Why I (somewhat) cut back on drinking: a post about mindfulness
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
If you know me and are skeptical of the title, please lower those doubtful eyebrows. Seriously, hear this part-time drunkard out.
For the longest time, I drowned my problems in ethanol. And to be honest, it worked during emergencies…and breakfast, but that's a discussion for another time. It helped temper flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, being too tense to pee (one of the weirder PTSD symptoms), and that horrible, depressed feeling that refuses to go away. But, of course, there are the obvious issues.
Alcoholism is expensive as hell
Unless you can walk or take public transportation, you’re grounded
Being drunk can really annoy you after a while
Being drunk can really annoy others after a while
It gets in the way of your life
Your body starts feeling terrible all the time
The list goes on.
Truth be told, people didn’t even know when I was drunk, but it was started gnawing at me that I was leaning on poison to keep myself together.
Then I discovered mindfulness. What is it, you ask? Mindfulness is total immersion in the moment. I’ll give you an example and you can thank me later. Say you have a delicious sandwich. Instead of chowing down that bad boy while thinking about how emotionally exhausting your day was leading up to lunch or getting sucked into your flashbacks, examine your sandwich. Beautiful, isn’t it? Look at the bread and what’s in between. Pay attention to the way the bread looks. Does it look fresh? Smushed? Is sauce leaking out? Either way, you’re going to look at it, accept what you see, and pick it up. This is where things become exciting. While holding it, smell it. Smell the sandwich and its contents as a complete unit first, then try distinguishing each individual ingredient. And who could forget the best part of sandwiches: the eating. Take a bite, you’ve earned it. This is where you focus on feeling and taste. The second you dig your teeth in, you should examine how it feels. Is the bread crunchy or chewy? With it in your mouth, pay close attention to the different sensations from each ingredient. That means to examine each individual flavor, how everything feels against your teeth and tongue as you chew, and how it feels when you swallow. Listen carefully to the sound of your chewing and how the noise changes slightly as your teeth continuously grind down. If you performed all this correctly, congratulations! You may have just experienced a few minutes free of PTSD symptoms. You can’t be stuck in your own head while basking in an experience. Not only that, but you enjoyed yourself, which is a fantastic bonus.
But wait, there’s more!
Mindfulness has been proven to shrink your amygdala, the bastard part of your brain responsible for your fear. The amygdala tells your whole system that you are in peril, thus causing a steady flow of cortisol, making you tense, stressed, and emotionally dysregulated. In short, mindfulness will combat your fight or flight responses, dissociation, and flashbacks.
The next miracle of mindfulness is what it builds up. It’s been shown that mindfulness causes your prefrontal cortex to grow. The prefrontal cortex is the cool part of your brain responsible for planning, decision making, emotional regulation, short-term memory, and problem-solving. Before mindfulness, I was unable to hold a conversation due to how shot my memory was. Now, not only can I converse without issue, but I can remember it later. Crazy, right?
Back to alcohol. When blotto, mindfulness isn’t fully attainable like it would be with a clear head. You can drink mindfully, but there comes a point where you can’t have both. Which is fine. You can be drunk if you want, I won’t judge. For me, though, mindfulness doesn’t numb the flashbacks like alcohol but staves them off. I’d be an absolute liar if I said that I never drink in order to cope, though I’m not proud to say it. But now I have something else that I prefer. Mindfulness is a practice, and I’m not making perfect yet, but I’ve been trying my darndest because I feel I owe myself a cure rather than a cover-up. And, though I love a good bourbon as much as the next miserable sod, it’s no longer my first line of defense.