Best of: How to Use Mindfulness to Quit Drinking

October 12, 2022 00:35:11
Best of: How to Use Mindfulness to Quit Drinking
Alcohol Tipping Point
Best of: How to Use Mindfulness to Quit Drinking

Oct 12 2022 | 00:35:11


Hosted By

Deb Masner

Show Notes

I'm re-releasing this best of episode in honor of my new program: Mindful AF

Mindfulness has been so helpful to my continued sobriety I want to share it with you. I'm teaching a version of the mindfulness course I lead at the hospital for healthcare workers.

You can learn more and register here:

About this episode:

Mindfulness Instructor and Counselor Megan O’Laughlin returns to the podcast to talk about using mindfulness to quit drinking. We talk about what mindfulness is (being in the present moment) and isn’t (meditating for hours). Megan also guides us through a useful mindfulness activity to use when you are feeling anxious or craving a drink.



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Episode Transcript

BO Mindfulness and Drinking Hello, everyone. And welcome back to the alcohol tipping podcast. I'm your host Deb Masner registered nurse health coach and alcohol-free bad-ass. And today I'm actually doing a replay of an old episode I did with my friend Meagan O’Laughlin, who is a counselor and a mindfulness teacher. And it's all about how mindfulness can help you change your drinking. And honestly, mindfulness can help you in all different areas of your life. And so I wanted to re air this episode just because I think it is so important. And then also, because I'm going to be. Teaching a new course called mindful AF and that's my play on the a F word, as in mindful as fuck and mindful. Alcohol-free. I have been teaching this course, this version to the health care workers and nurses at the hospital that I work at. And we got this program for the hospital because of course we have a lot of burnout., and a lot of stress and anxiety. Within our workforce. And so we have found that mindfulness and these concepts of mindfulness are just so helpful to still help you navigate life better. , have less anxiety have more resilience and, and just to handle the shitstorm that life can be sometimes right. And so I just wanted to invite you to the course it's called mindful. F, like I said, and you can find it on my website called I'd love to have you join. It's going to be an eight week course. That is starting in November. Everything's going to be recorded. So if you can't do the sessions, that's okay. And I think you will just find it really helpful, especially during the holiday season. Also, there is an early bird discount. So if you register by October 17th, You get reduced pricing on the course. So that's really awesome. So check that out and listen to this episode, replay on mindfulness. Deb: Hello and welcome back to the Alcohol Tipping Point Podcast. I'm your host, Debbie Masner, and today I have my first returning guest. That's how long the podcast has been going, really just a couple months, but today we have Megan o Laughlin again, who is a counselor extraordinaire, and she's also a mindfulness teacher. So thank you Megan, for coming on. , Megan: thank you. It's great to be back and yeah, you've been doing this for a while now. Time flies, huh? Deb: If time flies when you're having fun. Yes. Yeah. So I wanted to have you back on again to talk specifically about mindfulness and how. That can be useful when you're quitting drinking mm-hmm. So, and, and you had mentioned in the podcast episode we first did that when you started practicing mindfulness as well, that kind of led you to reconsider your own drinking habits. So kind of remind us your journey with mindfulness and drinking. Megan: Yeah, I, Yes. I started practicing mindfulness long time ago as it's been like 20 years Wow. Again, time flies. What's happening? And. What, what mindfulness can really help with is that we become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings and our responses to things that happen. So it seemed kind of inevitable that when I started being more mindful, I was recognizing that. I was often drinking at the way to, you know, kind of the usual stuff, like to feel better to escape, you know, difficult situations, to feel more comfortable in social situations, things like that. And with that awareness, you know, it brought up some considerations of like, you know, do I really wanna be doing this? Also more awareness of things I didn't like about drinking. Like kind of, you know, not feeling great the next day, being embarrassed about, you know, behavior while drinking, stuff like that. So I think the two were really connected and I've often wondered like what, and have gotten so into, you know, mindfulness and meditation practice. I can't help but wonder if. Drinking. Now, who knows what life would be like? . Deb: Yeah. So you, you said if you hadn't gotten into mindfulness, you maybe would still be drinking. Is that what you're saying? Megan: I wonder, Yeah. I wonder if I would be because. Without such awareness of myself and how I respond to things, which mindfulness is really helpful for, maybe I would still be in that mode of just kind of like, Yeah, I'm gonna have a drink, or like, I had a hard day, I'm go ahead and drink. Or like I'm in the social situation and everyone else drinking, so I'm just gonna do it too. Yeah. And I didn't really have that space to kind of consider like, why is it worth it to put this to not drinking? Is effort. Right. , It takes effort and consideration to do that. Deb: Yeah. And it, it takes awareness and that's what mindfulness can bring. Totally. Yeah. So, so what, what do you consider mindfulness? Megan: Yeah, I, That's such a good question because it's a big buzzword right now, right? , It's kind of all over the place. Sometimes, sometimes people think that mind means, you know, feeling relaxed or sitting in a quiet room, you know, meditating like, Oh, that kind of thing. And it, it, that can be a way of practicing mindfulness, but really what mind. Is, is just being aware of the present moment and also aware of responses to the present moment. So like awareness of what's happening internally, awareness of what's happening externally. And this thing of like intentionally being aware of the present is a big part of mindfulness cuz our minds tend to kind of go into. Memories and thinking about the past or worrying about the future. So what we're doing with mindfulness is like noticing when the goes away like that and then bringing it back to the present moment. Deb: Yeah. So key I, I mean, how guilty are we all of. Either kind of ruminating on the past or just always thinking of the next thing, the next thing, The next thing. Yeah. Instead of just like enjoying and embracing the moment and not even always enjoying Megan: it. Right. . Yeah. I mean, sometimes the present moment sucks . Sure. Like we can be mindful of that too. You know? Like it it, and that's one thing I often hear from people is, I did this, but like I don't feel better. I don't feel relaxed, I don't feel calm. Like we can be completely mindful in a moment that is really painful, really challenging, difficult in some kind of way. And we can still. You know, rooted with that and grounded with that and present with it. It doesn't necessarily mean that we feel good because we're just simply feel good all the time, like , that that's just not gonna be possible. That's not part of the human experience. Fortunate, right? Yeah. All Deb: feelings are temporary, whether it's joy or sorrow, Megan: right? And that's a cool thing. Having more awareness as we get to see, you know, that ebb and flow of different things that come up and then there's more and more of that like actual experience that this is happening. Now that doesn't mean it's gonna happen forever. Yes, but we're often escaping the present moment and some kind of a way we don't necessarily get that experience of some things showing up and then it gradually going away. Because we're forcing the moment to, like, we're forcing ourselves out of the moment. So we don't really get that experience of like, Oh, it'll come and go like this too shall pass. Deb: Yeah. And, and I think when I had turned to drinking so much for pain and pleasure, right? So to, to numb the pain or to feel pleasure. that when I quit, I, I just felt really emotionally raw because like you said, you're just, you're feeling everything and you have to sit with it for a while, but then your body and your mind starts to relearn, like, Oh, it, it doesn't last. Like I, I can sit with this. It will pass. Megan: Yeah. Do you feel like you're, you're more like resilient and just kind of able to hang with all those difficulties or maybe even have more pleasure because of that? Yeah, Deb: absolutely. I, And it gives you a perspective too, like I've, I've relearned that, that lesson that I kinda already knew, like logically, you know, like, I'm not always gonna feel this. But yeah, the highs are higher and the lows are low, lower, perhaps because you're not numbing it out, but, but then mm-hmm. , everything passes eventually. What do you think? Megan: Yeah. Oh yeah. Same. , same. Yeah. It's like a, a deeper experience with whatever it is, but also, . You know, and I think you're right that like conceptually we all kind of understand that, you know, something happens and it doesn't mean it's going to be like that forever. But emotionally and experie, we might not really get that until that's actually part of what we do and part of our regular experience. . In my therapy work, I'm often doing like exposure based practices, and I think mindfulness is really like, it's a, it's exposure, you know, it's exposure to ourselves, it's exposure to the present and without exposure to things. We, we, we won't really fully believe that things come and go. And it is just a concept. You know, and that can actually be kind of frustrating because then like the national mind is going, like, I know that this isn't always going to be like this. I know that like my fears might not be true. But then the emotional side of things, that's like escape. Escape. You know, like go out the escape hatch, it's like scream. You know, so then the, the experience isn't really lining up that things come and go, and also that we can tolerate it and that we can get through it. Yeah. Tell Deb: me more about that exposure therapy. Do you have a specific example of how you use mindfulness and exposure therapy? Megan: Yeah. I mean, exposure therapy can be done in all sorts of ways. Like I do it a lot with like, like trauma work. I've also done. Like I, I actually have a few like therapy spiders because I've done some work with people who struggle with phobia. So I've done all different kinds of exposure work and mindfulness is a huge part of it because what we're really doing when we're practicing exposure, Anything really is we're preventing that escape. You know, like, like, we're not going to escape this by whatever means we used to use, you know, like leaving the room or letting the mind wander off or checking out in some way. Drinking can be a way that we do it. So then the mindfulness comes in to root us to the present moment of like, what's happening right now, including the mind. Whatever discomfort might be coming up and being able to sit with that and be aware of it. And as we do that, we build our confidence in ourselves to be able to have presence, even when something is really challenging and difficult, rather than kind of going to the estate hatch all the time, which might be the habit that's been built up. Deb: Yeah, I'm, I have seen pictures of your, Do you, what did you call them? Therapy, spiders, , the, Megan: the therapy spiders. At this point they're just like, they're like pets because I'm not doing that anymore cuz everything I do is over zoom now. So I just don't think it would have the same effect of like, check this out like over the screen. But yeah, they just kind of live in the corner of my house now and they're Deb: tarantulas. . Mm-hmm. . And you see, isn't that such a common fear? But it's kind of the same fear feeling to other things we're afraid of. Right. Our other phobias. Hmm. So Megan: interesting. Yeah. Like total side note, it's kind of interesting, but like, you know, kind of these real like primal fears like spiders, snakes. And height, like everyone seems to have one. Like I'm real. I really don't like height. And I kind of did some exposure therapy on myself years ago and I was like, I'm gonna like learn how to downhill ski. And I kind of worked with that for a while and I was like, Okay, I'm good. I'm gonna, I'm gonna do something else with my weekends now. But yeah, a lot of people are like grossed out by spiders. For some people it, it really starts to. Disruption in their lives because they're working so hard to try to avoid being around any spiders. So yeah, that's just one kind of exposure therapy I did. But you know, we all benefit from exposure. I, we've all had that experience of like, I used to avoid this thing and now I actually have been around it more and I feel. They're doing so much work to avoid it. And even just sitting with ourselves in, in mindfulness in some way that that is exposure right there. It's exposure to ourselves. Exposure to discomfort isnt moment, whatever that moment might be bringing up. Deb: Yeah. Let's related to drinking, I. can see how exposing yourself to a situation where you normally would have drank. So like say you're going to a party, but it's your first party that you're not drinking at. You feel anxious, you feel scared, you have fear, right? But then you go to the event. and you successfully do not drink alcohol and then you leave and you're, you know, walking out of the party just feeling that boost of confidence. Megan: Yeah. Like I did it through it and then the next time it might feel a little bit easier, and then the next time even more so, and then after a while, like maybe it even starts to feel in some ways like the new normal. You know, I know when I go to social situations now, it's just kind of, it feels there's still some, and it still feels a little weird to me in some ways, to be honest. But like, you know, people I hang out with, they, they just kind of know. They're like, Hey, do water. Or, like, they know that I'm not, I'm not gonna be drinking. And it's just not a big thing anymore. It definitely used to be. Yeah. So Deb: tell me some specific examples where you could use mindfulness in quitting drinking. So whether you're using it before you go to a party or say you're, you're home after work, it's five o'clock, you're having a craving, mm-hmm. , can you give a few example? . Megan: Yeah, I mean I think that word that you use craving is really key here, is to be really aware of how cravings show up because it's gonna be really different for each person. You know, some people might have like that kind of, it's after work and I wanna relax, sort of craving. For someone else, it might be something that comes up. Situation. So this is kind of the, the leap between, you know, the intention of like, I wanna quit drinking, and then the nitty gritty of like, what is that actually gonna look like? Like how am I actually pulled this off in my day to day life? So I think with mindfulness, you know, first we just have to have that awareness of like, how do my cravings show up? You know, is it like a feeling in my body? You know, like, which maybe. Means that drinking is associated with like an emotion of some kind. You know, like I feel bad and then I wanna drink, or I feel like tired and worn out and I wanna drink. I feel nervous and I wanna drink. Maybe it's situational, you know, maybe it's a certain time of day or like, dang going to a party or something like that. So then that awareness can be really key in recognizing like, oh, like me having an urge to drink. and then the urge doesn't. We can have urges and not act on them. That's actually a really cool thing about applying mindfulness and exposing ourselves to new ways of moving through our lives is like having that urge and even have, I would definitely recommend doing some problem solving about like, What can I do instead? Like if it's an after work thing of you know, drinking to relax, well, what are some other ways to relax so then when a baby comes up, there's like a replacement activity. So you're not just like sitting there, you know, gritting your teeth. Cause that's gonna be really hard, if not Deb: impossible. Yeah, those are, So awareness is key. Being curious like, what mm-hmm. , what am I really feeling? Taking a pause. Yeah. What would be kind of, is that where you would practice mindfulness in the moment? Like, I mean, could you stop, I mean, obviously you could, but I mean, would you recommend like, take five minutes and listen to a guided meditation or. and tell me also, cuz I'm sorry, multiple questions here, but that just made me think so just throw 'em at me, it's fine. Is mindfulness meditation or tell me Megan: about that. Yeah, that's, that's a really good question cuz that's like a common misconception. That mindfulness is like, well, I can't do mindfulness because like there's all stuff going on and you know, my house is loud and I don't like sitting and when I sit like I just get more nervous or something. So, you know, and even in my classes I tell people like, you know, even though I will teach some meditation practices, like it's totally fine to go through discourse and try the sitting meditations and not. There for you. Try the other stuff too, because that is also mindfulness and the whole point here is we wanna find ways that we can practice this. It is a practice, you know, It's not something that we just do once and we're done. It's like a way of moving through life. So meditation is, One way to practice mindfulness, you know where we're sitting and we're intentionally focusing on something. A lot of times with meditation, it's like the breath or mantra or visualization, and you're like sitting for a certain period of time. Mindfulness, you could be mindful when you're doing anything, you know, it could be like mindfully eating, mindfully, walking mindfully, doing a task at work, mindfully being in a conversation. Again, it's. Attunement to the present moment. And, and like then, then noticing when the mind wanders, because it does, all of our minds do that. Sometimes it freaks people out where they're like, My mind is all over the place. Yeah, you're human, You've got a mind. That's what they do. And so noticing when the mind goes off and then bringing it back to the present moment, so it doesn't have to be meditation. And a lot of people are kind of. I've almost heard that it can be triggering this idea that like you have to meditate and if you meditate, like your life is gonna be better. Like, I love meditation. It's a big part of my life. You don't have to do it. And some people don't like it. They don't wanna do it. That's fine. You can still practice mindfulness in all sorts of other ways. Deb: Yeah. So it's more of a, A verb. Yeah. . Good distinction. It is. Okay. So what, So I mean, when you talk about having a craving, being mindful in the movement, noticing it being aware and then having like a replacement activity. It could be a meditation or it could be reading, or it could be going on a walk. Mm. . Megan: Yeah, it really could be anything. There's a skill, I think I saw you, you post it a while ago. It's called the stop skill. Mm-hmm. . This is, this is like a commonly taught mindfulness skill, so a dialectical behavioral therapy skill. And it's really simple and it's meant to be done in the moment, but it's really important cuz it's how we can catch ourselves when we're about to kind of go into. Just kind of like our instinctual behavior. So you kind of, you wanna notice that something is about to happen, so that could be like a craving coming up. And then you, you want, you stop and you can even think of like a stop sign or you know, just actually stopping movements, you know, like holding your body still. If you're opening the fridge to like grab a drink, you know that it's like, stop, you know, just like freeze. And then and then kind of take in what's going on around you. Like, notice what's going on around you. Take a breath, observe. So that's what the o is, it's observe. And then the P is to proceed mindfully. And so that doesn't mean necessarily like, Oh, I'm just gonna go ahead with what I was going to do. Although sometimes that might happen, the idea is like, well, what would proceeding mindfully look like here? So then maybe that is, you know, doing another mindfulness practice, going on a walk, having a, you know, some sparkling water calling a friend. I often recommend that people have kind of like a. A kit. You know, we can call it like a soothing kit or a distress tolerance kit, self care kit, whatever, like a little bag or a little box that you just kind of keep around with you that has like helpful face in it. It could be quotes, it could be things that smell nice. It could be pictures of scenes that are calming or like family members you care about. Things that are going to like really kind of get you back to thinking. Your values and to maybe calm you down if like getting kind of stressed out, part of what can come up with the craving and then that's something concrete that you can do. So it gives you an activity in that moment. Deb: I like that. And it kind of takes it helps you use other senses like, cuz you mentioned something. To look at. So something visual and maybe something to hold. And just like physically go through maybe having something that smells good, just those kinds of things. Is that what you would recommend in the box? Megan: Yeah. Yeah. Tuning into our sensory experiences is a big part of being mindful because when we notice our senses, we're noticing. The information of the present moment. So then we're getting out of the head. You know, we're getting out of all the thoughts and sometimes cravings are really about thoughts, habits, right? I think each of us will kind of notice that different senses might be stronger or even more soothing. Like I have a really strong sense of smell which like is not always great. You know, when things are really smelly, I'm just like, ugh, I wish I couldn't smell that so well. But it also means that if I can have like something that feels really nice, like it can be it. Transform experience just right in that moment. And it can be really soothing and even calming. So like I, I really like, like lavender spray and I even have, I have a bunch of lavender plants out in my garden, so I'll sometimes have those in the house. But other people might really like you know, looking at things that are soothing or even looking just at things that are around in the environ. Because then your mind is now focusing on something else. Our minds can really only focus on one thing at a time. That's part of mindfulness too. So if it's like, Oh, there's a grieving, I notice this is happening. Okay, now let me notice, you know, what I see out the window. Or let me that picture on the wall, or let me notice the coat hanging on a hook. Now the mind is focused on something else and that can actually be pretty helpful. Deb: Yeah, definitely and I, and sometimes I do those things, but without really realizing that I'm doing mindfulness. . Yeah. Megan: That's a big part of like, you know, the, this stuff is not complicated . It's just the doing it that can be challenging and a lot of times when we really start to look at like what mindfulness is, I hear this from a lot where they're like, Oh, I do that and it does help. It's like, Awesome. Now. Now just keep doing it. You're on the right track doing it. Deb: Yeah. . Well, I was hoping you could share a mindfulness activity that listeners could do and then use and practice on their own. Megan: Yeah, I would love to. Yeah. So we're, this is one of my favorites and we were just talking about senses. So this is a practice of. Tuning in to all of senses. So I'll just walk you through it. It just takes a couple minutes. So it's called 5 4, 3, 2, 1. And I just wanna say from the get go, peer this, you wanna do it again? Don't worry so much about the order of all of it. It doesn't have to be done in one certain way. Okay. So we wanna be like in a position of mindfulness, which means ideally sitting. The floor back is nice and long. That just kind of helps facilitate some free and deep breathing, but really, you know, whatever works, just be in a position that works for you. And you could start with tuning into. See, So you'd look around in the space around you right now and just note to yourself five things that you see, and an encouragement here is not to just like, Oh, I see a book, Oh, I see a wall. But to notice it in some way, you know, maybe notice a particular thing about it. So just take full moments to notice five things. Okay, and now we're gonna go to four things that you can feel. So with this, we're using the sense of touch and you can reach out and. Actually make contact with things that are around you that could be like, you know, your clothes, that could be surfaces around you. And when you reach out to feel them, notice what they feel like. What is the texture like? Is it warm? Is it cool? Is it hard? Is it soft? Just notice what each thing feels like and note that to yourself. Now we'll do three things that you can hear. So not necessarily just labeling it like your car, but noticing what the sound is like when it hits your ear. All right, so now we'll do two things. You can smell, so it might just be a smell that's like already there. If you have something around you, like a candle or chapstick, go ahead and pick that up and smell it. Notice what that smell is like. . We can also smell like, sometimes we can smell like laundry detergent on our clothes. And then the last one is taste. So tasting, you know, maybe there's already a taste in the mouth or having a sip of something that's nearby or mint and just observing what that taste is. And now we've noticed all of the senses, which means connecting with how the self is experiencing, you know, the space that, that you're in, and the present moment. And that is the practice of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Deb: I loved it. I, I just feel like I've made. , I don't know. You, you do feel that peace, like, Oh, because I wasn't thinking of anything else. Yeah, I like Megan: that. Yeah. Great. Cause the, Yeah, the, the attention, Yeah, exactly. The attention has shifted away from, you know, the, the worry thoughts that we so often have, or the, you, you and I were talking about cravings, you know, it's like, okay, now let me, let me shift, shift my awareness over to my senses. Deb: Yeah, and, and super quick and mm-hmm. effective. Love it. Great tool. Thank you for guiding that. Megan: Yeah, of course. My pleasure. Deb: Well, what would you recommend if anyone was starting out and wanting to learn more about mindfulness? Megan: Well, there's a lot of great resources out there. There's a lot of books there. Podcast, there's the Insight Timer app. I often recommend, there's tons of practices on there. It's a free app. I actually have a page on there. So even that practice we just did 5 4 3 21 is on there. And it's probably very similar to how I just taught it. So that could be a thing to try, is just to try some different practices. I often think that like our, our tendencies towards like perfectionism and self-judgment can really come out when we're taking on mindfulness practice. Like I'm not doing why is this not different than it is? So I think with that, it's also helpful to maybe do some reading about what exactly we're trying to do in mindfulness so that we can be more gentle with ourselves. So, One of my favorite books about mindfulness, and it was actually the book I read that got me really into it is wherever you go, There You Are by John Kazin. Which is really just like a lot of little like stories and about what it's like to just be mindful of things happening in life and to be in the present moment. It's a really lovely book. Fantastic. Deb: That's great. So how, how can we find you? Megan: You can find me on my website, which is whole heart, So whole heart, and then pnw, like Pacific Northwest. And then I'm also on Instagram, But you can find me on there and I've got lots of stuff posted on there from past times. And it's Megan o Laughlin, p n w. On Instagram. Deb: That's great. Thank you so much, Megan. I've, I really enjoyed this. I've, I, yeah, I love mindfulness. I love learning about it and there's, every time I talk about it, I learn something new and it's simple, like you said, and it just takes practice and grace. Megan: Lots of practice. Lots of grace. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for having me on. I'm just hopping on here to remind you again, if you do want to take a deeper dive into learning about mindfulness, then sign up for the mindful eight F program that I'm teaching that is starting in November. And again, if you register by 10, 17, you get special pricing. You can find that on my website, alcohol to eight F.

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