I applaud any efforts to see and do something about a drinking habit that’s headed off the rails, no matter what steps are taken. And I completely understand clinging to the thought of cutting back or moderating. Diving headfirst into a lifetime of sobriety can feel far too overwhelming, even terrifying. Never, ever? Not even when my daughter gets married (even though I have no spouse or children yet)? That’s why ODAAT was invented: One Day at a Time. Some people actually get this as a tattoo.
It’s true that halfway measures work for some people in some situations.
I read an article about a couple of young single friends who had gone beyond their usual TGIF Happy Hour into after-work drinking. One of them grew concerned about the slow, quiet slide into more days/more drinks, so they agreed to take a break from alcohol and find new ways to relax and connect like yoga classes or a brisk walk. The author then concluded with the differences they felt in well-being including higher energy, better sleep, brighter eyes, more glowing skin, and a few less pounds. And all of that is just wonderful. I am a huge fan of healthy balanced living and proactive self-regulation.
But that’s not the usual context for “trying to cut back or moderate” that I tend to see on Recovery social media sites. Those people, nearly all of them, have already felt the chains of alcohol pulling on some level. If changing up routines or making non-drinking plans with friends was all they needed to do, that would have happened already. They wouldn’t be looking for tools and resources and wisdom and support and community.
I know a lot about moderation as a way to control alcohol because I spent several years playing that game after (trashing) three years of sobriety.
I was feeling so healthy and strong and balanced that I questioned whether I ever had a problem. Daily drinking started as a reaction to a very tough time and those stress points were gone. As effective as AA had been at getting and keeping me sober, the mindset that’s promoted there, that I had a “disease” or was broken or genetically special, did me no favors. I never identified with the label Alcoholic and none of those shoes felt like a fit. I had been the AA definition of a “normie” nearly all my life. Why not just go back to being that normie?
The first revelation in Maggy’s Great Moderation Experiment took me by surprise:
The thought or memory of drinking was a far cry from how it actually felt.
I didn’t like the taste or the dull fuzzy-headed sensation or the way I felt in the morning, because alcohol’s poisonous effects were magnified in my very clean, healthy brain and body. These were critical insights considering that I had never lost an underlying feeling of missing out on something other people were enjoying. As my daughter Lizzy said, “Well that’s great, Mom, it has to feel a lot better knowing you don’t want to drink than thinking you can’t.”
And for a while that remained true. But as we know, opportunities to relax or unwind or connect with an old friend over a drink are always going to pop up. Along came those old romanticized ideas about that being fun and pleasurable and the impulse to say Yes to the drink. Tolerance grew, and within a few months, I had lost the joy and freedom of a life where alcohol never entered my mind. More and more of my mental real estate became gobbled up with debates and thoughts about drinking or not drinking, how much to drink, or how not to drink so much. The pull and the struggle against the pull had both returned, along with that soul-crushing cycle of making/breaking promises to myself. Maybe it wasn’t the black pit I had crawled out of three years before but that doesn’t matter.
Every single “after drinking” morning, I woke up staring Regret in the face.
And Regret is one ugly dude.
Look back from where I stand now, I’m grateful for those three years with AA and for all I’ve learned since then. I know the gifts of sobriety. I know that I am healthier, sharper, more positive, inspired, energetic, motivated, intuitive, productive, and creative, a better listener, a more present friend, and more in alignment with the truth of my spirit. I also know that for me, playing the Moderation Game is like the slots in Las Vegas: I might win a round or two but in the end I’ll lose.
And those losses will just keep mounting, for one simple reason: Alcohol is a dangerous drug and an addictive substance. Taking in enough of any addictive substance over enough time will change your brain chemistry. For some people addiction happens very quickly, for others it’s a longer process. What happens in the brain, however, is universal. It’s science. It’s also a fact that you can “recover” and heal the brain by laying healthy new track.
Unfortunately, those old patterns of addiction never dissolve or disappear.
They just go dormant beneath the surface like some sleeping monster in the darkest depths. That’s why, with very few and very rare exceptions, uncompromising abstinence is the only path to freedom once you have taken any substance to the point of addiction.
As Allen Carr said in his wonderful book Stop Drinking Now,
“You are free the moment you put down that last drink, and you’ll remain free as long as you never pick up another one.”
It’s really FREEDOM that we are talking about here.
How free do I want to be?
How free do you want to be?
I remember an episode on the HOME Podcast where Holly Whitaker and Laura McKowen were talking about a woman who believed in moderation and achieved mastery by first drinking slowly and pinpointing her maximum pleasure zone. (As opposed to just knocking them back unconsciously and dealing with the aftermath, we all know about that approach, right?) After identifying her sweet spot as two glasses of wine, she developed a matrix—a MATRIX, people—of days/drinks that would keep her on a moderate path. She kept this thing on her refrigerator for the kind of intensely focused daily planning and tracking you would expect with a life-and-death insulin chart for diabetes. And I completely agreed with Holly and Laura: All that just to keep alcohol in your life instead of letting it go? Oh. My. God.
So for all those reasons and many more, I’m staying happily and completely ALCOHOL-FREE today. I’m not missing anything. I’m gaining the entire world and I know that now.
Uncompromising sobriety is the only path for me, the only way I can truly honor this wild and precious life.
Let’s rock this together!
“When you quit drinking you stop waiting.”―
Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story
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