My moderation

I call myself a moderate drinker. When I say that I mean I drink no more than 3 drinks at any one time (and 1-2 is normal), and no more than 7 drinks per week. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Everyone’s moderation is a bit different. Moderation Management (MM) has official guidelines, but it’s up to each member to define the hows and why to interpret them.

From the MM website:

The research-based guidelines are:

  • Strictly obey local laws regarding drinking and driving.
  • Do not drink in situations that would endanger yourself or others.
  • Do not drink every day. MM suggests that you abstain from drinking alcohol at least 3 or 4 days per week.
  • Women who drink more than 3 drinks on any day, and more than 9 drinks per week, may be drinking at harmful levels.
  • Men who drink more than 4 drinks on any day, and more than 14 drinks per week, may be drinking at harmful levels.

A Moderate Drinker:

  • considers an occasional drink to be a small, though enjoyable, part of life.
  • has hobbies, interests, and other ways to relax and enjoy life that do not involve alcohol.
  • usually has friends who are moderate drinkers or nondrinkers.
  • generally has something to eat before, during, or soon after drinking.
  • usually does not drink for longer than an hour or two on any particular occasion.
  • usually does not drink faster than one drink per half-hour.
  • usually does not exceed the .055% BAC moderate drinking limit. (see Note 1 below)
  • feels comfortable with his or her use of alcohol (never drinks secretly and does not spend a lot of time thinking about drinking or planning to drink).

I moderate within these guidelines, but they don’t capture all of the spirit or struggle that goes into the process. And the decisions… the sheer amount of time I’ve spent arguing with myself about drinking, convincing myself to drink, to not drink, to drink and not worry about it, to not drink because I’m too worried. It’s a tiring process, and the benefit of rules is that it takes some of the work out of decision-making. Here are some ways I’ve worked those rules

Take a break

For a week, a month or forever, abstinence takes away some of the chatter in my head and breaks up patterns and routines that can turn into habits – I just make one big decision and stick with it. It’s challenging when you’re not used it, especially when life takes one of those turns in the middle of it – because of course it will – and you have to dig in to carry through. I learn a lot from my 30 days sober, though, and plan on repeating it on an annual basis. Lots of people like the clean start of Dryuary – I plan on signing up next year.

The drink window

When I started drinking again after a few months of abstaining, I wanted to start slowly. I had one drink at a time, and then abstained for 7 days. I imagined it as a walk-up drink window I could go to, and it only served one drink and then closed for a week. Once it was open again, I could pull up anytime. Once I drank, it closed again. When I wanted a drink, all I had to do was ask myself if this was the best time I could imagine having that drink in the upcoming week. Once I was done, I put it out of my mind for a week.

In that perspective, I drank very little. It wasn’t hard to remember or imagine some later occasion where that drink wouldn’t be preferable – a dinner out, a friend’s birthday party – and I would often wait a few weeks looking for that perfect moment.

Weekday abstinence

I’ve recently stopped drinking during the week Monday to Thursday. I am well aware that for many people, this isn’t even a question, but for me it was helpful to put it out of my mind. I’m also aware that for many binge drinkers, weekend cramming is a terrible habit, and I don’t think this would work for them. The issue for me was steady, almost daily drinking, not heavy binges, so this is working well to prevent me from sinking back into that habit.

Pre-making the weekday decision was easy, similar to not drinking before noon or not drinking in the shower. Why would I? Once that decision is set, I found that it was less effort to move forward from there. The remaining 3 nights are open to drinking. I often don’t drink on all three nights. The absolute best is when I don’t even bother counting because I’ve forgotten to drink or had a glass of something at some point and I have the barest glimmer of a check-in “wait, how many dri- oh, this is it for the week. Huh. And tomorrow is Monday again so I’ve got a fresh count. K, I’m all good then.”

Other rules

If these hard rules are aimed at breaking down habits, I also have some softer rules aimed at addressing deeper issues. Those are soft rules because I break them sometimes. I treat them like goals, because they lie closer to the root of what I need to do. My ongoing work is to address these issues.

48 hour refresh rule: I try not to drink 2 days in a row. If I’m drinking on the 3 weekend days this means I drink either Friday and Sunday, or only Saturday, or I break this rule. I have to figure out a better way to take the pressure off that for those times when a party is Friday and I’m going on a wine tour Saturday. That shouldn’t be an issue, it’s just scheduling. But overall, my pattern was steady drinking, and it was threatening to become a daily habit. I want to watch out for it.

Emotional drinking: I try not to drink when I’m feeling down, feeling lonely, or have nothing better to do. I over-drank because I was trying to run away from my feelings. I’m re-learning how to sit with uncomfortable feelings for long periods of time. Sometimes, I want to do anything but that. I just need a break. I used to tell myself I needed a drink, but now I know it’s a break that I need, and I can get that by going to the gym, by meditating, by reading, by playing a video game, by journaling… there are so many choices. I’m not perfect on this issue, but I also can’t be too strict with myself about it either. Life has thrown me some crazy curve balls this year, and I’ve been sober and steady for them 99% of the time. I aim for 100% and hope I’ll get there someday.