Day 26 – Rolling with ambivalence

Ambivalent

We have devoted quite a lot of the Sober Sprint / MOB content to topics that would help you navigate a month off alcohol and cope with the immediate present – dealing with difficult people, identifying your possible pitfalls, making plans and coping strategies, overcoming negative or illogical thinking.

Hopefully these topics have helped you during the Sober Sprint / MOB, and you might find it worthwhile to revisit them again in future. Remember, you can access the Sober Sprint / MOB content FOREVER 🙂  

More recently we have been introducing broader topics – motivation, confidence, strengths – to help you reflect upon what you have achieved so far, and start to think about and commit to future changes to your drinking, if that’s what you want.

Ambivalence

It is quite common for people to hold two opposing views about changing their behaviour (also known as ambivalence). For instance, even people who really do believe it would be positive, healthy, and necessary to lose some weight, are also likely to hold some other views that it is difficult to stick to a diet, would involve denying themselves things they like, would take a long time, be a lot of effort… etc.

You might be holding similarly conflicting views about your drinking beyond the Sober Sprint / MOB. There are certainly plenty of benefits to staying stopped, or cutting back (recent news articles like this one reinforce that), and hopefully you have already experienced some of those during the Sober Sprint / MOB. But there are probably also some things that you think you enjoy about drinking or will miss if you choose a lifestyle that does not include as much or any alcohol.

Similarly, staying stopped or cutting down can bring with it some challenges and it won’t always be easy or plain sailing, but on the other hand, reverting back to your pre-Sober Sprint / MOB drinking levels also brings with it potential negative consequences and risks (some of which possibly motivated you to do a Sober Sprint / MOB in the first place).

Motivational Interviewing

One of the psychological interventions that I use frequently in my work (and is part of your weekly Club Soda check in) particularly with people who are ambivalent about change, is motivational interviewing. This is a style of counselling that accepts that ambivalence is natural but recognises that if it is unresolved it can be a barrier to change

In motivational interviewing I try to avoid ‘fighting’ ambivalence by trying to convince my clients why it would be so great for them to change, and why it is so dangerous to continue with their current behaviour. Instead I ‘roll with resistance’, encouraging them to explore both sides of their ambivalence. Clients hopefully arrive at a point where they decide that the benefits of change outweigh the benefits of not changing, but they might not always feel ready to make that decision. That is up to them.

 

Considering Both Sides of the Coin

As we spoke about on Day 9, there can be losses and gains – of staying the same, and of changing.

For instance, it might not be entirely honest to claim that there is ‘nothing good about alcohol at all’ – no one would ever have had more than one drink in their life if this was the case. There are things people enjoy and like about it, and there are also ways in which alcohol causes us harm.  

Your Sober Sprint / MOB has given you a head-start on ambivalence because you have already had time to collect hard evidence about what has improved, and begun to learn how you are able to cope with life’s ups and downs and different moods and situations without alcohol. By now, you might have realised that some of the things you thought you liked about alcohol were actually myths, or you might be wondering if you can just drink occasionally and find some pleasure in it again.

One motivational interviewing exercise I regularly encourage my clients to do is a decision balance sheet. This helps them review and reflect upon all of their arguments for and against change.

Here’s an example of a decision balance sheet.

There are 4 boxes. Boxes A and B are about the benefits and the difficulties/risks of staying the same (by ‘same’ we mean your pre-MOB drinking levels). Boxes C and D are about the benefits and difficulties/risks of changing (whether change for you means staying stopped or cutting down post-MOB).

What will be good?
(Benefits/Gains)
What will be difficult?
(Risks/Losses)
Staying the same

(drinking at my pre-Sober Sprint / MOB levels)

A.

Takes less effort to go back to old ways.

It’s easier socially.

I like how it helps me relax after stressful day.

More fun

B.

Not able to focus at work or get as much done.

Worried about my health.

Spending too much.

Didn’t like how much I was relying on booze.

Arguments at home.

Ashamed of myself.

Feeling guilty.

Depressed.

Antidepressants not working.

Always cancelling stuff.

Weekends written-off.

Changing

(staying stopped, or cutting down and having days off alcohol)

C.

More energy.

Better moods.

Feel more refreshed after sleep.

Lose weight.

Better energy at work.

Proud of myself.

Making better decisions –  about food, people etc.

Family life more relaxed.

D.

Will take effort not to slide back to old ways.

Struggle to relax/switch off after work.

Will find it hard to see friends and watch them get drunk when I’m not.

Always having to resist temptation and urges.

Whether you are motivated by the stick or the carrot (from yesterday), this exercise helps you explore the reasons why you might want to continue the good work started during your Sober Sprint / MOB, and the reasons why you started it in the first place.

The DBS exercise also helps you honestly think about some of the challenges and struggles you might have whilst you are changing, including finding alternative solutions to the ‘problem’ that alcohol was solving in your life. Sure, it might require a bit of effort to find new ways to relax after work and they won’t all kick in as quickly as alcohol can. But there ARE other ways to relax: all the people in the world who don’t drink aren’t permanently tense after work!

You can download this Decision Balance Sheet. I do recommend you have a go at this so you can explore and maybe resolve some of the ambivalence you are still struggling with.

And this short video has more on the topic.

Your actions for today

Do the decision balance sheet exercise for yourself – Decision Balance Sheet

Visit the private Club Soda Facebook group  and share your experiences with ambivalence about your post-Sober Sprint / MOB alcohol goals.  

Coming up

Tomorrow we consider our strengths.

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