What to do about my wine habit? For decades it’s been my default reaction to stress. Nervous about meeting new people at a party? Have a little drink. Exhausted after a challenging day at work? Unwind to the sound of cork unscrewing. Upset and angry? Drown my sorrows. I’ve practised them all.
It’s a well-established habit and one I’m still trying to break for the reasons we all know about. The tool I’m using to sideline this habit is mindfulness -the practice of watching your own thoughts and reactions as they happen. The idea is to intervene in the moment between the urge and the action and make a conscious choice, rather than stumbling off down the same old route.
It’s going reasonably well and practised – literally, tried out and rehearsed – on my yoga mat. The mindful yoga practice, watching and noticing the effect on myself – body, breath, mind and feelings – of different postures and movements, helps to develop the brain’s abilty to be aware of its own patterns and reactions. So when I most need that skill in a stressful moment, it should come more easily.
But it doesn’t always seem to when I’m work off the yoga mat. I still seem to reach for the wine in certain circumstances. For example, the boys’ weekly trip to swimming lessons in Brixton after school always sends me reaching for a bottle once I’ve got them home and off to bed.
So it was great to read a story in the latest newsletter from the Prison Phoenix Trust, which supports yoga and meditation for prison staff and inmates, helping them to find freedom from their own harmful habits and behaviour patterns. I share it here as a warning not to beat yourself up when you slip back into a habit you’re trying to break.
A woman walks down a street, falls down a deep hole, is lost and takes a long time to get out.
She does get out and one day finds herself walking down the same street with the same hole. She pretends she doesn’t see it, falls in again but gets out a little quicker.
Later still, she’s walking down the same street, acknowledges the hole, but still falls in.
Some time after that, walking down the same street, she sees the hole and walks around it.
Finally, she walks down a different street altogether.