Ep. 167: I Stopped Drinking 5 Years Ago with Annie Grace
This is one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had in a long time. If you’re looking for some motivation to give up the nightcap — listen to wife, mom, and corporate executive Annie Grace, founder of the AlcoholExperiment.com, talk about what alcohol actually does to you, on every level. And why she gave up her bottle-of-wine-every-night (or more) habit. On one day for good. It’s a totally different take on our international love affair with wine — than I’ve ever heard before.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Get Annie’s book “This Naked Mind”
Learn more about Annie Grace and The Alcohol Experiment
Sign up for the 30 Day Challenge
EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS WITH ANNIE GRACE:
- [12:22] The Three Outcomes of the 30 Day Challenge. Annie Grace explains how people react to her 30 Day Challenge.
- [15:33] Alcohol and Society. Annie Grace explains what it means to drink socially and the reason alcoholics feel left out.
- [25:59] Insomnia. Annie Grace describes the chemical reasons you wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety
- [33:23] Scratching an Itch. Annie Grace explains why it feels so good to drink.
- [54:47] The Vanity Things. Annie Grace lays out the physical benefits of less alcohol.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Robyn: Hey everyone. It’s Robyn Openshaw. Welcome back to the Vibe show.
I got this connection from my colleague, Chris Wark, who you’ve heard from on the show a couple times. I said, “Hey, who have you interviewed lately that you think is amazing?” He said, “You [should] meet Annie Grace.”
I said, “What’s the topic?” He said, “Alcohol.” What a great idea. Why have I not talked about alcohol? Alcohol is the most vibration lowering substance there is, right? Most of the planet drinks. Let’s talk about that.
I didn’t really know a whole lot about [today’s guest] going into this, but what I learned is that she grew up in a one room log cabin without running water or electricity in Colorado. Somehow she went into marketing.
She got a master’s degree, and she had this rapid rise to success in corporate life. You’ll definitely find her to be really articulate and smart.
She tells her story with alcohol, and it’s really inspiring because in the last five years, she’s never had a drink. You’ll know why that matters when she tells this story.
She talks about alcohol in a way that is really honest and really nonjudgmental, and I think might inspire you to take a completely different look at it. She’s no longer a drinker.
She’s never been happier. She left her executive role to write a book called This Naked Mind. She’s a skier in Colorado. She likes to travel. She’s been to 26 different countries.
She has a beautiful family of two boys and one girl and is married, and she has a 30 Day Challenge that I think would be a great idea for anybody who wants to raise their vibration.
Annie Grace, welcome to the Vibe show.
Annie Grace: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Robyn: We’re talking about alcohol today, and this is a subject that I really haven’t talked about on this show before. This is going to be very, very interesting because the vast majority of Americans drink alcohol, even most of Europe. It’s a tradition. An evening without a glass of wine or a martini is unthinkable.
Tell us how alcohol, alcohol addiction, alcoholism, binge drinking have become your career. How’d you get here?
Annie Grace: Yeah, absolutely. It was really interesting because I didn’t drink in high school or college. It wasn’t on my mind for me. It was a take it or leave it thing. I can probably count the times that I drank on one hand in college.
I got married, and I moved to New York City, and I remember so vividly week one on the job being asked out to happy hour. I went out, and they’re like, “What are you drinking?”
Annie Grace: I was like, “I don’t know. Because of Sex in the City, I’ll order a cosmopolitan.” I didn’t even know what to order. I remember [the cosmopolitan] was $25 and [the price was] insane.
Who does this? Right? I just decided I wasn’t going to go out to happy hour that much. I was like, “The price doesn’t make any sense.”
Fast forward about eight months, and I’d gotten promoted a few times, and I was now working for a company that was headquartered in London and big bosses were coming over.
My boss came up to me [and] said, “Annie, why aren’t you showing up a happy hour? What’s the deal?” I was like, “Oh, I don’t really drink.”
He [said], “Oh no, no, that’s not what it’s about. It’s like the golf course. It’s where the deals are done. It’s where your ideas are showcased. You got to come.”
I didn’t have a cautionary tale around alcohol. To be fair, I think society doesn’t have a cautionary tale about alcohol.
We are going in with [the mindset of], “It must be good for us. I’ve seen an article. It’s good for my heart. It helps me live longer. Drinking moderation is healthy!” All this stuff.
I went into it, and I drank a glass of wine and had a method — a glass of wine, a glass of water, a glass of wine, a glass of water. I remember being so worried about being tipsy.
If I felt like I was getting too tipsy or I was going to say something silly in front of my colleagues or coworkers — who are all older than me and mostly men — I would go and throw up the last glass of wine just so I could keep drinking more wine. It was crazy.
Fast forward a decade, I’m global head of marketing. I’m in charge of 22 countries. I’m traveling internationally twice a month, and I’m drinking close to two bottles of wine a night. There was no moment in time where it changed or shifted.
I’ve since learned some of the like makeup of alcohol and what it does in the brain. It’s a pretty simple explanation what happened to me.
We don’t approach alcohol with caution in our society. It took a decade, right? Over time I found myself in a place where I didn’t identify as an alcoholic, but I certainly was in pain about it.
In fact, I realized that the question I’d been asking myself was like, “Oh my gosh, do I have a problem? Am I an alcoholic?”
I realized that question was keeping me really stuck because the answer to it was either no — which was not stressful, but kept me drinking — or yes — which was so stressful and had me question my drinking.
Because I was stuck and I didn’t understand why, [I] kept drinking again to deal with the stress of the very question.
I lingered there for years and years until one day I just started asking myself a better question. It all started from there. The question I started asking myself was, “What changed? What’s different?”
Instead of saying “What’s wrong with me,” I started saying, “What is the deal with this substance?” When I was in college, it wasn’t even a blip on my radar.
I could not drink for a day. I wasn’t going to go into delirium tremens or anything like that, but if I did [not drink], I would have a mental issue. I’d be sad. I’d feel sorry for myself if I had to be the designated driver. I was like, “Aw man, bummer. Okay. I guess it won’t be that fun tonight.” Why is it different?
That really launched me on years worth of research where I discovered so many things about what we think alcohol does for us and what it really does for us.
The truth of the matter at its heart, Robyn, is that as human beings, we do the things that we feel like doing. In your work people need to ultimately feel like putting better food into their body.
If they feel sorry for themselves when they’re making all these positive health choices it’s not going to last. If they can change their mindset and feel really good about it and see the benefits, then it’s going to last.
I thought [alcohol] relieves my stress and then came to realize alcohol actually increases the cortisol release in your body. I thought it was making me happier. [I came] to realize that actually alcohol numbs your pleasure response to everyday stimuli and all of these things.
I was like, “Wow, I don’t feel like drinking. I walked out of my office about a year later, and I told my husband, “I don’t think I’m going to drink anymore. If you want to get drunk with me, tonight’s the night because I think I’m done.” He didn’t believe me. We split a bottle of wine and that was pretty much it.
I mean I’ve had a few sips here and there, but it’s been almost five years. I just don’t drink. I’ve ever said I’m never going to drink again or I can never drink again.
It’s really like I drink as much as I want whenever I want. Because of what I’ve learned, I just haven’t wanted to have a drink. I think that type of change is so different.
I took that and all my research and I put it out on the internet in this really dirty PDF full of typos and said, “Here, world. I know we need this.” [I] just found a webpage to post it on for free. [I] just wanted to get it out there.
20,000 people downloaded it in two weeks, and from there it really took a life of its own. I figured out how to self-publish.
[The book] was initially self-published then it sold so many copies it went to auction with all the top five publishers. [The book] ended up [being] traditionally publishing with Penguin Random House.
[I then] wrote another book [and] started a podcast. I know you know the drill, and it just has taken a life of its own from there.
Robyn: Fascinating. Well it was our mutual friend, Chris Wark, who connected us. Your trajectory reminds me of his in the sense that he l beat cancer, then he put up this little website, and then it went crazy. Now his whole life is talking about cancer all the time.
I’ve never asked him this. It’s been on my mind lately like, “Hey, Chris, do you ever get sick of talking about cancer? Do you want your life to be completely cancer free as well as your body?”
It makes me wonder too about you. You haven’t taken a drink in five years, and now your career has been helping people not drink.
I know you have a 30 Day Challenge. We’ll talk about that at the end. I think it’s such a great thing for people to not drink for 30 days.
I told you that my boyfriend, John, and I are on a year of no sugar. I’ve done it before, but he hasn’t. I keep telling him, “I’m so proud of you for doing this.”
He eats a lot of sugar. He eats sugar every day and eats crappy sugar. If they’re at work and there’s donuts, they’ll eat the doughnuts.
I just wouldn’t do that. If I do eat sugar, it [won’t] be every day. It’ll be some chocolate covered almonds from bulk foods that the health food stores [have]. I don’t need this super crappy sugar. He does. I already challenged that because I went a year without sugar.
I don’t like cruises, but there’s this cruise line that I’ve been [thinking that] we should go on one of the cruises. I look at it, and I talk about it all the time. I have been for years. [I texted him and said,] “Hey, what if at the end of this year we went on a cruise to Australia or whatever.”
He literally texted me yesterday and he said, “I don’t want to do it because we’re off of sugar, and I don’t want to go on a cruise where I can’t eat the desserts and treats.”
I was like, “Okay, but give it a couple of months, and see if you still feel that way.” My whole point when I went completely off of sugar for a year was that I’m completely happy without sugar.
My happiness is not dependent on whether I get to eat sugar today or this year. I had to let go of that. I’m not having sugar this entire year, which might as well be never. Right?
I’m not having to struggle with the sugar thing, but alcohol is the same thing. Alcohol does the same thing, but worse in the liver and to the body. It ages you faster than sugar ever could. What are people learning when they go 30 days off of alcohol?
If I do 30 days off, I’ll call. What would make me go back to it? If I’m the average person drinking alcohol, will I have confronted all of my reasons why I [drink] and let go of them? What happens in that 30 days?
30 Days of no Alcohol
Annie Grace: It’s such a phenomenal question. I really think that you can go about any break from anything, two different ways. You can have this willpower approach where you’re like, I’m just not going to do this because I know it’s bad for me. I’m just going to make it happen.
Then you try to ignore it and you’re like, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to think about it. I’m trying to push it away. When people do a 30 day break like that from alcohol, two things are the outcomes [for] the majority of cases.
There are some cases where people realize that they can’t actually take a 30 day break. I think that’s beautiful. If you try to take a 30 day break and realize that you’re really challenged, it’s a huge signal to say, “Wait a second, maybe I need more help here.”
What’s beautiful about that is that especially with alcohol, the train only goes one way. Your body is constantly becoming more and more tolerant to the drinks that you’re taking. I know that’s not a positive message, but it’s chemically true.
You’re building a tolerance, and you’ll need more over time. It’s not going to spontaneously fix itself. That awareness is huge.
First outcome, people realize they can’t do it. Second outcome is people do it, but they’re not really happy about it because the whole time they’ve been like, “Okay, I’m just doing this to prove to myself I can.”
They get done with it, and it’s almost like the forbidden fruit syndrome where they’d been on an alcohol diet for 30 days more or less. You have almost a diet mentality rather than a “What am I going to gain here?” mentality.
Then the third outcome is really that you say, Okay good. I did that. I’ve shown myself I don’t have a problem, and now I’m going to be able to carry on.
I tell all that from my own experience. I did all of those things. What I really wanted to create was a 30 Day Challenge.
That changed the mindset because — like I said earlier — we do things we want to do and we feel like doing long term. Yes, you wake up with your baby in the middle of the night and not feel like doing it or you go to the dentist.
For long term habits to stick, we actually have to change how we feel about doing that thing. If we can feel like, “Oh, I really feel like an ice tea instead of a drink,” that is a place of true freedom.
I find it funny that you brought this whole conversation up with that question for Chris about cancer — “Do you want your life to be cancer free?”
That was one of the reasons that for me AA wasn’t an option because I want alcohol to be small and irrelevant. I want freedom from it. I don’t want it to be that I’m actually having to go to meetings every day to talk about the thing I’m no longer doing.
I don’t want to have brain power allocated to alcohol. Now, obviously I do it for work, but it’s such a different dynamic that. This is really about helping people and awakening people to some of the truths about alcohol. It has nothing to do with my own sort of struggle anymore.
I don’t mind at all that it’s in my life. From a perspective of dwelling every day in a meeting about the fact I didn’t drink, that sounded really, really miserable to me.
Sugar is such a phenomenal example of this — the key is to try to understand what beliefs that you hold that are keeping the desire alive.
With alcohol, I believe that the sky was blue, that alcohol relaxed me, that I needed it to network. I needed it to have sex and loosen up. I needed it to enjoy myself at a party and have a good time.
I believed these things. I couldn’t even see they were beliefs. Right. I think sugar is a great example because we have these underlying beliefs about sugar that we don’t realize.
I’ll give you a really tangible example. You walk through the bakery at the grocery store and you see all of these beautifully decorated cakes and cupcakes and frosting.
Most people are not tempted to just stop and open the box of cupcakes or put them in their cart because you haven’t done that at the grocery store. You haven’t created that habit or neural connection. There’s no meaning there.
Whereas if you’re at a birthday party, and the cake is brought out, it’s hard for me to say no to a piece of cake. The cakes at the grocery store, there are so many more. They’re so much prettier. There’s tons more abundance, but I don’t even crave it.
What have I made a piece of cake at a birthday party mean? There’s an underlining meaning of celebration — of being part of the tribe — of not feeling left out.
We think it’s just craving the sugar. I’m craving the cake. If the meaning of tribal connection — of being part of things — of celebrating — of I deserve it, was no longer there, you wouldn’t be craving the cake, which is mind-blowing.
My work is really about digging into the beliefs that we have both conscious and subconscious beliefs about alcohol so that when we let go of it, it’s so free. You killed the desire. You don’t want to. Alcohol becomes as attractive as a glass of motor oil.
Of course it’s easy not to drink it. I’ve gone to multiple all-inclusives now, not drinking alcohol. The only thing that annoys me is I feel like they should have a deal. [Laughter]
Robyn: You’re overpaying. You’re totally overpaying if you go to an all-inclusive and don’t drink.
Annie Grace: I’m still not tempted to drink. I just feel like they should give me a nondrinker discount.
Robyn: Oh, you’ve said so much here. Way back at the beginning you said, “We don’t approach alcohol with caution in our society.” That really hit me hard, Annie, because I come from an alcoholic grandfather — may he rest in peace.
[He and] his fifth wife, also an alcoholic, came together in trauma. His first wife, my grandmother, had killed herself. Her son had killed himself. They were drowning sorrows. They came together in alcoholism and chain smoking.
At some point, right about my age — somewhere around 52-ish — they both gave it up, and they both never smoked, never drank again. He died in his nineties.
I don’t think he would’ve lived to his nineties had he not given those two things up. [My grandfather] died a long time ago. My kids never knew him.
My parents, my then-husband, and I [did not] drank alcohol. My kids have nothing, no reference point. They don’t know. They didn’t know anybody who drinks.
Now my kids are all doing their own thing, and they all went away to college. They left this very conservative town where nobody drinks. They have no reference point.
One thing that was really disturbing to me is that I have multiple people close to me who drink a bottle of wine a night or more.
I can think of five who have told me, “I drink a bottle of wine tonight or more” including someone very, very famous. They compare themselves to the physical dependency, alcoholic.
You said the word delirium tremens, and I actually don’t know that word, but I’m assuming you mean the people who are physically dependent. They have to drink 24 hours a day, and if they don’t then they get the shakes.
My boyfriend has a friend of a friend, and we’ve probably hung out with him five or six times. I’ve been around him, and he literally has a water bottle full of vodka at all times. He drinks 24 hours a day.
He wakes up during the night and drinks vodka. If he doesn’t, he goes into the shakes. Is that what delirium tremens is?
Annie Grace: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what it is. Yeah.
Robyn: There’s plenty of people who are assuaging their guilt or their worry about their drinking by saying, “I don’t have that. I cannot drink all day.”
People do the same thing with food. It’s like, “I eat healthy because I eat healthier than my neighbor. I eat healthy because I don’t ever go to a fast food drive through.” That’s not at all. Those aren’t good reference points. It’s all relative to you.
You decided that you drank too much, and you decided that it had too much charge and too much meaning. You just wanted to stop.
You touched on some things that are the reasons people drink. I want you to talk more about that because people don’t talk about [the reasons people drink]. People have to confront [those reasons] when they don’t drink for 30 days, let alone give it up permanently.
The sex isn’t as good. You said they think that. I think a lot of people think, “I’ll be bored at the party. I can’t remember the last time I went to a party without drinking.”
Talk more about that because that almost shocked me that you said all that stuff. That’s exactly what people think, and nobody talks about it.
Annie Grace: Yeah, absolutely. Before I get into that, I just want to touch on something you said that was so fascinating. It’s this idea [that] we compare ourselves to the fringe.
The reality is, according to The Center for Disease Control, 90% of excessive drinkers — people who are drinking in excess — are not chemically dependent.
When we say, “I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not on the fringe,” that has nothing to do with how good or bad or healthy alcohol is or isn’t for you.
One of the things that I’m so passionate about is we have to change this conversation. Right now, it’s this black or white narrative — do you have a problem with it or you don’t? We don’t treat anything else like that.
Society’s Stigma on Alcohol
We can cut down on lots of other things. If you talk about cutting down on sugar, fine. No problem. You talked about cutting down on alcohol bruise. Oh my gosh, are you sure? Do you have a problem? What’s happening? What’s wrong? Do you need support?
It’s a very stigmatized thing. I think that the shift here is that alcohol needs to become a wellness conversation.
We need to be having this conversation alongside all of the other conversations that we’re beautifully starting to have as a society about taking care of our health, about meditation, about all of these other amazing things.
We’ve limited this conversation to either I’m out an alcoholic and then I have to change or I’m a normal drinker and then I’m fine. That term “alcoholic” keeps people stuck because I know it kept me stuck.
I was asking that question, “Am I an alcoholic?” If the answer is no, meaning I don’t have to carry vodka in my water bottle and I can still take a 30 day break here and there, then there’s no reason to even look at it or no reason to change.
I think we need to ask a better question, which is “Would I be a bit happier? Should I at least do I owe it to myself to learn about the substance that I’m putting into my body more than anything else in quantity?” Right?
Just to dive into that specifically, we think that alcohol loosens us up, right? Everybody says that. It’s the thing that it just makes you. You just feel more in the now. You feel all of these things. What alcohol actually does in the brain is it slows down your synapse. It means that you take longer to think.
Now, if you’ve been thinking all day, and you had not done any work on your thinking, and those thoughts are mostly negative and mostly stressful, and then you have a drink and those thoughts are suddenly slowed down, that feels really good in the moment.
Alcohol as a Depressant
Here’s the kicker. Alcohol is a stimulant and a depressant. It stimulates you for 20 minutes. It feels good. You feel the edge coming off — the euphoric feeling. You have this 20 minutes of stimulant, but that’s when your blood alcohol is rising.
Your BAC or Blood Alcohol Content is rising 20 to 30 minutes. It plateaus, and it starts to fall. That’s when alcohol becomes a depressant. That’s 20 to 30 minutes after your first drink — the feeling of your blood alcohol falling.
You’re anxious. You’re uneasy. You’re not quite comfortable. You feel tired. You feel just on edge. Now we don’t associate that with the drink we just took, because that drink made us feel good.
Our brains say, “We need another drink. You can see this in people’s drinking patterns. They probably order another drink every 20 minutes or so. The problem is that the stimulant is 20 to 30 minutes.
The kicker is that the depressant aspect of it — your blood alcohol content — [is] falling two to three hours per drink. In that time, when it’s a depressant, your body releases cortisol. It releases adrenaline. It actually stresses you out more.
They did these phenomenal studies. One was on mice, and they basically gave mice normal amounts of alcohol as if they were little mice drinkers. They put them through stressful situations, and over time their ability to handle the natural stresses that came into their life was diminished especially when they were drinking.
In the moment, [alcohol] totally tricks us. I mean, it tricks us. It goes directly into your bloodstream, into your brain. It feels very quickly. It only lasts a very short amount of time, and it induces us to drink that next drink.
When we’re thinking about something like lowering inhibition like, “It makes me more me.” I remember saying, “Oh my gosh, I don’t trust people who don’t drink.” [Laughter] So funny in hindsight.
The thing is, it doesn’t actually make you more you, which is the common thing that we believe. It actually just makes you more primal because it turns off your prefrontal cortex or the higher self or the higher human part of your brain. It damages that over time.
Drinking damages that part of your brain, which means the more you drank, the harder it is to make good decisions around alcohol. It also damages it in the very short term, which means as soon as you have one drink, your prefrontal cortex is impaired.
It makes you myopic. It makes you unable to think about the consequences of the next drink or the consequences of texting the ex-boyfriend or the consequences of having just one more because your prefrontal cortex shuts off.
It literally is like, “Okay, higher self, turn you off. Let’s just let the part of ourselves that isn’t fully conscious and human in control.”
Robyn: Fascinating. Why does the drinker wake up at 2:00 AM and can’t go back to sleep?
Annie Grace: It’s this release of carbohydrates. I mean alcohol has lots of carbohydrates. It’s metabolized very similar to sugar. It’s not actually sugar. Alcohol doesn’t contain sugar — pure alcohol — the mixers certainly do. It’s metabolized very similarly.
It can turn off your conscious brain — slow it down to the point where you almost basically pass out. Then the release of all of it and the anxiety and the adrenaline that ends up being released has you wide awake in the middle of the night.
Not only are you feeling all the effects of coming off the alcohol when you drink daily, you are going through alcohol withdrawals daily, and they’re not like delirium tremens or hallucinations.
They are that negative, nasty anxiety inducing feeling that you’re feeling daily. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to sleep through it, but we all know that sometimes we’re not, and then boom, we’re awake — we’re adrenalized — we’re hyper anxious.
We are wondering what’s wrong with us and what’s wrong in the world. I know for me, I would have that almost nightly. The craziest part is, as humans, if we don’t think there’s a solution or we don’t think there’s an answer, we don’t feel capable of it.
I didn’t feel capable of just drinking less because I’d tried that numerous times. I know I’m drinking too much. I’m just going to have a few less drinks. I’m just going to set myself these rules.
The problem with rules is that once you have one drink, you don’t have the wherewithal or the consciousness of mind, the prefrontal cortex to keep these rules. You end up breaking these promises to yourself.
You end up living in this place of broken promises, tons of self-loathing, middle of the night anxiety. The best solution to that in the short term feels like drinking.
That’s compounded with the fact that alcohol itself is like literally addicted to the human brain. That’s not just addictive to brains that are of this certain fraction of our population that we call alcoholics. That term isn’t even medically or scientifically recognized anymore.
[Alcohol is] addicted to the brain because it over releases and artificially stimulates dopamine. Dopamine is the thing that says, “That thing you just did, do that thing again.”
Dopamine comes from target practice because we needed to know how to do that back in the day to hunt. Dopamine comes from sex because obviously procreation. Dopamine comes from finding raspberries if you were a caveman and stuff like that. It says, “Oh, do that thing again.”
By the way, high fructose corn syrup, Instagram, first person shooter video games, all of these things release dopamine at artificially high levels, which means the brain releases it at a level that a natural stimulation, not a manmade stimulation.
A stipulation created for a profit would release it. The brain says, “That thing. Do that again.” Why? For survival. For humans, that craving of I need a drink at 5:00 p.m. we’re like, “It’s no big deal.”
The truth neurochemically is that it is a big deal. You say no to that drink at 5:00 PM. The truth is a lot of us haven’t. We haven’t tried to go 30 days. We haven’t tried to go one day.
You say no to that, and you start to see the power of that craving. It’s not your fault. It’s because you’re made up of blood, flesh and bone. It’s because, as a human, your brain reacts.
It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s learned how to survive based on the mechanism of dopamine. In this case, it’s just erroneously learned that alcohol is the key for survival.
Robyn: So interesting. Chris Wark often says, “99% is hard, 100% easy.” That’s the approach I’ve taken with this 2020 zero sugar thing that John and I are doing. If I’m allowed to have sugar now and then, then I’m going to constantly have this debate going on in my head whether I’m going to have the sugar.
I love your example of how I never put the cupcakes in my basket at the store, ever, ever, ever, ever. Never would I walk past all the bakery stuff and put it in my cart. If I’m at a party for some reason, it’s this whole anguish and this ridiculous thing.
This is what I’ve been trying to tell John. We decided we’re not having any sugar. If someone’s offering a sugar or there’s something that we like at this restaurant or whatever, as soon as we have the thought, we go, “Oh yeah. I’m not having that debate.”
That’s not a thing here. Then you might have a second of torment or feeling sorry for yourself or whatever. That’s about it because the decision was already made a long time ago.
I think alcohol is probably same thing. We actually had a debate of whether we were going to 100% give up sugar or alcohol this year, and one of those was easier for one of us, and the other one was easier for the other of us. Very similar. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about what it means.
I think you already covered it. I don’t care if you said the exact same thing again. I think the things that are coming out of your mouth are so important. You can literally just say it again.
This show is about how to live in the higher Vibrations. How about the fact that if you drink alcohol — even if you’re not hung over, even if you didn’t have much to drink — categorically, you wake up the next morning, and you don’t want to do your day.
You don’t want to get up and slay the dragon and solve the problems and be the loving spouse. Everything feels overwhelming the next morning when you drank alcohol the night before, even if you weren’t drunk. Talk about that a little bit.
Alcohol Stops Bodily Functions
Annie Grace: It’s incredibly fascinating. The body sees alcohol as a toxin. I know that’s not good news and nobody wants to hear it and all that sort of stuff. The thing that gets us drunk is ethanol.
Ethanol is also the thing that goes in your gas tank, and ethanol is an alcohol. It’s the mechanism of what makes us feel the certain way and so the body says, “Oh my gosh, this is a toxin.” It sees it as such an intense toxin that it actually shuts down other processes in the body in order to eliminate the alcohol faster.
Your body will stop digesting food. It’s really interesting because you know those — probably not you Robyn — 2:00 a.m. Taco Bell runs that people did in college. I certainly did. You’ve been drinking all night, and you feel so hungry.
You’re like, “I ate dinner, but I’m so hungry at 2:00 a.m.” The truth is that your body just has not had a chance to digest and process and nourish itself from the dinner you ate because it stops all processes in order to just eliminate the alcohol.
If you’ve been drinking all night, you feel starving at 2:00 a.m. because the food is just sitting there, and it does that with all sorts of other stuff.
Because [your body] has to exert so much effort and energy just detoxifying from alcohol, you don’t feel like doing anything else. That’s not even to talk about what I did talk about before, which is this idea that as alcohol leaves your system, those withdrawal symptoms that you’re going through feel nasty.
You feel anxious and uneasy. You feel let down, and we don’t connect it. At least I didn’t. I would wake up in the morning feeling hung over and like life sucks. Why am I so tired? My second thought was probably like, “How long til 5:00 p.m.? When can I get a drink?”
We don’t think. The truth is that a lot of the pleasure of a drink when you’re drinking on a regular basis is because it’s scratching the itch of withdrawal. It’s making that withdrawal symptom numb, and you’re going through withdrawal every single day.
Even if you just have one drink of alcohol, your body has to go through the entire process of getting it out of your system. Tolerance is actually your body just getting more and more efficient at getting it out of your system so you feel drinks less.
Why? Because your body says, “Oh no, here we go again. Let me get this out of your system as quickly as possible.” You have less time that the things that produced the actual feelings of drinking exist.
Whereas when I first drink one beer, I’d feel it for two or three hours and be like, “Oh my gosh, wow.” By the time I was done drinking, I could drink close to two bottles of wine a night and never even really feel drunk.
I remember having that experience of like, “Gosh, I don’t even feel it. What am I doing?” You want to do it because you crave it because that survival mechanism of dopamine has kicked in. It seems like if you don’t [keep drinking], your whole life is going to fall apart.
On one hand I was so sure that alcohol was the duct tape that was keeping my entire life together. It was basically like the dynamite that was exploding it all at the seams.
I couldn’t see that because in the short term, all I knew was that you have that drink at 5:00 p.m., and you feel better for the first time all day.
It’s scratching an itch. The thing about an itch is that if you had taken a break from alcohol, say you’re 30 days alcohol free, and you’d have that drink, it doesn’t feel nearly as good. Why? Because you’re not itchy. It does not feel good to scratch an itch you don’t have.
I think that’s just one of these mechanisms. The thing that really compounded it for me, personally, is look at all the time I was spending thinking about what I was going to drink, spending time drinking, what I was drinking.
Spending time recovering from drinking what I was drinking, spending time, feeling hung over, spending time, feeling tired, spending time, feeling anxious, spending a lot of mental energy.
It was taking up so much of my life. It’s something that people that have gone through my alcohol experiment, which is a 30 Day Challenge, say over and over again. They’re like, “What do I do with all this time?”
I know people who have started new areas of their business and grown their business to $1 million in three months just because they have time to do it. Multiple people have written books. I mean, it’s incredible how much time it takes up that we lose to that whole cycle. We’re not even conscious of it.
Robyn: Yeah, that’s so true. I remember saying this many, many years ago about the family that I was married into it felt like. They had been over a hundred pounds overweight for so long that they forgot what life was like when they could move freely.
They didn’t realize anymore — because too much time had passed — what they gave up. There’s no, there’s no hiking. There’s no pushing the stroller with the little kids in it.
One by one, we lose those things, and then we forget how much better life was when we had no limitations on our physical abilities. I think drinking is the same way.
We slowly get used to the fact that mornings are a struggle and that anxiety is a constant companion in our day. Everything feels insurmountable starting Monday morning or whatever it is.
I just felt like when Chris told me that he had met you and that you are really incredible to have a conversation with about alcohol, I was like, “I have to do the alcohol thing because there’s nothing that’s more low vibration than the day after you drink alcohol.”
You think that you’re chatty and bubbly and more loving and more expressive. When you remove that frontal lobe, that long-term reasoning, I think that’s a thing that we like.
Talk about that. The thing that we like about drinking is [the loss of] those social boundaries. We’re more likely to hug someone. We’re more likely to express love.
I mean there’s the people who get mean when they’re drinking, but I think they’re a pretty small minority. Others are just like, “I really like how I am socially.”
Can people tap into that? What’s going on there in the brain that makes them more likely to express love and have those boundaries in their mind come down? Am I even expressing that well?
Annie Grace: Absolutely. That’s such a great question. It’s really twofold. Just to touch on that aspect of the prefrontal cortex. Imagine you’re going through a day, right?
We all have thoughts, and most of our thoughts repeat themselves from the day before. I think that we can very intentionally, over time, become aware of our thinking, and change our thinking. I think that that raises our vibration in such a powerful and incredible way.
Most people haven’t taken that step into conscious living. By conscious living, I mean conscious of what I’m thinking, taking full responsibility of what I’m thinking.
[Conscious living is] realizing that it’s not my circumstances that are going to make me happy or not happy. It’s my inside life, my thought life that is going to make or break out my emotions are.
I can speak from my own experience; I hadn’t done that. I had never done that. I was just chasing the dream of, “When I get married I’ll be happy. When I have a kid I’ll be happy. When I have that house I’ll be happy. When I have a career, I’ll be happy.”
Then all of a sudden there was beautiful home in Colorado, two kids, handsome husband, really lucrative senior management job. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m not happy. What?”
I had to go through that like, “Okay, why am I not “? A lot of it was just the thoughts that were repeating themselves. We have thought loops. We have thought patterns. Alcohol takes that and makes it go away.
You walk into a party — to give you a very tangible example. You have some thoughts that are like, “Everybody’s looking at me. What are they going to think? Maybe they don’t like this. Maybe I’m not welcome.”
Your thoughts are running rampant, and you’ve never done the work to change your thinking so I’m walking into a party and having thoughts like, “How can I get to know somebody? I’m so curious about the people here. How can I show up for these people?”
Those thoughts give you a whole different experience of any party — drinking or not drinking. You walk into a party, and you have all those thoughts. You have a drink. Alcohol by definition numbs your brain.
It makes your thoughts slower so all of a sudden you have relief from those thoughts. There you are. All those thoughts have gone away. The thing, is those thoughts can go away just by becoming really conscious of them.
Now there’s another aspect that is even more telling. I am actually very excited [to be] working with a research team in a university in Australia right now about researching this.
My thesis is — I believe that this is true with the thousands of people I’ve talked to — that there is a humongous placebo effect happening here. Here’s why.
I had the experience of feeling stressed after a long day walking out of my office, and I got really mindful about my drinking.
“What does it really doing for me? How is this really feeling? Do I really want this drink? Am I just drinking this because someone put it into my hand? How am I feeling five minutes into it? Is it a really good feeling?”
[I was] asking myself those questions, going deep into the experience, getting curious about it to say, “Is this actually fun?”
In doing that, I remember I would walk out of my office every single day. I would pour myself a glass of wine and I felt relief. The craziest part is I either felt relief right at taking that first step before it even gotten into my bloodstream or I felt relief at pouring it.
I see it over and over where now that I don’t drink, I walk into a party and I’m ready to crack the inappropriate jokes. I’m ready to have the fun. I’m ready to go because I don’t have that “I need a few drinks.”
That belief by itself can keep you stuck. I walk into a party, and people are all subdued. Finally, the alcohol gets flowing and now you turn everybody on. Sometimes they get like that before they even drink the alcohol.
It’s such a mental crutch that we think, “If I have a drink in my hand, then I’m that person. Without a drink in my hand, I’m this person.”
Believe it or not, there’s just this huge placebo effect of this very deep seated belief that alcohol helps me socialize. What my best advice for anybody who’s deciding to put that to the test — I’m all about put it to the test in your own life.
Experiment on your own experiences. Get mindful in your own life. See what’s true for you. Go to a party, make the decision ahead of time that you’re not going to drink, go to somewhere that makes you a little bit uncomfortable about the idea of not drinking.
Don’t go into it with expectations of having a nasty time. That was always my expectation. I always thought, “I’m going to go into that party and if I’m not drinking, it’s just going to be miserable.”
Let go of those expectations. Replace them with this total curiosity. “I’m literally the observer of my experience tonight. I’m going to walk in here, and I’m just going to be curious. How do I feel?”
Maybe you’re going to feel like crap. Maybe you’re going to feel amazing, but when you let go of all the expectations that it’s going to suck — we have this thought, “If I’m not drinking, I’m not going to be fun” — we open up this huge possibility.
“I might actually be fun,” or “If I’m not drinking, I’m not going to have fun.” Those thoughts are a huge part of what keep us stuck.
If we decide we’re going to have a bad time, if we tell our brain it’s not going to be fun, it won’t be fun. What we tell ourselves is so incredibly powerful. There’s a whole aspect.
Alcohol’s Numbing Effects
The third part about it I’ll say because it’s worth saying. The mechanism of alcohol is that it overstimulates — for that short period of time — the pleasure centers in our brain. Not only does it overstimulate dopamine production, but it overstimulates the nucleus accumbens and the parts of the brain that register pleasure.
Again, it does it for a very short period of time before it turns on itself and it starts feeling bad. If you get really drunk, that’s where you can see where you can get into the weepy drunk or the angry drunk once you’re really drunk.
Initially if you keep very slowly raising the blood alcohol content, you continue to feel that more positive feelings. The problem is that because it’s overstimulating, your brain responds to maintain homeostasis.
It’s so desperate — your brain and body to maintain homeostasis — to keep itself balanced. Your brain will actually respond by counter releasing a chemical called CREB, which produces a chemical called dynorphins.
What dynorphin does is it turns down the pleasure of your receiving. This is another aspect of tolerance. It means that you need to drink more in order to receive the same amount of pleasure for one drink.
The problem is that dynorphin, because it’s natural to the body unlike alcohol, the body’s like, “Okay, job one is getting it out. We’re going to shut down other systems to purge the alcohol.”
Dynorphin’s natural to the body, so dynorphin stays in your system. All of the sudden the things that used to be fun aren’t fun anymore without a drink. That’s neurochemical. That’s why a 30 day break is so amazing because it gives your brain the time to rebalance itself.
You can be like, “Oh my gosh. Going to a sporting event is actually fun. Going to a concert is actually fun.” If you’ve been doing it for so long, you basically have this base level you’re wading through of dynorphins in your brain.
I like to think of dynorphins as like the opposite of endorphin. It’s the downer chemical instead of the upper chemical, and you have it in there.
Things that are going to release endorphins aren’t going to feel as good. By drinking on a regular basis, [you] are numbing your brain’s ability to feel pleasure from all the things that used to give you pleasure.
[That] is one of the reasons it’s so insidious and you can quickly go from having a drink on occasion to having a drink every single night.
Robyn: Yeah, it’s amazing when you think of it that way. Tragic that that people lose their ability to enjoy the things they used to do before they drank because they start to associate it with drinking.
“I used to enjoy traveling, but now as soon as I sit down on the airplane, I get a drink” or “I used to enjoy going to a concert and then I started drinking at concerts. Now I can’t imagine the concert being fun if I don’t have alcohol,” and that whole thought process.
What’s really exciting is that you’re telling me that people can change those thought patterns and get back to where they enjoy sex without alcohol. They enjoy going to a party even if it’s with people they don’t know without alcohol. You’ve done that, right?
I’m going to ask you about that. I saw a YouTube little documentary. I think it’s about 45 minutes or something. [The documentary is] by Elizabeth Vargas. Have you seen that, Annie?
Annie Grace: It’s on my list. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard of it for sure.
Robyn: Yeah, for some reason Youtube showed it to me. Elizabeth Vargas is a very well known anchor woman. She’s a TV journalist or whatever. If you see her, you’ll know exactly who she is. She’s maybe not as famous as Diane Sawyer, but next tier.
It’s actually Diane Sawyer who interviews her, and this whole thing is about her new book that she just released. Diane Sawyer asks her at one point in this interview where we learn about how (just like you, Annie) she had this career that was on the rise.
She was working super hard. She got married. She had a couple little kids. She drank socially, and it was never a problem.
Then somewhere she started to realize,” Hey, drinking is a problem for me.” They even show on this this little documentary her bottoming out period or her low point.
She was on vacation somewhere, and a film crew needed to come interview her for a story she’d been working on, but she hadn’t been planning on it. The network reached out to her, and they’re like, “Hey, we need to come.”
I want to say it was like nine in the morning, but she’s on vacation. They actually showed audio clips of her inability to string a sentence together. That’s where you realize it.
You look at her and she looks good. I mean she’s fit and thin and not what you think of when you think of someone who’s constantly drunk. She got to the point where she was like a bottle of wine sometimes two before going to bed.
Diane actually asked her at one point in the documentary, “Hey, you’re only two years sober. Are you sure that this is a success? You sure you’re ready to put a pin in this right now? You’re pretty young in your journey.”
I thought [asking those questions] was quite brave of Diane Sawyer. Elizabeth Vargas was surprisingly not defensive about it.
You’re five years in, and I bet there’s more to the story that you started with. I always start with my story in bullet points.
You told your husband, “We’re going to get drunk tonight. This is going to be the last time,” and you haven’t had another drink since.
I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that. Did he support you? Did he like social drinking too? Maybe he just didn’t feel like he had a problem with it. What was that like?
I want you to go into what’s to be gained. You’ve touched on a lot of things, but what’s the last five years been like for you compared to before? Do you miss drinking? Are you ever tempted?
What can you tell people about that? Because I think it’ll make a lot of people want to try your 30 Day Challenge.
Annie Grace: Yeah, it’s such a good question. It’s interesting because I don’t look at this like I’m about to fall off a cliff if I have a drink. I think that’s something that’s pretty unique about me because I know that people look at like, “I’m in long-term recovery. I’m a long-term sobriety.”
When I’m on TV or something, I’m like, “Yeah, I drink whatever I want whenever I want. I just haven’t wanted to drink.” I think that’s that sort of the crux of it.
One of the reasons that that’s true for me is because I know that the brain, if you say, “I’m never going to do something again,” it immediately like freaks out.
What if you’re 90, what if you’re 95. You have want to have champagne at your granddaughter’s wedding and you’re 95 years old. I don’t want any of that. I just want to make a conscious decision in the day.
I did have one really unique detail that I think is worth sharing about that story. My husband did support me a few years later. He did very naturally just stop drinking. He didn’t really drink all that much anyway. He’d read the book and he went through it.
I’d be like, “Hey, do you want me to order your drink?” He would say, “Nah, I’m good.” Finally he’s like, “I haven’t had a drink in two years now.” I was like, “Oh that’s cool.” It was a very organic thing.
I asked him, “Why don’t you drink anymore?” He said, “I cannot see the point. I just can’t see any point.” When you become mindful about it, you’re like, “Huh, it doesn’t do what I thought it was doing.” It’s hard to justify doing it anymore which is really interesting.
I think it was like 45 days, maybe two months after. I was starting to have the moment that a lot of people have, which is like, “Huh, maybe I made too big of a deal out of this. Maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe alcohol is fine.”
All my friends still like it, and all my friends are still drinking. I remember it was Saint Patrick’s Day, and everybody was drinking and I was like, “It seems like no big deal.”
What I’m going to do is I’m going to go and get drunk in front of my iPhone camera and videotape myself. I’m going to tell myself exactly how it feels, and I’m going to see exactly what I’m missing. What’s good about it, what do I enjoy, what’s not good about it?
I did that, and I mean I couldn’t even watch the videos for years because I knew that I went from someone who’s this happy, present, fun, loving person to just this grumpy [person].
I thought the things I was saying was funny, but they weren’t funny. You can see it in my eyes. I knew there was nothing left for me there.
I’m not even tempted anymore because I just remember that and the positive sides. I was like, “I feel like the edges of the room are a bit fuzzier. It feels like things are a bit pillowier, a little bit softer.”
There was nothing that was like, “Oh yeah, this is fun.” I had done it in a very conscious way where I separated it from all other experiences that might’ve been fun.
I think what you said is spot on. We create associations with going to a concert or being at a wedding or being out. We tie up alcohol with our most favorite things to do.
You look at kids, right? They’re at a birthday party, they’re going crazy. They might need a little bit to loosen up and see who’s who and find out who they’re going to hang out with. Then they’re off and they’re running and they’re screaming and they’re just having such a great time. No alcohol included.
You look at a high school locker room after winning a big game. They’re so happy and excited, they don’t need alcohol. Then we decided alcohol needs to be part of all of these fun things, and we create this association.
Then of course it goes further than that because the brain can make it so that things aren’t as fun without alcohol, as I was describing before. Suddenly we’re in this situation where we think we need alcohol to have fun.
I will tell you that one of the most beautiful moments is I thought that I needed alcohol to be creative and to network well. I was head of marketing, so it was a lot of partnerships and closing deals and trade shows and stuff like that.
I was so sure that alcohol was like the key to my success in my corporate life. I stopped drinking. I still was traveling internationally.
I went to Brazil without drinking. I went to the UK. I went to Amsterdam. I went to Paris. I went to Australia. All of these trips [I was] sober.
To realize that when I let go of the belief that alcohol was needed, I got curious. Is it needed? I got to realize that I’m fun and life is fun and I’m good at my job and I’m creative. None of those things were actually coming from the bottle.
I think there’s few things more empowering. Realizing that all the things that you had been giving alcohol the credit for actually are within you to begin with.
Then there’s all the vanity things. I lost 13 pounds in 30 days just by giving up alcohol, not by making any more changes. When I first started on this journey, my skin got so much clearer.
People say, I look better now than I did 10 years ago. My face and my eyes are more clear. There’s less puffiness, less redness. I feel so much clearer and never have regrets about what I’m going to say or do.
I think that because that whole dynorphin is gone completely, I find myself like laughing — like the snort milk out of your nose type laughing — on a much more regular basis.
The Difficulties in Breaking Away from Alcohol
I will caveat that to say that to live without alcohol is to say when things are hard, I’m not numbing it. It’s amazing because not numbing it is a gift within itself. You have to actually go and say, “Okay, things are hard. I need to lean into this. I need to fix this. I need to solve it.”
I like to say that alcohol is like a band-aid that you put on a wound. You don’t actually heal the wounds. You just put this band-aid [on] and create this place [that is] dark and warm, and it festers.
You drink and deal with whatever stress you’re dealing with, but you don’t address it. Right? It is intense. You’re going to live with all of your emotions wide open. You’re going to live how we were intended to live without numbing our brain.
It is intense, but it’s also such a gift because I really believe that our emotions are our guide, and they can alert us to when something’s just not right.
I mean it’s amazing and people can stay in whether it’s a job that they know is sucking their soul or even a relationship or whatever it is.
In situations and circumstances, you add on the numbing effect of alcohol and you can tolerate so much more than you deserve really. I think that’s a brutal but beautiful side effect of taking a break.
Robyn: Oh, that’s so hopeful and so, so exciting. I think it’s the perfect time to ask you to tell us about your 30 Day Challenge. How do you support people in it? Is there a community where people support each other?
Is there a Facebook page? Give us the web address for it, and just tell my listeners where they can learn more about what you’re doing.
Annie Grace: Awesome. It is alcoholexperiment.com, and it’s an off Facebook community. It is a community. There’s 100,000 people so far. Every day you receive an email and a video from me. It’s really all about shifting the mindset.
You go in there, you choose your start date. It doesn’t have to be the day you sign up for an account. You can go in there and get familiar with the whole thing, and then you choose your start date. That will kick off a series of 30 emails and videos.
There’s a private journaling area, and then there’s lots of comments and conversations on all the videos that are connecting with other people.
Instead of by day 15 you’re like, “Yes, I made it halfway through. I can’t wait to get done with this.” It’s really by day 15 you’re like, “Wow, this is cool. I feel so much better than I’ve been feeling. Maybe I’ll even go longer”
It just opens up a whole new realm of possibility because it really exposes a lot of things and challenges your thinking.
Robyn: Well, I have a feeling that some of my listeners are going to find this a total godsend, whether they’re struggling themselves or someone close to them is.
I have a feeling this is going to be one of the most shared episodes because we all know someone who’s struggling.
I’m really grateful for this conversation and how honest you are about your own journey. I think that we all learn from the wounded healer better than any academic expert.
Thank you for your work and thank you for this very honest conversation.
Annie Grace: Thank you so much for having me, Robyn. It’s really been a joy.
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