In my last post I asked the question: why do you drink?
I hope that you gave this a little thought, because the answers can be quite surprising. When I answered for myself I came up with the following reasons:
I drink to celebrate
I drink to engage my senses
I drink for the health benefits
I drink to add to the experience of eating by pairing wine or other drinks with my food
I drink to share my passion with others
I drink to appreciate the hard work of those that craft my drinks
I drink to appreciate the abundance of the natural world (plants, yeast, bacteria
I drink to make myself feel more comfortable in social situations
I drink to gain confidence in myself
I drink to feel the pleasant feeling of inebriation
I drink to distract from uncomfortable situations
I drink to distract from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings
I drink to turn off my mind
I drink out of habit
Did you notice a difference in the beginning of the list when compared to the end? Did you notice where the shift began? How would you characterize this shift?
For me, the shift began right around #7. Many of us utilize alcohol (or other drugs) in order to feel more comfortable in social situations. I love the power of a good bottle of wine to start conversation and give a group of new friends something to focus on. This article (https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/alcohol-is-a-social-lubricant-study-confirms.html) from the Association for Psychological Science references a study that confirms the power of alcohol as a social lubricant. Most of us know the feeling of sitting around a group of unfamiliar people, perhaps new co-workers or fellow students, feeling that uncomfortable silence. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch. You want to fix it but you just can’t break the ice. Wine makes this interaction smoother, much like oil helps an engine function properly. There is nothing inherently bad about using alcohol to allow social experiences to flow better, but it is the dependence on alcohol that is problematic. Much like a crutch can help us while a broken leg heals, alcohol can help us loosen up and provide many emotional and social benefits. However, failing to strengthen after the injury will cause a dependence on the crutch. The crutch becomes a part of you, not a tool used by you.
The further you get down my list, the more negative the reasons become. It was hard for me to be honest with myself while writing this list. It would have been easier not to share the last 7 reasons that I drink, but I am not here to make myself look better; I am here to learn and grow. This piece from Big Think (https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/alcohol-makes-you-friendlier-but-only-to-certain-groups) reminds us to look at both sides of the coin. Yes, alcohol can help facilitate social situations and even help us empathize, but only when consumed in moderation. After that point of moderation (that level is different for each of us, and is influenced by many factors), alcohol will remove our inhibitions and can even inactivate the systems that make us feel fear. Alcohol can benefit our emotional, psychological, and physical health, but once we pass the point of moderation we stand to lose all of these benefits and very quickly suffer severe consequences.
Look further down my list. These touch on some very heavy topics like discomfort, pain, and negative self-talk. If we develop the habit of using alcohol as a tool to soothe ourselves in these situations we are likely to cause more damage in the future. There are other ways to deal with these feelings: exercise, positive self-talk, journaling, counseling, and meditation. The Big Think article notes that laughter is an alternative, citing a study that has shown that laughter is actually more effective than alcohol as a social lubricant. I have found the most success with meditation and asking myself questions such as: do I need this next drink? How am I feeling right now? I sometimes struggle to utilize these tools in the moment, but when I do use them, I ultimately disrupt those bad habits and make better decisions.
I am glad that I am aware of this list of reasons why I drink. Knowing these reasons allows me to recognize where I am on this spectrum of positive and negative reasons during any given situation where I am drinking wine. Understanding where I am will allow me to shift toward the more positive side of that list. If I notice myself drinking out of habit or perhaps to turn off negative emotions, I can acknowledge this and work on shifting toward the positive. In that moment, I like to slow down and express gratitude for the wine that I am drinking. Taking a moment to be thankful for the wine in our glass can completely change the tone of our actions. Gratitude is one of the most positive emotions that we can express, so there is a good chance that by being thankful we can get away from this negative habitual drinking and make better decisions.
Try this simple exercise when pouring yourself a glass of wine to feel the power of gratitude:
Think about the people that were involved in the making of your wine. Thank the farmer who planted the vines, cared for them, and harvested their fruit. Thank the winemaker and winery workers who crushed the grapes, fermented the juice, and aged the wine.
Look at the label of your wine (or other drink). Notice where it came from? Think about all of the logistics involved in getting that bottle to you. In your mind, say thank you to all of the people that were involved in bottling the wine, labeling it, boxing it up, sending it on a boat or truck, exporting or importing it, putting it on a shelf, and selling it to you.
Think about the vine itself. Thank the vine for rooting deep into the ground to find water and nutrients. Thank the vine for converting sunlight into sugar. Thank the vine for creating beautiful clusters of grapes that provide so many nutrients, healthful compounds, and the raw product for our wine.
Think about the glass you are drinking from. Thank the people who made it, shipped it to the store, and the people who sold it to you.
Now look again at your wine after having slowed down and expressed gratitude. How does this wine taste? How does it make you feel? Do you feel positive or negative?
There are many ways for us to enhance the wellness of our wine. Wine itself is amazingly healthy, but like any tool, it can be used for good or bad. Recognize when you are on the positive or negative side of your own list of reasons why you drink, be kind to yourself, and take action to shift to the positive. Your body and your soul will be grateful.