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Take a Break

Episode #347

Revisiting: Why Alcohol and Food Aren’t Your Friends

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Tuesday’s Episode

When you get in the habit of relying on a drink or overeating to make you feel better, your brain can get confused and start to see alcohol and food as friends.

It is both common and normal to feel like you are losing a friend, when you take a break from drinking.

This week, learn why alcohol and food aren’t your friends, the exact reason your brain tricks you into believing they are, and 5 important qualities you need to examine in your relationship with alcohol and food.

What You’ll Discover

How to establish if you are tricking yourself into believing alcohol and food are your friend.

An important quality that you likely think is a weakness but is actually a strength.

The void you are seeking to fill with alcohol and why it will never work.

Featured on the show

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You are listening to the Take a Break podcast with Rachel Hart, Episode 347.

Whether you want to drink less or stop drinking, this podcast will help you change the habit from the inside out. We’re challenging conventional wisdom about why people drink and why it can be hard to resist temptation. No labels, no judgment, just practical tools to take control of your desire and stop worrying about your drinking. Now, here’s your host, Rachel Hart.

Hey, everybody, we’re going to revisit a topic today that I’ve just been working with people a ton on lately, which is, why, when you’re taking a break from drinking, it can sometimes feel like you’re losing a friend. Now, before you think to yourself, “Oh, no, no, that’s not me” … Because I think we so often have this stereotype that this could only happen if you’re a really heavy drinker.

But in my experience, that’s not the case at all. Feeling like you’re kind of losing a friend when you take a break from drinking, is not only really common, it’s really normal. You can get in the habit of relying on a drink to make you feel better when you’ve had a bad day, or turning to a drink to help make things more fun or have a good time.

And so, it makes sense that when you do that, over and over, your brain can get confused and start to see alcohol as a friend. In this episode, I cover the five qualities that I actually think make for a good friend. It’s worthwhile examining these qualities in regards to your relationship with alcohol. But also, taking a step back and considering these qualities when it comes to all of the relationships in your life, including the relationship you have with yourself.

So, have a listen. This episode is not an indictment against drinking. It’s not about, if you can relate, you really have a problem. I think it’s really much more of an education in what we’re all looking for in life. Which is, how to identify and seek out relationships that truly sustain us. All right, enjoy.

I was in Connecticut with my family, and we had a real white Christmas, truly. I woke up Christmas morning, I looked outside, and it was snowing. Everything was blanketed in white, and the world was so peaceful and still. It was like I immediately turned into a six-year-old, and I shook my husband awake to tell him, “Honey, we have a white Christmas. It’s a white Christmas!” He was like, “Okay, great, I’ll look outside later.”

But I was very happy. It was a great holiday. But I’ll tell you, before we were in New England, we actually spent a week in New York City. Which I loved, because it’s my old hometown and I have so many people there that I love, and I miss. And so, I tried to cram in seeing as many of my friends as possible.

Now, one of these people, one of my friends, is a woman named Suzie. I will tell you, she is the very first friend that I made when I moved to New York City after college. We actually met at work, and it was one of those things where something just clicked. We became friends right away. For a couple years, in our mid-20s, Suzie and I actually lived just a block away from each other in Brooklyn.

Which, in your 20s, in Brooklyn, it was great to have your best friend right around the corner from you. So, I’ll tell you, Suzie is also one of those friends who has seen me at my best, but also my worst. She was there all throughout my 20s when I was getting drunk. I was being really reckless. I was making stupid decisions.

You know what? I actually think it’s really good to have people like that in your life. Sometimes we go through a really big transformation, like deciding we want to take a break from drinking and just really change the decisions that we’re making, and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to wipe the slate clean and pretend that all that messy stuff before, that didn’t exist.

But you know, I think it’s really important to have people who know the whole you, right? All the messes, they know everything. Because all of us, we’re all a mix of both. We are a mix of the dark and the light. And so, having someone that fully knows that and sees the real, authentic you, I just don’t think that there’s really anything better than that.

I’m telling you about Suzie because last year we made a New Year’s resolution together. We decided that we would start sending each other post cards in the mail. So, despite how close we are… As we grew up, our lives started to take different directions, and so staying in touch became more and more difficult, especially once I moved all the way across the country.

You have those moments, and I’m sure a lot of you can relate, where you just think, “I really need to pick up the phone. I really need to catch up with this friend” or, “I just have to write an email. I really need to send an email.” But so much has happened, right? Where do I even begin? How do I even do a proper update?

We were both feeling this way, so we settled on sending post cards. Now listen, I love sending post cards, but more importantly, I love getting post cards. I love walking downstairs, checking the mail, and seeing something that’s just for me; that’s not a bill, it’s not a solicitation, right? Getting an unexpected note from someone that you love is wonderful. I have a little burst of joy every time I go down, check the mail, and see a post card from Suzie.

She kicked off last year with the first post card. Then, when I would receive one from her, I would sit down a couple days later and write one back. We probably exchanged one or two post cards every month for all of 2017. I’ll tell you, if you want to do this, if you plan ahead, it is super easy to do. You can buy these boxes of 50 or 100 post cards on Amazon, so that you always have one at the ready. You don’t have to go looking and hunting and searching for a post card.

Then, all you need to do is have a couple books of stamps on hand. It’s so simple once you have the supplies at your fingertips. Really, a post card, the space on it, it’s pretty small, so it’s not that daunting to fill out a little blurb about what’s happening in your life. But it brings so much pleasure to the person that you send it to.

So, why am I telling you all about post cards, other than I think everyone should send post cards? Because I want to talk to you today about what makes for a good friend. I’ve had a couple people that I’ve been working with recently who are working on trying to take a break from drinking. They’re saying that saying no to alcohol, saying no to a drink, is like losing a good friend.

The first time that I heard that, I was like, “Wow, hold on here. Let’s not just accept this thought at face value. The idea that alcohol is a good friend and that taking a break is like losing that friend. Let’s really question this.” I’ll tell you this, for those of my listeners who are also working on stopping overeating, what I’m going to be talking about today, you can apply all of these concepts to food as well.

In fact, I think it’s incredibly common that people often tell themselves that a drink or a bowl of ice cream is like a friend. So first, let’s talk about what a friend is. What is a friend? A friend is simply a person whom you know, and with whom you have a bond of mutual affection. I really want you to pay attention to one word in there that’s very important. Mutual.

Mutual affection; the bond of mutual affection goes two ways, right? Think about the post cards that I exchanged with Suzie. We are both exchanging them. The bond of affection we have for each other is mutual. Now, when you tell yourself that alcohol or food is your friend, you’re telling yourself, “Well, it never lets me down and it comforts me and it’s always there for me at the end of a long day.”

But here’s the truth, neither alcohol nor food care one iota about you. They are terrible friends. There is no bond of mutual affection. Now, you may have affection for alcohol and food, but they don’t have any affection for you. They just sit there. They are inanimate.

If somebody else walked by, if someone came over to you and picked up your glass of wine or grabbed that bag of chips out of your hand, and ate it before you could, the wine and the chips would not protest. They wouldn’t care. They are just sitting there waiting to be consumed by anyone; you just happen to be the person consuming them. Really think about that. Alcohol and food do not care about you, at all. They just sit there.

So, why is it then, that we trick ourselves into believing that alcohol and food are our friends? I think that there are actually a couple reasons why we do this. Now, the first is because we so often turn to a drink or turn to food for comfort. So, when you’re experiencing a negative emotion, and that can be stress or anxiety, insecurity, loneliness, boredom, frustration.

Whatever it is, when you are experiencing a negative emotion, you get into the habit of turning to a drink or turning to something to eat as a way to feel better, right? It becomes a habit without even really realizing it. I mean, I will tell you that I had no idea that I was really doing this, when this habit started for me.

The habit started, especially with food, I mean, that habit started for me probably when I was 10 or 11. That’s when that habit really started for me. With drinking, it started when I was 17. But I got into the habit of turning to alcohol and food as a way to change how I was feeling. Because of course, you can drink something or eat something, and it will give you an influx of dopamine and momentarily change how you feel.

It also pulls energy away from your nervous system. Your nervous system is where you’re experiencing the emotions. But all of a sudden, your body has to turn to digestion, it has to turn to removing alcohol, dealing with that. And so, it’s a way to numb how we feel.

Of course, you know, if you’ve been listening to the podcast, this is not a sustainable solution, right? Turning to alcohol and food over and over and over again does two things. One, it just makes you more dependent on having a drink or eating something as a way to deal with a negative emotion.

And because it is numbing you, it is just covering up how you’re feeling. You’re never able to look at the root cause of what’s going on. And of course, the root cause of any negative emotion, if you remember the think-feel-act cycle, is always what you’re thinking. So, that’s the first reason. We fool ourselves into believing that alcohol and food are our friends because we so often turn to alcohol and food for comfort.

But there is another reason why this happens, and I think this one is really important. The reason why we start to believe alcohol and food are our friends is because turning to alcohol and food requires zero vulnerability. Now, I know a lot of you out there, when you hear the word “vulnerability,” you think that it means weakness.

But vulnerability really isn’t about weakness. Vulnerability is that moment when you are experiencing risk, you are experiencing uncertainty, you are experiencing exposure, right? That’s the moment of vulnerability. It’s not about weakness.

It’s the moment when you reach out and say, “I really need a hug right now.” “I really need a shoulder to cry on.” “I just need someone to listen to the day that I had.” “I just need a space where I can be 100% myself, and be honest and truthful about what I’m going through.” Those are moments when are experiencing vulnerability when you ask for something from someone.

The reason why this is a vulnerable moment is because you don’t know if they’re going to say yes. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re asking for something that you don’t know you will get in return. You’re also saying, “Hey, I’m feeling really negative right now. I’m having a lot of negative emotions.” You’re exposing a part of yourself.

When you ask for a friend, it requires that you are okay with being vulnerable. But when you, instead of asking for support from a friend, turn to something to drink or something to eat, you don’t have to risk any vulnerability. There’s no uncertainty. There’s no exposure. There’s no risk when you pour yourself a glass of wine or you reach into the fridge and grab some food. You get to bypass vulnerability.

So, these are the two reasons why I think we really fool ourselves and we trick our brains into believing that alcohol and food are our friends. Because we so often turn to both of them for comfort, we get into this habit of using them to deal with our negative emotions.

And because it’s so easy to do, it doesn’t require any vulnerability. It doesn’t require any risk. It doesn’t require any uncertainty, any exposure. Food and alcohol are never going to say no. They’re never going to say, “No, you can’t eat me. “No, you can’t drink me,” right? They’re just there for the taking. They’re waiting to be consumed.

So, what’s happening is that you’re fooling yourself into believing that what you have is a friend. When in reality, what you have is a substance that will help you numb how you feel and give your brain an influx of dopamine.

Now, you’ve heard me talk a lot about how alcohol will give your brain an influx of dopamine, but the same is true for certain kinds of food. Generally, these are foods that provide our brain with a big reward, right? They’re very processed, they may be very sugary.

I want you to think about this with food. No one has ever said, to my knowledge, “Listen, cabbage is just my friend. I feel like if I’m not eating cabbage, I’m losing a friend,” right? Nobody says that with cabbage because cabbage isn’t giving your brain an influx of dopamine. You’re not getting a big reward.

When we’re talking about how food is a friend, we’re often talking about chocolate and ice cream; things that are high in fat and high in sugar. Those are the ones that people talk about, “Oh, yeah, food is my friend.” That’s why it’s so easy to fool yourselves into believing that alcohol and food are your friends, when really, they are not. They just sit there; they are just waiting to be consumed. They do not care about you.

But the next question for you to consider is this, if the qualities of numbing how you feel and requiring zero risk, zero uncertainty, zero exposure, are not the signs of friendship, then what are the signs of friendship? I’ve talked about this bond of mutual affection, but there is more to that. What are the qualities that make for a friend, other than that bond of mutual affection?

I think that there are five qualities. Now, I’m going to ask you a little bit later for you to come up with your own list, so you may have more to add or ones that you would change. But these are the five qualities that I think are really important in a friend.

A friend will push you to be kinder to yourself. Now, this one is so huge. You hear me talk all the time about how your self-talk, your internal dialogue is so important. That is one of the cornerstones of understanding the think-feel-act cycle. You have to understand, and you have to be aware of the thoughts that you are thinking about yourself all day long.

So, when I work with people to do this work and they start to notice the language that they use to talk to themselves, usually, they realize very quickly that they would never ever use the same language with a friend. They would never say, “You’re such a screw up. You’re a failure. You’re not good enough. You’re ugly. You’re worthless. You’re lazy.” This is so important.

Think about the language that a friend uses with you. They are using language that is all about kindness and compassion and acceptance, right? When we see a friend modelling that language, it helps us see that we can change how we talk to ourselves. So, in a way, a good friend really pushes us to be kinder to ourselves.

Alcohol and food cannot do these things. They cannot teach you how to be kinder or more compassionate or more accepting. The only thing that they can teach you is how to hide. How to cover up how you feel. How to zone out, how to tune out, how to go unconscious. That’s the only thing that alcohol and food can teach you.

Second, friends will call you out when you’re in the wrong. They’re not scared to tell you the truth, no matter how difficult it may be. I actually think about this one a lot. The people in my life, and there aren’t really that many of them, who I can count on to say, “Rachel, you’ve really got this wrong. You’re not correct. You’re making a mistake here.”

Those people, they’re really few and far between. I really treasure that. That’s a really important quality, I think, to have in a friend. I also think back, in all of the time, from 17 onwards, when I was trying to figure out my drinking and struggling with it and just so frustrated, I only ever had one friend pull me aside and say, “You know what? I’m kind of worried about you.” I really only ever had one.

I think about that, and I don’t think that’s because I didn’t have a lot of people who cared about me. Actually, I think it was the opposite. I think I had a lot of people who cared about me, but I do think about how scary and difficult it must have been for that friend to really tell me the truth.

But it was so important for me to hear. It really was an incredibly difficult thing to hear. But a really important thing to have another person say, “I’m kind of worried about you. I’m worried about what you’re doing.” So, friends call us out. They’re not scared to tell us the truth, even when it’s difficult.

The third quality, friends support us through adversity because they are able to be fully present, and they are really listening. Now, think about this one. To be truly present, and to really listen to someone else, you have to be conscious. You have to be fully there. You cannot be zoned out. You cannot be buzzed. You have to be fully in yourself.

Of course, drinking makes you go unconscious. When you’re thinking, “I feel like I’m losing my friend if I take a break from drinking,” drinking is not, alcohol is not, helping you be fully present. It is not listening to you. All it is doing is making you go unconscious. It is tuning you out. It is tuning out how you feel. It is tuning out your thinking. It’s doing the opposite of tuning in.

I think that, really, when you consider what is needed, what kind of support you need when you are going through adversity, it is the ability for someone to be present with you. They don’t have to fix it, they don’t have to solve it, they just need to be there with you. They just need to be able to really listen. So, that’s the third quality.

The fourth quality is that a friend really accepts the other just as they are, without any conditions. Because of this, you’re able to feel comfortable with them the same way that you can feel comfortable by yourself. This one’s so important. I think of my friend Suzie, and she’s really such a perfect example.

We are so comfortable with each other that there’s no pretense. We can just pick up right where we left off, even if we haven’t seen each other in maybe even a year. We’re just able to pick up because there’s no pretense. We accept each other as we are. We don’t have conditions on how each other should be acting. We just accept each other fully.

Again, alcohol and food, they’re not accepting you. They can’t accept you; they can’t do anything. They can just sit there. That’s all they do.

Finally, the fifth quality is that a friend really shows you how to be a better person. They help you grow. I think that the reason why this happens is because they are making space for compassion and kindness and acceptance.

They are making space for you to be imperfect, for you to make mistakes. And if you can show up as your real, authentic self, flaws and all, mistakes and all, imperfections, and all, in front of one person, it helps you practice showing up that way more often.

These are the five qualities that I really think about when I think of what I’m looking for in a friend: Kindness, truth telling, being present, acceptance, and growth. So, consider those, and then consider how you show up when you are drinking to numb how you feel. Or when you’re just drinking more than you want. Or how you are showing up when you’re eating way more than you want, or eating the things that you don’t want to be eating.

I’ll tell you how I show up in those moments. I show up disconnected from my body, disconnected from my emotions, and from my consciousness. I am less conscious of my surroundings and my social cues.

I think a lot about how, when I was drinking, I was really loud. I thought I was really funny; much funnier than I really was. And when I was overeating, I was just zoning out. I was spacing out. I wasn’t connecting to my surroundings. I wasn’t connecting to what was happening around me. I was trying to go to a place of unconsciousness.

I also think that, especially when I was drinking, how I was showing up in those moments, I was blabbing secrets. I was saying things the next day that I wish I could take back. I would write emails or send text messages that I would think about in the morning and just wonder what ever came over me. I was slurring, I was stumbling, I was repeating myself.

Often, I was feeling physically sick. That might be that kind of immediate post-wine headache that sometimes I used to get, or waking up in the middle of the night with a sour stomach, or waking up the next morning feeling so hungover.

The same is true when you think about the physical side effects for food. I think when I’m eating my “friend” – such a weird thing to say – I would often end up uncomfortably full, really feeling kind of physically sick. So, this is how I was showing up when I was thinking, “Alcohol and food, they’re my friends.”

I’ve got to tell you, if that’s the way you show up, that’s a really crappy friend. They don’t have any of those five qualities that I talked about. There’s no mutual bond of affection. There is just me wanting to tune out, me wanting to disconnect.

Think about this for yourself. How are you showing up when you are drinking more than you want? When you are eating more than you want? When you are using both alcohol and food as a way to change how you feel, a way to comfort yourself?

A way to trick your brain into thinking that it’s getting support, when in reality all you’re doing is not having to have any vulnerability? You’re not having to risk anything or be uncertain or wonder if the drink or the bag of chips is going to say no. Because, of course, it’ll never say anything.

Here’s what I want you to consider this week. If taking a break from drinking feels like you’re losing a friend, then I want you to ask yourself if what you’re really in need of is an actual friend. Now, that may mean an actual other person, or it may mean starting to learn how to be a friend to yourself.

A big place to start is paying attention to that self-talk. Paying attention to your internal dialogue; how you talk about yourself, how you talk about whatever you’re struggling with. And paying attention to whether or not that is the language you would ever expect a friend to use with you, or the language you would use with a friend.

If you discover that, “Actually, I might be just in need of an actual friend,” you can start by making a list of people that you might reach out to. It doesn’t have to be reaching out and saying, “Hey, I’m thinking about taking a break from drinking.” It just can be reaching out when you’re feeling a negative emotion, or when you’re feeling stressed. It can be as simple as a text message.

So, you can start there, or you can really start by considering your self-talk. Considering how a friend would talk to you about what you’re struggling with right now. Would they tell you, “You know, you’re kind of a screw up, pretty broken, worthless, lazy, undisciplined, hopeless?” Or would they be offering compassion and kindness? If you aren’t ready to reach out to another person, you can at least start practicing talking to yourself like a friend.

I want you to also ask yourself what you want in a friendship. This can be a friendship with another person, or it can be a friendship with yourself. Because, yes, you can have a friendship with yourself. You can have affection for yourself.

I’ve given you a list of qualities to consider, but put together your own list. What’s important to you? What do you think is worthwhile or important when it comes to a friendship? Then ask yourself: Is a drink or food giving me any of these things?

I want you to really, really consider this one, because I will tell you this, alcohol and food don’t care about you. You may care about them, but there is no mutual bond of affection. The affection only goes one way. They’re just sitting there waiting to be consumed.

Alright, that’s all for today. I will see everyone next week.


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