Interview with Annie Grace
As simple as it seems the biggest ah-ha moment for me was the realization that alcohol is in fact addictive. We justify ‘normal’ drinking so much in our society that we obscure the fact that anyone with the right level of exposure can become addicted to alcohol. And when you are addicted your brain treats alcohol as vital for your survival. Things change in your brain – both physically and psychologically to the point where you cease to be able to enjoy yourself or relax without a drink
Interview with Annie Grace
Liv: As we’re talking in Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, let’s kick off with a question about food! What have you had for breakfast today?
Annie: I had grapefruit and toast. I love grapefruit – eat it all the time.
Annie Grace's Recovery Story
Liv: Moving to your story, you moved to New York and, at just 26, became the youngest vice president of a multinational company. You said you thought that drinking was ‘the key to success in your career’, why?
Annie: I was told as much. I remember telling my boss that I was going to go home instead of to cocktails with a group of colleagues and he took me aside and told me that was fine but that I should realize how much the after work scene is a part of corporate success. He said that since everyone was so busy at work that often the best ideas get generated after work at the bar. He said it was kind of like the golf course, you had more face time with more senior people and it was important for overall career success. I heeded his advice and unfortunately found what he said to be true.
Liv: Your relationship with alcohol became troublesome and you described your life as living a daily battle for sobriety. You talked about wanting to find another way and live this life to the fullest, live it, love it and not feel deprived. So you did. You found a way to get in control of alcohol, and wrote a book about it:
You describe the book as reprogramming your unconscious, using Liminal Thinking, allowing you to break free from alcohol, through the deconstruction of that thinking. Tell me about how alcohol changes us mentally? And how that provides freedom?
Annie: As simple as it seems the biggest ah-ha moment for me was the realization that alcohol is in fact addictive. We justify ‘normal’ drinking so much in our society that we obscure the fact that anyone with the right level of exposure can become addicted to alcohol. And when you are addicted your brain treats alcohol as vital for your survival. Things change in your brain – both physically and psychologically to the point where you cease to be able to enjoy yourself or relax without a drink. The physical addiction must be broken by ceasing to put alcohol in your body, and allowing it to heal. My book focuses on the mental addiction – the idea that we ‘need’ a drink to relax or have a good time. I take the technique or Liminal Thinking and expose all of the common reasons we give for drinking. I often drank to relax – and I believed due to years of drinking and conditioning that alcohol did in fact relax me. In reality alcohol slows your brain function so you feel relaxed when it fact drinking impairs your innate ability to deal with stress as demonstrated in multiple scientific studies. Once I understand that it was not relaxation I was feeling – but in fact I was decreasing my ability to truly relax – I was able to let go of that reason for drinking. I methodically go through all the most prevalent reasons for drinking – relaxation, enjoyment, loosening up etc. and present a new – truer – perspective. This process gives the mind a complete re-boot when it comes to emotionally craving alcohol.
This Naked Mind
Liv: How has this modality compared to the more traditional methods of recovery, such as AA? For example, how has it been received?
Annie: The book – and now video coaching course has been very well received. The basis for the program is a complete mind-set shift around drinking. Readers go from believing that alcohol is key to relaxing or having a good time to the understanding that they don’t need alcohol – in fact life is so much better without it.
Liv: Would this modality be beneficially in other areas of a recovering person’s life? For example, we often see other issues emerge, such as co-dependency, sex addiction, an unhealthy relationship with food.
Annie: Great question. I believe that the techniques in This Naked Mind can be applied to many other addictions. I hope to create similar modalities for other areas where we struggle. Currently however the book is completely focused on alcohol. The great thing about changing your relationship with alcohol is that it is a keystone habit – once you break free of the alcohol trap so many other things in your life begin to fall in place.
This Naked Mind Blog
Liv: I can see a number of success stories on your blog, which is a pleasure to see. Tell me about the role of the online community and how that affects one’s sobriety?
Annie: I created a free community – outside of Facebook for privacy – which can be found here:
www.thisnakedmindcommunity.com. It is a welcoming and inclusive place for anyone looking to explore their relationship with alcohol. My intention for the community – which is what it has been – is to provide a safe place for anyone to explore their drinking and look for answers. It is a truly positive and inspiring place. There are almost 4,000 members who support each other and contribute to the community as a whole.
Liv: You speak about alcohol, on issues such as alcohol and stress and the intersection of American culture and alcohol. One of the topics you talk about is the fundamental issues with the terms alcoholic and alcoholism. Can you tell me what issues arise with those definitions/terms?
Annie: I believe that everyone has the right to identify with any term they choose, and I also understand that identifying as an alcoholic provides a community of support and can help a person get and stay sober. I take no issue with the desire to identify as an alcoholic. I do feel that we do a disservice to people questioning their drinking by treating alcohol differently than other drugs. WE don’t have cigarette-o-holics or cocainism. Rather we have addictive substances (cigarettes and cocaine) that individuals become addicted to. The term alcoholic –for someone wondering if they are drinking a bit too much- can create fear and denial. Experts and scientists prefer the term Alcohol Use Disorder which identifies a continuum or use and abuse rather than a black and white definition (you are either an alcoholic or you are not). The final point I will make is that in my experience, when someone who attended AA told me her drinking was different than mine, that she was an alcoholic and born that way I felt a false sense of security. If I wasn’t an “alcoholic” than I didn’t have to worry about my drinking habits. It allowed me to turn a blind eye to my increasingly problematic drinking.
Liv: How can we, as a society, support those suffering with alcoholism?
Annie: I think a bit factor is changing the language. Coming to the realization that alcohol is a dangerous and addictive substance, not just for a subset of the population, but for anyone with the right level of exposure. Once we start to look at alcohol as a drug – and according to numerous studies the most dangerous drug of all – we will stop being so accepting of its causal use in our society and treat it with more caution.
Physical Addiction Recovery
Liv: Moving on to a holistic approach to recovery. How has your physical self changed in recovery? Has there been any difference to your confidence and self-esteem?
Annie: Huge difference in both! Making promises (not to drink more than two glasses, or to only drink on the weekends) and being unable to keep them took a huge toll on my self-respect. I stopped trusting myself – unable to understand why I both wanted to do something and not do it at the same time. I talk a a lot about cognitive dissonance: disagreeing with yourself. It’s painful enough to see conflict but when we are doing something we hate ourselves for doing we rip ourselves apart. It is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced. Healing the rift in my mind and heart was profound in my confidence and self esteem. In terms of physically there are countless benefits! I lost 15 pounds, I look younger than I have in years, my skin is much healthier and I just feel better about myself. Liv: What has been your relationship with food in recovery? Annie: When I first stopped drinking I often swapped out my drink for desert. I was really gentle with myself – allowing myself indulgences. I was really proud of what I had done and felt great about rewarding myself with treats. After about 8 months the desire to reward myself with treats started to fall away naturally. I don’t eat nearly as much sugar as I did during the early days – but am still happy to indulge on occasion. Liv: Penultimate question: what is your favourite meal/dish? Annie: I make a roast chicken with rosemary and very indulgent gravy. I love serving it over rice. It is my favourite meal of all time – and is making me quite hungry right now!
Top Recovery Tools
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools? Or tools you use to maintain sobriety?
Annie: Journaling – writing is so helpful in being honest with myself and gives me clarity. Mindfulness – I always wish I spent more time meditating than I do but I feel so much benefit when I do it. Exercise – it always boots my mood. Indulgences – I know I am saving so much money and I sometimes treat myself on things like a massage or even a mini-vacation. I am a big believer in treating yourself exceptionally well – something I never did when I was drinking – and that has been pivotal in terms of my happiness and wellbeing. Finally, forgiveness. I think this goes along with the last one but I have begun to talk to myself as if I was one of my own children, with tenderness unconditional love and forgiveness. It is a tragedy how unforgiving we are of ourselves, and how badly we talk to ourselves in our own mind. When I first became aware of this I was shocked by the things I would say inside my own head – things I would never dream of saying to a stranger much less to someone I cared for. I have made a very conscious effort to change my internal dialogue – I didn’t create myself and I believe that I have no right to speak to myself in any way that tears me down.