By The bad habit kicker
I started drinking alcohol on a regular basis when I was fifteen years old. My parents were the kind of middle-class English people who were of the opinion that booze was absolutely fine and by the time I was in the fourth year at school I was considered more than old enough to decide that I wanted to drink openly at home.
I wasn’t getting drunk. I’m talking about a couple of cans of cider on a Friday night which gave me a nice buzz, or a glass or two of wine with dinner if I wanted.
Whether you agree with my parents’ decision or not, the seeds were clearly sown then for me to be someone who knew that alcohol was something that would work as a coping mechanism, as a crutch during times of crisis or emotional difficulty. I knew it made me feel good, that it took my mind away from the relentless bullying I was going through at school, even if I was too young at the time to really feel its negative after-effects.
They saw it as treating me as an adult, as they had since I was probably a bit too young to be thought of as one. But then I’d always been something of an ‘old soul’ with a pretty level head on my shoulders. The kind of kid who always did their homework, who could be relied on to do what you asked of them, who rarely (OK, never) got in trouble at school.
After leaving school I followed the traditional path expected by my parents. I went to college to get my ‘A’ levels, then to university for a degree and launched myself into the world of work as soon as I graduated. I spent six years as a programmer and then retrained and spent the next ten years teaching in schools and colleges in the North of England.
I had a couple of pretty successful long term relationships and intermittently stopped drinking for various reasons, such as between relationships when I was single (and too skint to afford to buy alcohol) or in an effort to be a little healthier and to clarify my thinking. Looking back on it now, I can see that it was during those times that I lost weight without really trying and that my mental health was better as well.
No matter whether I was drinking or not, life, in general, was fine. I always had a job, I wasn’t drinking to excess, I wasn’t having time off work with hangovers and I didn’t have ‘a problem’ as far as I (or anyone else who knew me) was concerned.
And yet, I wasn’t okay. Things were never right. I knew I wanted more out of my life. Ever since I was a child I’d wanted to be a writer, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to be creative consistently – mainly because I was gripped with fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of things changing, you name it, I was scared of it.
Every day followed the same depressing and predictable pattern. I’d intend to write, I’d fail to do it and then I’d get to the end of the day and I’d hate myself. I’d sit on the sofa in front of the TV and listen to the hatred pouring forth from my critical inner voice and I’d end up turning to booze in order to drown my sorrows and to shut the critic up for a while.
The next day, I’d wake up, feeling groggy, and binge eat junk food in an attempt to make myself feel better, which meant that I slowly and steadily put on weight until my early thirties when my gallbladder was fit to burst and I needed an operation.
After that, although the pain in my stomach was gone, drinking any amount of alcohol made me feel even worse – it now also gave me a crashing three-day-long depression.
My life, which seemed perfect to everyone else, was a mess as far as I was concerned. I had potential that I couldn’t live up to. I felt overweight and mentally unwell and I knew in my heart of hearts that it was wrong to me to drink alcohol, but I just could not stop.
This continued, day in and day out until I was forty-three years old. I’d lost my mother to lung cancer three years before, and I knew that my life had to change, that I had to find a way to work towards achieving my dreams before it was too late.
One night I began to wonder, why is it that I’ve fallen into this habit, and yet I’ve avoided others easily?
For example, why have I never ever smoked? I never wanted to smoke and I’d never even tried a cigarette.
I was around cigarettes all the time, growing up. I had friends and relatives who smoked, I was offered cigarettes many many times, and yet I always knew that it was something that I would never ever even consider trying. It simply wasn’t an option. It was non-negotiable.
Why? Why on earth did I feel so vehemently about not smoking, and yet I couldn’t knock the drinking on the head?
After some soul-searching I realised why. It was because my Mum smoked for most of my life – from when she was about fourteen until she was forty.
Over the years, I’d helplessly watched my Mum struggle to give up smoking, and I’d seen her try and fail time and time again to quit. I’d grown to despise the hold that the habit had over her. I was terrified of losing her (as I eventually did, sadly) and I spent most of my childhood desperately wishing that she could find a way to stop, once and for all.
So, my belief that smoking was bad for you had been reinforced with a deep layer of emotion during my formative years and it had been transformed into what Wayne Dyer calls a ‘knowing’; that is, not just an idea handed to you by someone as the truth, but something that you know, deep in your soul because of your experience.
“Beliefs are handed to you. Knowings come from within. This means that a belief has doubt attached to it. A knowing has no doubt because it comes from within, from your direct experience … beliefs will let you down in a crisis. Knowings never let you down. The reason that a belief is something that you cannot rely upon in a crisis is because of the doubt that is attached to it.” – Wayne W. Dyer
I began to wonder, was it possible for me to find a way to do this again? To use the way that I felt about smoking and somehow apply it to my drinking habit?
An idea began to form, which eventually became a technique that I called ‘The Bad Habit Kicker’.
It’s not complicated, and it doesn’t take very long to do. You sit down and identify the habit you’d like to get rid of. Then you visualise what your life will be like in the future, both if you kick the habit and if you don’t.
You create a written representation of both the utopian and dystopian possible realities and you put as much emotion into it as you can into it.
You add photos and you formulate it so that it hits you deep in the emotional core of your being. If it makes you emotional when you read it back, then so much the better…
I created the template and I filled it out for the drinking habit I wanted to beat. I included a photo of my Mum on her death bed (because cancer is cancer, after all, and the medical community’s consensus is that alcohol and being overweight can be a contributory factor in many types of cancers) and I also waxed lyrical about what my life would be like when I stopped drinking. How I’d feel healthier, how I’d lose weight, how I’d be able to be creative and stop spending my days crippled with the fears, doubts and self-loathing that alcohol brings to me.
Finally I added two reminders to my gmail calendar (one in the morning, one in the evening before I went to sleep) to re-read this template and thereby to reinforce its message in my mind. I also made sure that it was in an electronic format that I could easily keep with me (in a notes app on my iPhone), to read if my resolve weakened and I was tempted to have a drink while I was out and about.
I won’t tell you that I never wavered, that it didn’t take effort, that I didn’t have a couple of false starts along the way, but gradually I came to know (not just believe) that alcohol would kill me if I carried on drinking and that my life would be a million times better without it.
Thanks to this technique I now feel about booze the same way that I feel about smoking. That is, that it’s not right for me, and it’s something that I don’t indulge in. I’d never judge anyone for the choices they make in life, but I do know what’s right and wrong for me personally.
I’ve used the technique several times since then to help me get rid of other habits that no longer serve me and I’m pleased to say that with the right application of emotion and the twice-daily reviews to reinforce it, it’s worked every time.
If you’d like to know more about the brain-based explanations for why we can’t shake bad habits and the scientific principles behind The Bad Habit Kicker, the book is available on Amazon worldwide on Kindle and paperback (https://rxe.me/3HYZ2M) or you can download a free template from the website (http://breakthehabit.co) to get you started.
I don’t drink any more and I write every single day. I credit the technique for supporting me so that I could make a permanent change to my habits and I hope that it’ll help as many people as possible to build the life of their dreams!
After all, we all deserve to get everything that we want out of our lives without the immense frustration of being the only person who’s standing in our way, often without understanding why.
If you’d like to connect with me, I’m on social media and I’d love to hear from anyone who has questions:
Lou Lomas – The Bad Habit Kicker