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Congratulations—you have officially completed Reframe’s 160-day program to help reframe the way you think and drink! Well done. We see all of the work you’ve put in over the last weeks and months, and no matter where you are today, you’ve taken substantial steps forward in your relationship with alcohol.
But wait, now what?
I’m so glad you asked, my friend! We’ve got two options for you:
Open your Reframe app tomorrow, and begin again at Day 1. Of course, this isn’t one of those Day 1’s, this is simply a review of each daily article you’ve read over the last 160 days. However, we are confident that you will learn just as much, if not more, this time around.
Why is that? Think back to who you were when you first downloaded this app—what was your mindset like? What was your daily life like? Were you in crisis mode, trying to just not drink? No matter where you began this program, all of the work you have put in over time has yielded a different you than you were the day you began Reframe.
You will glean new takeaways this time that your mind had no capacity to integrate the first time you read it. You have more space to build in tools. You have resilience and practice and alcohol-free days under your belt. You have proof that you can do this. This information will be read with fresh eyes and you will learn more this time around.
Reframe Thrive Coaching: ready to take it to the next level? Ready to unlock the best version of you, now that the booze is out of the way? Consider Reframe Thrive Coaching, our premium coaching program.
In Thrive Coaching, you’ll have high-touch, personalized access to our Reframe Thrive coaches. We know there’s so much more to life than just not drinking, and a big, vibrant life awaits you. Let us help you uncover that life through curated content from industry experts, live coaching, community, and all the good, juicy stuff you know you’re meant for. Don’t just not drink, THRIVE.
No matter what path you choose, you’re an integral part of the Reframe family and we’re grateful to do life alongside you. It takes an immense amount of courage and resilience to even consider changing your relationship with alcohol, let alone spend 160 days actively working to improve yourself.
Well done, my friend. We’ll see you again tomorrow, same place, same time!
Beth (your alcohol-free BFF + Head of Content here at Reframe)
Why we work on distress tolerance
Now that we’ve covered some tools and exercises for managing our stress, let’s review why any of this matters. We intuitively know that reducing our stress must be helpful for improving our relationship with alcohol, but when we better understand the mechanisms at play, it provides us with more motivation to make stress management an active part of our mindful drinking toolbox.
3 Reasons it’s important to properly manage stress:
Distress tolerance builds resilience
The first time we successfully manage a stressful situation without having to step outside of ourselves with the use of alcohol or other numbing mechanisms, we build just a little more strength for next time. This is the idea of resilience; we can cultivate resilience in many areas of our lives by building resilience to stress, and it translates well to other pieces of our wellness. When we know that we’ve done something once, we know we can do it again.
Distress tolerance is realistic
Notice that none of the things we’ve covered so far have said “remove all stress from your life,” because that is simply not realistic. Instead, we focus on stress reduction and distress tolerance - learning how to minimize stress where we can, and building tools to tolerate the stress that we cannot eliminate completely. The goal isn’t a perfect, idyllic life, because that doesn’t exist for anyone. But when we learn how to manage our stress, we build an adaptive skill into our toolbox.
Distress tolerance helps us cope before we’re too fried to think rationally
Since we know that we can’t expect to just have a shiny, perfect life with zero complications or challenges, we must build coping mechanisms into our life that help us get through those challenges. And we do this so that we don’t drain our energy so much that we are no longer able to make decisions through our prefrontal cortex and higher functioning. When we manage our energy well through stress reduction, we allow our higher functioning to maintain control, which in turn helps us cope without the use of alcohol.
The goal is not a total reinvention of your entire life overnight; doing so would only add more stress to your life as you make massive changes and adjustments in a short amount of time. Instead, focus on one thing you can change each day, and let those little changes add up over time.
Coping with Cravings2
Use the “Healthy Coping Tools Kit” in the Reframe app to begin the 20 minute cravings timer (the average length of a craving only lasts this long!)
Go outside and get some fresh air, take a walk
Movement of any kind - dance in your kitchen, turn on a yoga video, go for a run
Leave any sort of triggering situation that you may be in, if possible
Call your support network, plug into the sober-curious and alcohol-free community online, reach out to like-minded peers
Take a nap or go to bed early
Use calming essential oils or scents that bring you peace
Journal - write about where you see yourself in one year
Eat a nourishing snack or meal with healthy fats and proteins
Create something with your hands - art, knitting, clay, a vision board
Put on something that makes you feel confident - a favorite shirt, a bold lipstick, your power shoes
Turn your attention to someone else - get down on the floor to play with your kids, lighten your partner’s load by doing one of their normal chores, bring a warm meal to a friend
Whatever helps to redirect your attention, even for just a few minutes, will help you get through the next craving. And the craving after that? It’ll be even easier to bust as your brain unlearns the behaviors it learned in the past. You can do this.
Coping with Cravings
Cravings are undeniably one of the most difficult aspects of developing a more mindful relationship with alcohol. A craving is a strong urge to drink alcohol (or use another substance, even sugar), and can result in a multitude of physical and emotional experiences. A sudden longing, physical agitation in the body, a desire to quickly numb or elevate our mood, ruminating thoughts that you can’t seem to shake - all of these are potential manifestations of that craving state.
While you won’t likely experience strong cravings forever, your brain may continue to send these little cues for some time. As we explored earlier, much of habitual alcohol use or addiction is a learned behavior; our brains are trained to repeat adaptive behaviors, and they have mistakenly identified alcohol as helpful for our survival. So when you catch a whiff of red wine and you feel a sudden, strong urge to drink, that’s your brain trying to signal to you that you need that alcohol.
The good news is that we can anticipate many cravings ahead of time, and every time we resist a craving, we take one step closer to unlearning what we have taught our brains to believe about alcohol in the past. Each time we bust a craving, we’ve made a great victory on the winding path of improving our relationship with alcohol. And rather than white-knuckling through a craving, we can build a toolbox of helpful practices to distract and relieve us when we’re in the middle of a strong one. Cravings are always temporary - you can and will get through it. Let’s take a look at some potential tools.
Making the Commitment
You’ve done the T-chart, and you’ve weighed the pros and cons of continuing to drink as you are now, or not. You know that alcohol takes a toll on your physical and emotional health, your finances, your relationships, and your self-worth. If you’ve decided that it’s time to change your relationship with alcohol, read on.
There’s a popular phrase in the alcohol-free community: “Never Question the Decision,” or “NQTD.” In fact, this is such a guiding principle for many that they’ve chosen to have this mantra tattooed on their bodies.
NQTD speaks to the idea of making a decision and committing to it, and can be a powerful tool in our journey to change our relationship with alcohol.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been stuck in this limbo of wondering if the way you drink at present is harming you, deciding it’s fine, then swinging back with the next hangover. We can spend months or years feeling like the way alcohol is showing up in our lives is no longer serving us before we begin to make a change. This is a normal experience, my friend. (Turns out, it’s incredibly difficult to drink an addictive substance “responsibly. Go figure.)
But when we know that reducing our alcohol intake is the best choice for our wellbeing, and we commit to that change without question, it paves a path forward. It takes the mental gymnastics off the table, it frees up our brain power for more important things, and it helps us feel assured in our choice.
We know that the neuroscience of habitual alcohol use is much more complex than just willpower alone, so many of us experience a thousand hangovers before something changes and alcohol begins to show up for us differently. But there’s a substantial mental shift that happens when you commit to making a substantial change, even if it takes some time for our brain chemistry to catch up to our resolve.
We also know that when we begin to question our decision to reduce our drinking, we’re putting ourselves at risk for using alcohol to excess again. When our resolve is shaky, when we start to have a rosy view of drinking again, we’re likely to give it another try. This is why “never question the decision” is so powerful; when we remove the constant weighing of the pros and cons, we’re steady in our decision.
Today, write NQTD down on a few sticky notes to post around your home and work. Commit to this change you’ve chosen for yourself, and let’s get to work.
When You Reduce Your Drinking
When we change our alcohol consumption levels, we are likely to experience both immediate and long-term changes in our bodies. Yesterday we discussed warning signs of withdrawal and protracted withdrawal; please consult a doctor if you think you’re at risk for dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox or a guided tapering plan may be helpful for you as your body adjusts.
Today, let’s check out a couple positive changes you may notice after the first week of more mindful drinking or alcohol cessation. Keep in mind that the degree and immediacy of these improvements will vary person to person, so if you don’t feel them right away, keep at it. (We would be remiss to not note that most of these improvements will happen sooner and to a higher extent with complete cessation of alcohol.) You might also experience something called “the pink cloud,” where everything feels rosey and wonderful almost immediately after decreasing alcohol use. These feelings may cycle, too. Changing our relationship with alcohol is certainly a journey, not an immediate destination.
Possible health improvements after reduction or cessation of alcohol use:
3-7 days: most acute withdrawal symptoms will subside. (If they persist or worsen at this point, contact a medical professional immediately.)
1 week: sleep will likely begin improving. You will likely be able to fall asleep more easily, and your sleep quality improves.
2 weeks: you may begin noticing some weight loss, and the liver has begun repairing itself. (In one study, participants’ liver fat decreases by as much as 20% by the 1-month alcohol-free mark.)
3-4 weeks: blood pressure may begin to improve, and your heart-health is on the up and up. Cholesterol will likely begin improving as well.
1 month: skin and eyes begin to look brighter, less puffy. Any broken blood vessels in the face will begin to heal and lighten.
3 months: your energy will likely have improved substantially, and you may be feeling “back to normal.”
1 year: any symptoms of protracted withdrawal (low energy, cravings, sleep issues) will likely subside. Your body has substantially healed itself from the effects of alcohol.
One thing to keep in mind is the hedonic setpoint we discussed when we learned about dopamine and the brain. It’s possible that in the weeks and months after you decrease your alcohol use, you’ll experience something called “anhedonia.” Anhedonia is a fancy way of saying that we become unable to feel pleasure or enjoyment. This will heal and is not typically permanent -- it is simply our brains readjusting to more natural levels of dopamine. If this anhedonia persists, it may be a symptom of clinical depression. Consult a doctor or therapist if you experience this for a prolonged period.
In addition to the changes above, it is likely that your mental health, immune system, cognition, and memory will begin to slowly improve as you continue to drink at lower levels or abstain entirely. This is a time of healing; we literally heal our brains and our bodies when we change our relationship with alcohol. Be patient with yourself if it feels like you don’t notice much difference right away, and celebrate any small wins as they come.
Making a habit of exercise
How to Establish an Exercise Routine
First, know that you don’t have to do high-intensity workouts to reap the benefits -- start slow if you are new to exercising. (Consider consulting your doctor to get approval, as well.) Take some time to figure out what you enjoy. You don’t have to be a runner if you hate it; going for a walk or trying a gentle yoga class are equally excellent options. When you find something you enjoy, you’re more likely to continue prioritizing it. Here are some additional tips:
Pick easy goals, like 15 minutes of movement a day. Build up as that becomes more habitual.
Track your progress on a calendar or chart, and celebrate (alcohol-free, of course) when you hit your goals.
Find an accountability partner - someone who will join you and help keep you on track.
Join a community - a running club, a fitness studio, an online fitness community. These groups have the added benefit of connection, something that is so helpful in sobriety.
Find a structured program to take the guesswork out of building a workout.
Now let’s get moving! Try 15 minutes of gentle movement today, and let’s add exercise to your alcohol-free toolbox.
Forming Good Habits2
We talked about Atomic Habits by James Clear when we discussed disrupting the habit loop in order to stop a negative habit. He also outlines four key steps to building a positive habit:
Make it obvious
Set out clear intentions using this formula: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION.]” For example, “I will turn on the tea kettle at 8 p.m., after the kids go to bed, in the kitchen.” You can also use a tool called “habit stacking,” which means pairing the desired habit with an existing habit. If you want to learn to take vitamins, pair them with your existing morning cup of coffee. To make your desired habit obvious, make the cues—the triggers for the habit—obvious and in sight. Have your tea on the counter, keep your vitamins by your coffee pot, etc.
Make it attractive
When habit stacking, pair the desired habit with something you already love to do habitually. Find like minded people who participate in the same positive behaviors you want to engage in.
Make it easy
Decrease the number of steps it takes to perform your positive habit, make your home or environment welcoming of the habit, automate habits where you can.
Make it satisfying
Give yourself a positive reward for performing the habit, use a habit tracker to see your progress, don’t miss a habit twice in a row. (Pick it back up if you fail once.)
Other People’s Feelings2
When People Make it About Them
Sometimes when we tell people we’ve cut back on drinking, they’ll turn the focus on how that impacts them. It can be a strange feeling; you’ve told them something incredibly personal about yourself, and suddenly they’ve made your choice about them. Maybe they’ll lament the loss of their “drinking buddy,” or they’ll make a big deal about how weird they feel about being around you if you’re not drinking. If their reaction doesn’t feel supportive to you, you can gently remind them that your choices are for you and you alone. It may just also be helpful to remind ourselves that every person has their own “stuff” and their projection of that onto you doesn’t diminish your path.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to do is to protect your decision to change your relationship with alcohol. If that means addressing their reactions, then feel confident expressing your needs. If that means just understanding that it’s not about you, then release their negative energy and focus on your recovery. You are choosing the best path for you, and that’s the most important thing.