In all three of my books and on this blog, I write about how alcohol threatens your hormonal health. It causes weight gain, robs you off your sleep, wrecks your ability to cope with stress and accelerates your aging. While some argue that an occasional glass of red wine might be good for you, my experience contradicts that.
When I completed my residency in obstetrics and gynecology in 1998 I was thirty-one and worked at a health maintenance organization (HMO). I was a bit of a purist and thrilled to practice the evidence-based medicine that I’d spent nine long years learning, night and day. I was assigned to a retiring physician and took over his practice of three thousand patients. It stunned me to ﬁnd that most of them came in for their annual visits requesting Valium and other tranquilizers, so they could sleep and generally cope with a stressful life as a modern woman, and asking for a water pill, so they could deal with their ﬂuid retention.
I was shocked and more than a little judgmental. This wasn’t the data-driven medicine I had learned at Harvard Medical School and the University of California at San Francisco, where I’d served my residency. I didn’t get it. What was everyone so strung out about?
Then I turned thirty-ﬁve, and I completely got it.
When women are between the ages of thirty-ﬁve and ﬁfty, many lose their sanity. I certainly did. As soon as I found myself in my mid thirties with two young kids, I ﬁnally understood the “It’s the end of the day; I desperately need a drink to unwind” thing. You grab whatever you can to deal with the slowing metabolism and the growing difficulty coping with your life as you know it—full of bills, screaming children, demanding bosses, and spouses who feel equally spent. A glass of wine seems like just what the doctor ordered.
Not this doctor. I have faith that you can discover ways to cope with the mounting stress without resorting to methods that halt your metabolism, use up your goodwill, and raise your bad estrogens. You can do this.
Carl Jung, M.D., the famous psychiatrist, said that a “craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.” He continues: “ . . . ‘alcohol’ in Latin is ‘spiritus’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison.” I agree.
So, let’s create wholeness and union with a Higher Power. Start by replacing “I must have a glass of _________ [ﬁll in the blank]” with an alternative, such as “I’m going to try a different strategy that doesn’t pump me full of bad, nasty estrogens.” I love the idea my yoga teacher told me about samskaras, our conditioned patterns that create a groove in our minds. The more you repeat your habituated ways of thinking, the deeper the groove. Samskaras can be good or bad; it just depends on what you repeat. So, when you replace the negative thoughts with positive ones, you are making a new groove.
In case you think this is some New Age baloney, I turn to the science of neuroplasticity, which basically says the same thing: the neurons that ﬁre together, wire together. My personal favorite exercise is to “take in the good,” which I learned from neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness.
- Have a positive experience. This activates a positive mental state. Choose a positive experience that happened recently and consider it fully. Perhaps it was a physical pleasure, like inhaling roses on a walk, or an emotional pleasure, like feeling close to someone who matters to you.
- Enrich it. Next, install the positive experience in your mind. Get a feeling for how it affected you on a sensory level— associated feelings of wellness, sights, smells, and how it made you feel. Allow yourself to open to the feeling and let it ﬁll your body, mind, and spirit. As Dr. Hanson recommends, ﬁnd something fresh or novel in it. Recognize how it could nourish you, which rewires your brain away from alcohol and toward what is good for you.
- Absorb it. Let the positive feelings from this experience seep into you, providing soothing and calmness, ﬁlling you with gratitude and positive emotions. Create the intention that this feeling of being on your own side is sinking into you. Let the good become part of you. Surrender to it— not in a passive manner but in a way that serves your highest good.
This is self-directed neuroplasticity. You are rewiring your brain for pleasure that is not linked to alcohol. Make it a habit by practicing it daily for seventy- two hours.
More on why to cut back on alcohol in my book, The Hormone Reset Diet.