No more two or three whiskey sodas or glasses of wine.
April 17, 2009 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Replacement for that lovely "brain: shut off" feeling one gets from drinking at the end of a long day?

Certainly this must be the most eponysterical question in the history of AskMe.

I've been on the wagon for about five days now and for the most part it has been nice. Getting great sleep, feeling generally focused and relaxed, being mindful of those pointy, "Hey, let's DRINK!" urges that come along every so often. Mind you, I don't consider myself an alcoholic and haven't decided whether or not I'm going to be a lifelong teetotaler. Maybe, maybe not, we'll see. But a many-months-long wagon trip was called for and for now, it's good.

Yesterday, though, I had one of those 16-hour days that kicked my ass pretty hard and wanted nothing more than to chuck it all out the window and get a shot or two in me. My sense of commitment overcame, but it led me to realize that none of the various relaxation techniques I've read about are going to provide that instantaneous sense of shutdown and departure from the world that a stiff drink or four did. Bummer.

So I suspect that this will get easier with time, but until then, what do you MeFites, former drinkers or otherwise, do when you just want your brain to immediately unspool, stfu and just lay there for a little while? Bad movies? The dishes? Ms. Pac Man? Digg? What?

I am a regular AM exerciser and a PM meditator. My life is pretty stable and not too stressful by and large. I just need to really disconnect the old brain every once in a while.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I tend to surf the internet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:34 AM on April 17, 2009

The usual:

- TV
- books on tape
- video games
- Metafilter
posted by zippy at 5:34 AM on April 17, 2009

I actually do crosswords to accomplish this, although they have to be hard enough that I can't think about other things at the same time (and easy enough that I don't get frustrated and give up).
posted by pemberkins at 5:39 AM on April 17, 2009

Usually the last thing I want to do at that point is look at a screen (unless I'm drinking); I find reading a book helps me forget about the computer ergo helps me forget about work. Especially if I'm sitting outside and doing that reading. (Your mileage may vary if you don't work at a computer all day.)
posted by inigo2 at 5:46 AM on April 17, 2009

I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise, since it's not everybody's idea of a good time, but since you said "dishes," I do relax well by putting on a book on tape or podcasts and doing housework, dishes or something like that. Filing is a good one too. But your goal is just to unwind, so don't get hung up on it having to be productive. It could be a make-work job, like alphabetizing your books or something. The idea is to occupy your brain, barely, with the book or whatever you're listening to, and your hands with something else. The net effect is to take you out of yourself by preventing you from introspecting.
posted by rustcellar at 5:51 AM on April 17, 2009

posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:08 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hot tea.
posted by Prospero at 6:12 AM on April 17, 2009

Making a complicated meal then eating it
Having a bath
Listening to a podcast
posted by fire&wings at 6:14 AM on April 17, 2009

1mg Melatonin and 15 minutes of web browsing or book reading.
posted by tomierna at 6:27 AM on April 17, 2009

Bath, go to a gig, go to the cinema, watch a DVD.

[Not all at the same time.]
posted by maryrosecook at 6:29 AM on April 17, 2009

Playing backgammon on the phone: a constant sequence of simple choices, enough to keep me interested, but uncomplicated enough that the rest of my head just chills.

It sounds, however, as though you are actually just getting tired with the effort required to stay 'on the wagon'. Sorry mate, cannot help you here. It was the same when I stopped smoking; you just have to keep on keeping on. Even when you are knackered after a hard day (especially after a hard day) the little voice doesnt go away and the strength needed doesnt let up. Maybe going for a run or some other physically demanding activity will keep you occupied aswell as venting some frustration?

Keep at it, well done for stopping; it's hard work to begin with but it gets easier.
posted by BadMiker at 6:33 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I use the process of making a decaf double cappuccino plus the focused luxury of enjoying the nice beverage as a way to unwind. It may be a worthwhile substitute for sipping a nice drink at the end of a long day. Really, anything that you can focus on and manipulate with your hands is a great option.
posted by mightshould at 6:35 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

After a long day at work, I seem to pass through a couple of witching hours between 6 and 8- when a drink to unwind sounds really nice. If I can get over that hump, the craving completely disappears. If you can get into a quiet space and do a series of stretches/ yoga poses/ deep breathing exercises, it's quite helpful, I've found. The other option that works well for me is a brisk walk around the neighborhood to good music. And playing my guitar.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 6:48 AM on April 17, 2009

Despite the hard day, I suspect the intense desire to disconnect is really you experiencing the absence of alcohol. There is no true replacement. Realize that. This desire is the effect of extended use of alcohol. The real reason you started drinking is probably still there, but now you are dealing with an additional layer. Just as smokers wanting to quit say it helps them with their anxiety, but so much of their anxiety comes from nicotine withdrawal.

Time heals it, but in the meanwhile, examine your need to disconnect. Why, where, how? What do you get? What are you running from? When did it start? Run into the need to disconnect instead of with it. I know it's not an answer, per se. Sorry.
posted by milarepa at 7:04 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

What works well in my experience is something repetitive involving hand-eye coordination and not too much thought -- in other words, practically any sort of handicrafts. Knitting, woodworking, needlework, housepainting, things of this sort. As mightshould said, anything you can focus on and manipulate with your hands.
posted by Kat Allison at 7:06 AM on April 17, 2009

When I stopped drinking for health reasons, I replaced booze with an intense focus on the gym. Even when I was tired at the end of a long day, I started looking forward to an hour on a cardio machine and zoning out with a magazine or the tv on.

I also started making fake cocktails using fizzy water and differently flavored syrups. Or just fizzy water on its own is a great replacement (for me) for the craving of alcohol.
posted by vincele at 7:17 AM on April 17, 2009

Response by poster: milarepa and BadMiker: Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I'm optimistic that the Buddhist meditation I'm doing will turn into lifelong process and I actually look forward to facing the underlying issues re. my drinking habits from that perspective.

And yeah, it certainly didn't help to have that extra layer of, "...and I can't even fucking have a DRINK!" on top of the general feeling of, "Today was fucking exhausting..." yesterday. But at present I'm trying to work on the latter in the short term and the former in the long term.

I almost think that that all made sense.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 7:19 AM on April 17, 2009

I take my dog for a long (at least 45-minute) walk when it's late enough that we won't really encounter anyone else and I can relax with my ipod blaring in my ears.

And congrats on the 5 day mark. It probably seems like it's getting tougher as the days go by right now, but eventually you will begin to ruminate about it less and before you know it those thoughts will only pop up periodically and with less and less frequency.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:28 AM on April 17, 2009

First off, congratulations for getting over what sounds like a pretty big obstacle. Really hard, long day and normally a drink would help but you didn't cave. That's fantastic.

Me? I have a cup of hot (decaf) tea or a tall glass of chocolate milk. I also read semi-tedious non-fiction. I still enjoy it, but it gets my mind off the day and if it's just tedious enough, makes it difficult to keep my eyes open.
posted by cooker girl at 7:32 AM on April 17, 2009

For me wanting to drink was all about boredom. I used a lot of the above methods to stave off the cravings. Keeping your mind occupied on other tasks seems to do the trick. Exercising instead is a fantastic option.
posted by zennoshinjou at 7:32 AM on April 17, 2009

Go driving. Forget about a destination. You can figure out how to get back when you want to. Just drive. Cloud watching and star gazing are good too.
posted by jwells at 7:35 AM on April 17, 2009

I drink, but not much and not often. My sense is that there is no replacement for alcohol -- meaning, that it performs a social and chemical function that nothing else quite replicates. A drink at the end of the day to unwind, or as the start to an evening out, is not something that you can magically reproduce through meditation, video games, or wishful thinking. Even smoking pot is really different, and won't give you the same sensations as a drink at the end of the day.

My point here is not that you should be drinking (my hat is off to you for realizing that drinking is not for you at this time) -- it's that trying to replicate the feelings produced by drinking is an exercise in frustration.

Rather than trying to reproduce it, I think it's better to replace it with something different. A new routine, maybe, that really clearly demarcates the boundaries between work and relaxation. Or something like intense exercise, where you can enjoy a whole different set of chemicals in your brain. Have you considered something like booking a full-body massage at the end of a long day? Again, it's not the same as a drink, but it is exceptionally relaxing and decompressing.
posted by Forktine at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2009

I read simple literature. Mills and Boon, fantasy (Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey), sci fi (early Heinlein) or Young Adult novels. Something with enough story to keep turning the pages and little enough that I could keep track of it easily (ie: NOT the Wheel of Time).
posted by jacalata at 7:48 AM on April 17, 2009

I sometimes end my workday/start my evening with a drink, so I know where you're coming from. Sometimes, though, I find the process of getting the kitchen straight, emptying the dishwasher and starting dinner, preferably with the radio playing at the same time, provides a similar disconnect. My husband gets home and pours himself a drink, then I realise I haven't had one and I don't really want one. Going to the supermarket to pick up something trivial works for me, as well.

I work from home so YMMV but for me it's really about a change of scene, even if it's only the kitchen. The one constant is that the computer really must be off before I can believe the workday is over.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:51 AM on April 17, 2009

Despite the hard day, I suspect the intense desire to disconnect is really you experiencing the absence of alcohol.

Maybe, but I have long been out of the habit of a nightly couple glasses of wine and I still find it hard to achieve the relaxation I'm after. A hot bath does do a great job, especially with some lavender bath salts (or whatever else you like) and a good read (I like the New Yorker. Books in the bath inevitably meet a wet fate). Also, earlier in the evening, a nice fast walk outdoors is good - it gives you fresh air and oxygenated blood, a look around the neighborhood and a jolt out of yourself, and then when you come in, it feels good for your body to take to the couch or sit and read.

I too find the screen seductive, but the opposite of relaxing. I've heard that staring at something brightly lit (like a TV or computer screen) actually reduces the body's desire to sleep.

I eat a dessert daily (big treat for me, I make cakes and have a slice a night, or cookies, or keep some ice cream in the fridge!) and save it until about an hour before bedtime. A really nice thing to look forward to.
posted by Miko at 7:54 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I watch Law & Order reruns. Or The Wire. It relaxes me so much.
posted by emd3737 at 8:00 AM on April 17, 2009

The physical act of holding a glass and having something to sip may be part of it, too - (similar again to smoking, where the physical motions are part of the addictive habit). I usually have something to drink at hand. Water from a water bottle, decaf iced tea, caffeine-free diet soda.

Also, what emd3737 said, though I like sitcoms. Lately been watching through all seasons of The Office, and I can watch an old Seinfeld anytime. Very light and relaxing.
posted by Miko at 8:13 AM on April 17, 2009

I think it's about an evening ritual of sorts. My wife and I love to get some cheese and crackers, a couple glasses of wine, and sit on the back deck... but I've found I can replace the wine with non-alcoholic beer, or even a soda... and it's much the same. The key is doing this routine that signals "relax" to us.

Also I'd agree with hellboundforcheddar: After a long day at work, I seem to pass through a couple of witching hours between 6 and 8- when a drink to unwind sounds really nice. If I can get over that hump, the craving completely disappears. By 8pm, I'm ready to move on.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:17 AM on April 17, 2009

I watch TV, especially relaxing stuff like cooking shows (Martha Stewart's drone is pretty good).

I also play Snood. It's pretty mindless and zones me out good. Easy crosswords, too.

Hot tea is great, too. Hot cocoa with milk/soy/whatever is filling and the milk makes me sleepy and calm.
posted by fructose at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2009

Mellow or even narcotic tea works for me. Cornsilk tea (yes, the silks from ears of corn) makes me both mellow and a little silly. Maybe a gentle high. If I've been obsessing about some frustration, halfway through the cup I find that the thing I was obsessing about has gotten all slippery. It's too hard to obsess about it anymore, so I listen to recorded books and sip my tea and decide that life is pretty okay after all.

There are many other teas that are supposed to have calming effects, including some commercial mixes available at Whole Foods-type stores.

I'm also a fan of melatonin, about an hour before bed.
posted by PatoPata at 8:29 AM on April 17, 2009

I keep a handful of stupid movies on hand for this very purpose! I think internet is a bad idea because there's no END to it, I wind up going in circles online for hours, and between that and pornography you run the risk of replacing one addiction with another.
posted by hermitosis at 8:35 AM on April 17, 2009

Have a lie down. Get a washcloth and either run it under warm or cool water, whatever your mood of the day is and go crash out on the couch with the cloth over your eyes. It'll relax you, give you a break, a quiet moment to unwind. Then go fix yourself dinner and listen to good music. A glass of sparkling water over ice with a lime is also something nice and refreshing that can feel like a treat.
posted by amanda at 8:42 AM on April 17, 2009

I quit drinking a few years ago only because alcohol started making me sick. I agree with others that said you can't really find a replacement. That's the bad news. The good news is that eventually you forget what it feels like, so you stop missing it. At that point it's all upside :)

In the meantime, I agree that the best way to quiet your mind is to combine a mindless physical activity (walking, cleaning, crafting) with interesting podcasts. Podcasts don't quiet your mind like meditation does, but they at least stop it from spinning, and it's a lot easier to achieve.
posted by diogenes at 8:43 AM on April 17, 2009

World of Warcraft while drinking Crystal Light.
posted by jmmpangaea at 8:55 AM on April 17, 2009

Loud music and scrubbing.
posted by Night_owl at 8:56 AM on April 17, 2009

well done for stopping; it's hard work to begin with but it gets easier.

Agreed. It's very hard to do this so good on you for starting. I've found that it's not so much replacing the drink but getting you into another habit that says to your body "hey you're relaxing now" Alcohol is a quick switch flip for that [you relax almost chemically, so you don't have to do the work" of relaxing] but there are other ways to at least start the process. What I've done...

- exercise - I like to swim but you can also go for a walk or do something else you like. It's a good way to shift gears even if you don't tire yourself out and showering afterwards and putting on PJs is a good transition point
- reading - sort of forces your head to be in a different place, especally if you read stuff you like
- check in on other non-work stuff - and yeah for me this is the dishes, or laundry or something that falls into the "taking care of me" category as opposed to work which sometimes falls into the "necessary but tiring" category
- communicate - write letters to freinds catch up on friendly email, make phone calls, again catch up with you-as-person not you-as-worker bee

And for actual sleeping time, I've found that benadryl or the occasional lorazepam [caveat: don't replace one addiction with another] can help you slide more easily into sleeptime. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:01 AM on April 17, 2009

Previously, I would go to late evening AA meetings, which were a great way to shut off my brain. Someone would start ranting or rambling, and I'd go into my quiet happy place. By 9:30 when the meeting was over, I was ready to fall asleep.

I haven't had a drink in over nine months, and I don't miss it anymore. Now, when I want to get quiet inside, I make a pot of tea or play something quiet and slow on the piano, or watch Jeopardy!
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:07 AM on April 17, 2009

Exercise, either of the good hard run variety or the walk by the water on a pleasant evening variety. Or a nice cup of tea and a sit down in the fresh air somewhere. The internet, tv and reading don't relax me in the same way at all, but that may be because my job involves looking at computers/reports/drawings.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:36 AM on April 17, 2009

I turned to wood-working as a replacement for boozing activities. Nothing says "I don't need a drink right now" better than the power tool you're operating in close proximity to your face.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:37 AM on April 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you tried kava? Not alcoholic, but a very relaxing and sedative drink.

posted by slateyness at 9:52 AM on April 17, 2009

Seconding Valerian root or kava tea. Seriously relaxing. I thought sleepytime chamomile was useless in a warm milk sort of way, so I was pretty surprised when valerian/kava actually helped me sleep.

Good luck, hope this helps!
posted by Space Kitty at 11:01 AM on April 17, 2009

Sudoku. As hard as you can stand to play. It will exhaust your brain enough that you won't want to do anything else.
posted by deezil at 11:45 AM on April 17, 2009

I can't think of anything more relaxing and brain-clearing than lovemaking.
posted by InkaLomax at 1:10 PM on April 17, 2009

I love that feeling of the neck muscles relaxing after a glass of wine, and a general shedding of woes.

Hot bath or shower with scented bath gel, then a cup of tea. Maybe even candles. Consciously relax your muscle groups. Get some non-caf tea that you really like, and make it part of the end of the day ritual.
posted by theora55 at 3:12 PM on April 17, 2009

Whatever hobbies you already enjoy, or want to pursue. For me: if it's warm enough, I love to wander out and do some long-exposure night photography -- if it's too cold, I'll stay at home and play guitar.
posted by rottytooth at 3:14 PM on April 17, 2009

Non-alcoholic beer, along with whatever pass-the-time activity you'd normally do while drinking (surfing, reading, whatever). You'll be surprised how, when your mind is occupied with something else, it doesn't pay attention to the fact that you're not actually consuming alcohol.

Okay, maybe not NA beer, since beer doesn't look to be your thing (it happens to be mine). Use the substitute that's closest to what you drink. Plain soda? tonic & lime?

Also, congrats to you, and keep it up.
posted by torticat at 3:50 PM on April 17, 2009

Oh and I agree with others, sad to say: there is no substitute for the "brain: shut off" that alcohol offers. Alcohol is a very, very easy out from stress, tiredness, or negative thoughts generally.

The tough thing is to learn to live with the negative feelings without using any easy outs. The upside is that being able to do this has its own set of rewards. Self-respect, a different kind of restful sleep, alert mornings, etc. Good luck to you.
posted by torticat at 3:57 PM on April 17, 2009

Certainly this must be the most eponysterical question in the history of AskMe. ...calls for an eponysterical answer:

running the seawall.

the best stress antidote after a full day of work, and good for fitness too. and once I am done, I reach for a glass of water or three.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:36 PM on April 17, 2009

Smoke pot. It's not a great long-term habit either, but it can offer you the ability to unwind and provide reflection on your day from a different perspective.
posted by jameslavelle3 at 12:48 PM on April 18, 2009

Gardening. It's one of the few times in the day when my eyes and brain are not working hard. I can listen to music or just the outdoors. It's a complete change from my job. The second best thing is going for a long walk.

Also, replacement drink - I quit drinking completely 4 months ago because of the medication I'm on. Now, I use a large wine glass, with ice cubes, mineral water and either a twist of lemon or fresh lemon juice. On cold nights, I have herbal tea, and savour it.
posted by b33j at 2:45 PM on April 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

seconding crossword puzzles. my dad hated them till about 6 or 8 months ago and now he does them every night to "detach" from work.

he said it took a while to get into it (had to learn the "tricks") but he really enjoys them. also he doesnt do the New York Times Crossword, but instead found that the local paper has a medium level crossword he does every night
posted by knockoutking at 9:16 AM on April 20, 2009

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