have been possible without the journaling.
The journaling might not have been possible without the breathing.
The breathing might not have been possible without the belief that I could beat it and my streak count that I had been beating it for almost three months (as arbitrary as that still sounds).
But, straw by straw, I built up a wall.
And that wall kept me safe from the cold craving that howled inside my head.