Let’s talk about science and alcohol. It’s a pretty interesting and popular subject when the topic of recovery and sobriety gets brought up.
But let’s keep in mind that it’s not enough to rely on science and information to ditch the booze. Yes, it’s interesting and knowledge is power, but please don’t solely rely on knowledge, science and information alone to quit drinking. If we could read or listen ourselves out of a drinking problem, well, the problem would be solved. 🪄🦄
Paul loves the science part of addiction and recently did a podcast intro on just that. (RE Episode 396)
Paul got most of his info from a fantastic podcast episode from the Huberman Lab Podcast, What Alcohol Does to Your Brain, Body & Health| Episode 86. I highly recommend you check it out and listen when you get a chance…Dr. Huberman goes into great detail in this 2 hour episode and even those without a drinking problem will find it interesting and beneficial.
Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and tenured Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Alcohol and the brain. 🥃🧠
Alcohol has many biochemical and neurochemical effects on the brain. There are dramatic changes in the neurons that control the release of serotonin when we consume alcohol. Serotonin is the feel good chemical and 80% of it is created in the gut. When we mix alcohol and serotonin it gets converted into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. A toxic buildup of acetaldehyde can increase your cancer risk.
This acetaldehyde acts as a toxin at the very synapses and the connections between the serotonergic neurons and lots of other neurons. In other words, when we ingest alcohol, the toxic effects of alcohol disrupt those mood circuitries.
It does this first ☝🏼by making them hyper active.
This is why people become happy or more talkative after a couple of sips of alcohol. But when the alcohol wears off the serotonin levels and the activity of brain circuits really start to drop and this is why most people head to the bar for a second round. Now typically what happens when people ingest their 3rd, 4th or 5th drink, there is an absolute zero chance of them recovering that energized mood they experienced on the first drink. Most people, when they drink more and more, begin to feel suppressed . The front part of the brain, the frontal cortex, is starting to shut down. The motor areas of the brain that control motion and basic functions begin to slow.
This is the slurred speech, the swaying back and forth, the classic drunk shuffle. People begin to lean on things, uncomfortable benches seem like a good place to spend the night. There is a great depression, not of the psychiatry sort, but a depression of alertness and arousal, and eventually people begin to pass out. 🥱
Here’s one big way that alcohol changes your brain chemistry.
Alcohol changes the relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals. The hypothalamus, which is about the size of a gumball and sits above the roof of the mouth, provides a specific set of signals for the pituitary gland…which then releases hormones into the bloodstream that go and talk to you adrenals which sit right above your kidneys in your lower back. The adrenals release a chemical called epinephrine and cortisol which is involved in the longer term stress response.
The hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals maintain the physiological balance of what you perceive as stressful. People who consistently drink are more stressed out at baseline then sober peeps. They have more cortisol released from their adrenal glands even when they are not drinking. And a consequence of this is they feel more stressed and feel more anxiety when they are not drinking. Most medical professionals will agree that stress is the number one contributor to disease.
Let’s talk about blackouts for a second. Blacking out is not passing out. When we overload the brain with alcohol, it’s almost too much to process and the activity of neurons in the hippocampus, which is involved with memory formation, are strained and then they completely shut off. As in you no longer form memories. You are still awake and can still be functioning, some high functioning, but the memory forming part of your brain, the hippocampus, clocks out.
Now…to genetic predisposition…
Side note, Paul doesn’t believe in genetic predisposition to alcoholism. He used to, but now he doesn’t.
Addiction guru Dr. Gabor Mate’s teaching rebukes the genetic myth. Dr. Mate feels all addictions are trauma responses. What helped Dr. Mate reach this conclusion was his studying of twins who have the same genetic makeup. He also studies twins with the same genetic makeup who are separated at birth. His conclusion is that all addictions are environmental responses, or coping behaviors that allow people to survive in unhealthy environments.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, who is coined the father of Epigenetics in the 90’s, would also agree with this. Epigenetics says it’s the environment that controls the expression of genes and gene mutations. In addition, it’s the environment that cues anxiety, depression, addiction, auto immune responses, cancers, inflammations, and not genetics. The classic Rat Park experiment by Bruce Alexander in the 70’s also shows addictions are environmental.
Paul says, “I am on board with this approach and even in the past 8 years doing Recovery Elevator, I’ve seen the pendulum slightly shift in this direction.” What we’re seeing now, is our biological makeup is much more adaptive and reflexive to environments than previously thought. Again, Paul feels, most addictions are trauma based. They are adaptive behaviors. Another reason he doesn’t think alcoholism is genetic is because alcoholism is rapidly on the rise. Gene’s take thousands, millions of years to evolve. Gene’s can’t explain the ten fold increase in alcoholism we’ve seen in the last couple centuries.
That being said, we do want to share different perspectives on alcoholism.
Dr. Huberman feels alcoholism is genetic. He does mention that there is no blood test, fingerprint test, or bio marker to indicate this addiction gene. Dr. Huberman says the best way to “identify” alcoholics and non alcoholics is by putting drinkers in two bins. One bin is the group of people who have a couple of drinks and then get tired with a nodding head, or they feel sedated. The other bin of people is the group that has a couple of drinks and gets energized and are not sedated. The drowsy group after a couple drinks are your normal drinkers. The let’s go streaking in the quad and bring your green hat group are the future alcoholics.
Is it genetic based, or trauma based. Most likely it isn’t 100% one or the other. It’s most likely a combination of 57,680 different things.
Again, we don’t recommend getting too caught up in all this. At the end of the day, you’ve got a drinking problem. Knowing what alcohol does to your prefrontal cortex isn’t going to keep you sober in the long run.
Find what works for you…and go with that!
***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, episode 396, host Paul Churchill***
Who doesn’t love practical tips that help us out with daily tasks? I know I do. And count me in if it is something to help me on my alcohol free journey.
Today I want to give you a practical quitting drinking tip that I recommend you try. This is called JournalSpeak™ which is probably the most informal, writing from cuff, type of journaling you can do. Paul learned about this type of journaling from a podcast called The Cure for Chronic Pain with Nicole Sachs. He was listening to her podcast about back pain that he had been experiencing, but the journaling technique she teaches is also applicable to ditching the booze. So today I’m hoping to bridge the gap.
Okay, let’s do it.
First…what is the point of JournalSpeak?
The point is to get unprocessed, uncomfortable emotions, out of you, and onto a piece of paper, a note, a napkin, post it note, a scroll, a computer screen, whatever. This also makes you feel less alone, it’s as if there are two of you. Another point is you begin connecting with you. Here at Recovery Elevator we do believe the opposite of addiction is connection as Johan Hari coined in a TED Talk. A major component of this is connecting with the raw, unheard, vulnerable, pissed off version of you.
When you feel a craving coming on, this is one of the best times to do this, because there’s a part of you screaming to be heard. 🗣👂🏼
Now, let’s talk frequency.
Nicole recommends 20 minutes a day. I get it…that can be overwhelming to start with. So don’t start there. Paul started with 5 minutes first thing in the morning, and then 5 minutes at night before he went to bed, a couple times a week.
Also, you can use this “as needed” throughout the day. Sometimes, if Paul was feeling pissed or feeling fear he grabbed a pen and ‘just let it fly’. ✍🏼
When I say JournalSpeak – I’m not referring to you opening your leather bound diary, writing the date, and beginning with,
Today…I went to work and my parking spot was taken…”
None of that. 🙅🏽♀️🙅🏾 In fact, I don’t recommend you keep any of this JournalSpeak. Get rid of it, that’s the point. Get it out of your body and onto the paper…then get rid of it. 🗑🔥
JournalSpeak is full of incomplete sentences, horrible grammar, expletives 🤬…if you choose, shitty illustrations, and giving that pissed off, or sad little kiddo inside permission to speak. That’s really who is doing the talking.
Yes alcohol in itself is highly addictive, but most likely you are unconsciously (or consciously) using alcohol to repress emotions or shitty memories. Getting this excess mental baggage out of your head and onto paper is the beginning of letting it go. Once you’re done writing, throw it away, burn it, command A delete. It’s out, it’s gone. It’s been heard. The energy has been moved. Throw that shit away. 💩🗑 You don’t need it anymore. Make that part of the ritual, or routine, toss it. After all, it’s garbage. It’s not serving you.
Paul always felt better after his short JournalSpeak sessions. Sometimes he would go way longer than his five minute timer, things would just keep coming out. Let whatever wants to come out, come out. It may surprise you.
JournalSpeak can cure your pain. Physical and emotional pain. Is this woo-woo? Maybe. But Paul gives it a quantum spin. (He says his first car, at age 16, was a 1982 Volkswagen Quantum, which he feels qualifies him to talk about quantum science.) When you take a thought, which has an atomic weight swirling in your brain, and you place it on paper, two things happen…
- You lessen the energetic density of the thought in your own brain. It was in your brain and now part of it is in the form of graphite on paper (if you’re using a pencil).
- Next, when you see the thought in physical form, on paper, the thought/wave collapses. Almost like a wave landing on the shore. 🌊 The energy of the thought hits the paper, and then softens.
Trust me, you will feel better after these JournalSpeak sessions. Paul says he’s batting 1000 on this one.
***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, episode 389, host Paul Churchill***
What is sober? What is sobriety? Can we define this? Let’s try!
Sober. First off this word can be exchanged with AF, Alcohol-free, whatever. But what is sober?
When we say sober, at least for this blog, we are referring to alcohol.
(That’s the drink that put Paul behind the mic 🎙).
This topic, especially in the rooms of AA and 12 step programs, can be somewhat divisive. 👊🏼👊🏼 But…the truth of the matter is, it really shouldn’t be. I think we’ll find out that arguing over what sober IS, and ISN’T, is a silly and almost harmful endeavor.
In fact there are even nicknames for what type of sober you are. 🙃
Our recommendation is don’t get too attached to any idea of what sober looks like, because at the end of the day, it’s not really about the substances, behaviors or actions…
it’s the freedom that you have from them. 🦅
Do your absolute best not judge others for their definition of sober because as we’ll find out, it’s not as black and white as you think.
Quick side note about judgements 👉🏼 When you judge others you judge yourself (thank you boomerang 🪃 effect), and create separation.
In terms of sobriety, Paul has heard some silly stories about people being told they aren’t sober because they drink kombucha, they drink NA beers, or they had beer battered fish and chips for lunch. True story. Never-mind mind the fact a ripe banana 🍌 has the same amount of alcohol as kombucha and a hamburger bun has nearly triple that. Are you not sober if you eat a banana or a hamburger or chicken sandwich?
When Paul first quit drinking and began going to AA he thought it was no alcohol, no drugs, no substances, no pills, no prescriptions, no mind altering substances, no MDMA, no mushrooms, the list can go on and on…
But, welcome to the real world, where there are approximately 50 shades of gray, and just as many shades of ‘sober’.
Here are some statements Paul has heard from sober people.
- “I’m sober, and I drink Kombucha.”
- “I’m sober, and I drink NA Beers.”
- “I’m sober, and I eat dishes that are prepared with some form of alcohol.”
- “I’m sober, and I smoke cigarettes.”
- “I’m sober, and I use chewing tobacco.”
- “I’m sober, and I drink 1-10 cups of coffee a day.”
- “I’m sober, and take ADHD meds.”
- “I’m sober, and take antidepressants.”
- “I’m sober, and I use cannabis.” (This has been coined California Sober.)
- “I’m sober, and I take benzos for my anxiety and sleep.”
- “I’m sober, and take opiates for chronic pain.”
- “I’m sober, and I take sleep meds.”
- “I’m sober, and I pull out my eyebrows, I itch, pick and pull.”
- “I’m sober, and I use plant medicine.” (Ayahuasca, psilocybin, ketamine, MDMA)
- “I’m sober, and I have to sexually relieve myself constantly.”
- “I’m sober, and I eat a fuck ton of ice cream.”
- “I’m sober, and I love to shop.”
- “I’m sober and I leave this planet while doing Breathwork or Tai Chi.”
Paul has even heard people say, I’m sober, but…they have a couple drinks a year, month, or even in a given week.
As you can see, defining sobriety is a fool’s errand. We can’t do it, and we shouldn’t do it. In fact it’s dangerous to do so. If we did, we’d separate, isolate and disconnect ourselves even more.
We’re also ignoring the environment we have to live in. We unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not hitting our internal definition of sober. In a meeting one time Paul heard a guy say that he wasn’t sober because he was taking sleep meds. It was consuming him. We, of course, don’t exactly know what his relationship with the meds was like…if he was taking them ‘as prescribed’…but sleep is fucking important. Paul had to take AF Sleep-Eze, and Tylenol PM’s for probably 4-6 months when he first quit drinking. If you don’t get good sleep, the foundation of your sobriety is compromised.
Okay, so those are some Newtonian ways to define sobriety. Those are more about staying away from something, or coming at it from a lens of sacrifice.
Here are some better ways. 🙌🏼
- Sobriety is freedom.
- Sobriety is everything.
- Sobriety is living authentically.
- Sobriety is not being a slave to a substance, behavior or action.
- Sobriety is you living your life how you want to live.
- Sobriety is living with a connected head and heart.
- Sobriety is being able to recognize beauty, art, and appreciate sunsets.
- Sobriety is a different vibration.
- Sobriety is hope.
- Sobriety is you taking off the chains.
- Sobriety is you…meeting you.
- Sobriety is a manageable life.
- Sobriety is “downgrading additions.” Sarah Hepola – Blackout
If you remove alcohol and aren’t ready to say goodbye to everything else, go slow, take your time, and listen to your body. There is no right or wrong way to do this, and there is no generally accepted definition of sobriety.
So then what? Do we have to accept them all? Well, just like it’s a good idea to accept all skin colors, it’s the same with defining sobriety. What really matters here is the person is trying to make a change. Even if the change is a mental thought form swirling in the brain, it still is something that exists.
We’re going to make this simple, at Recovery Elevator, we accept all versions of sober. We accept all versions of you.
***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, episode 380, host Paul Churchill***
Are you thinking about giving up alcohol? What is stopping you?
Maybe you know that you have a problem with alcohol, that it is no longer serving you, it’s causing wreckage throughout your life…but the thought of quitting makes you nervous and scared?
Maybe you are sober curious. Alcohol hasn’t really caused any problems in your life but you still would like to see what living a life free from it would be like.
And maybe you’re hesitant because of some of the myths, misconceptions and rumors floating around out there about what living a life without alcohol is like. Societal stigmas exist everywhere. And although there have been great strides and growth in the AF (alcohol free) movement in recent years it is often the fear of feeling stigmatized, labeled or judged that stops people from seeking out a life free from alcohol.
Don’t fall victim to the many myths about sobriety. Let’s look at some of them.
1. YOU HAVE TO LABEL YOURSELF AN ALCOHOLIC
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
First of all, what is an alcoholic? It is an outdated term that the medical and scientific communities don’t even use anymore. Instead it’s called alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD can be diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe…and the bar for mild AUD is pretty low. Which makes it not surprising to me that a large chunk of my friends and family exhibit it.
Second of all, you don’t have to label yourself as anything…labels are for file folders.
Personally I am neutral when it comes to calling myself an alcoholic. It doesn’t bother me. I can take it or leave it. But the word carries so much stigma and people have such a specific image in their head when they hear it…that it turns people away from getting help.
Before I get hate mail from the ‘alcoholics’ out there let me continue. I know that for some people identifying as an alcoholic is an important part of your sobriety…and there is nothing wrong with that! GO TEAM ALCOHOLICS! 📣
2. YOU “HAVE” TO GO TO AA
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You also don’t HAVE to go to AA…but it’s perfectly fine if you do! When I first decided to get sober…many moons ago…AA is the first place I went. I think that is how it was for a lot of people, because there was a time that AA was all that was out there.
AA is not part of my program currently, but it was as recent as a couple years ago. I even held a service position for an entire year!
What matters most is finding what works for and is the best fit for you. As long as it is keeping you sober, that is all that matters.
3. IF YOU ARE SOBER, OR CHOOSING TO LIVE A LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL, YOU MUST HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM.
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You don’t have to have a severe drinking problem to want sobriety. You don’t have to have a drinking problem at all.
You can just want to feel better. Maybe you’ve decided that alcohol isn’t bringing anything positive into your life so you are just going to remove it from your life. It doesn’t have to be awful to want better.
Anyone, anywhere, with any kind of drinking habit can make the decision to stop drinking…there is no prerequisite for how bad your drinking has to get first.
4. YOU HAVE TO HIT ROCK-BOTTOM TO GET SOBER
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You don’t have to hit rock bottom to want sobriety. You don’t have to be suffering from the repercussions from drinking to want sobriety. You don’t have to have lost everything…the job, the money, the house, the friends, the family… to want sobriety.
And can you really even say what your rock bottom would be? Everyone’s rock bottom doesn’t look the same.
5. SOBER LIFE IS BORING
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
This preconceived notion could not be further from the truth. Alcohol numbs our senses and feelings. And guess what… when you numb the bad, you also numb the good.
Remove the alcohol and discover how much more time you have, how much more money you have. Discover and rediscover hobbies and interests you once had. You will discover your FOMO turn into JOMO.
If you find that sober life is boring I hate to say it…your life is boring. Make some changes. Sobriety provides a greater amount of opportunities for freedom and fun than a bottle of booze could ever offer.
It’s not a no to alcohol…but yes to a better life. Sobriety…there is probably no healthier, kinder, loving thing you could do for yourself. ❤️
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟
What do you do when you get a craving? When you’re in that moment and your next move may decide whether you pick up a bottle, or not. And how do you feel when you’re in that moment?
For example…I feel anxious, I feel panicky and I feel nervous.
In a recent therapy session I shared with my therapist that since my recent relapse I have been noticing I am having more frequent moments of feeling anxious and feeling cravings come up. I don’t know if these feelings are really more frequent or if I am just paying closer attention now…but regardless, the feelings are there either way. (Side note – Back to 72 days alcohol free as of this writing!),
She asked me what I do when these feelings come up? Did I know what grounding was, did I use any grounding techniques or grounding exercises when I was “in” those moments?
I know what being grounded is…I was grounded a lot while growing up. 😆 And I’ve heard the term grounding used with earthing…walking around outside barefoot, which I also do a lot of. But she was talking about something else.
She gave me some grounding techniques that I had never heard of…that I could do anywhere, at any time. I’ve used these…and I have found them helpful. They help me turn my attention away from my anxious mind and off the craving…help me refocus on the present moment. And help me move into the next hour sober. I’m going to share some of them with you and maybe you will find them helpful as well. 🤟🏼
The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique (or the 5 Senses Technique)
Our physical body is how we interface with the rest of reality, the five senses like tethers anchoring us to the moment.
- Look For 5 Things You Can See: Look for the small details, the wood grain on the desk in front of you, the pattern in the ceiling. Become aware of the glossy green of the plant in the corner. Take your time to really look and acknowledge what you see. Maybe look for something that you may not have noticed before.
- Become Aware Of 4 Things You Can Touch/Feel: The clothing on your body, your cotton shirt against your neck. The warmth of the sun on your skin. The wind blowing through your hair. The chair you are sitting on. It may help to vocalize these…”I feel the wind blowing through my hair, I feel the warmth of the sun on my face.”
- Acknowledge 3 Things You Can Hear: Pay special attention to the sounds your mind has tuned out. Don’t judge, just hear. The distant traffic. The ticking of the clock. The roosters outside. (I’m in Hawaii as I write this, there are a lot of roosters outside. 🐓) The voices in the next room.
- Notice 2 Things You Can Smell: Try to notice smells in the air around you, like an air freshener or freshly mowed grass. If at first you don’t feel like you can smell anything, simply try to sense the subtle fragrance of the air around you, or of your own skin.
- Become Aware Of 1 Thing You Can Taste: I suggest carrying snacks for this step…because, snacks…duh. Pop one in your mouth and focus your attention closely on the flavors.
Repeat, repeat…as many times as needed. 🙌🏼
Another grounding technique she shared with me was like playing a game of “categories” with yourself.
Pick a category (types of dogs, fruits and veggies, cereals, jazz musicians, animals, famous people, cars, TV shows, writers, sports, songs, cities, etc.) and name as many items in the category that you can think of. For a variation name the items alphabetically or try to name an item in the category that begins with each letter of the alphabet. This can also be a great game to keep kids preoccupied in the car!
For some more grounding techniques Paul shared some of his here.
Like I said in the beginning…I had a recent relapse. Weirdly I feel alright about that. I have found these quick and easy grounding techniques to be very helpful for me at this stage of my journey. I hope that they may help you too.
If you have any that you use and would share, please drop them in the comments!
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟