Saturday 30 November 2013

Thanks and so long! (On not being Thirsty anymore.)

Thanks to all the people who have read and commented (or not commented) and kept me company while I've been writing this blog. If you've been reading you will know that a while ago, after my 100 days without drinking, I decided to drink moderately, and I planned to keep blogging about it.

But it doesn't work. The blogging, I mean, not the moderation itself. That part's mostly fine. I am pleased with being able to drink some wine, and I don't have angst or guilt or hangovers or regrets! I haven't sorted it out perfectly, but I am getting there, and that's good for me. But in doing so, I don't have a lot to say about alcohol. For me the key to making this work, I think, is that I don't think about wine all that often. If I want some I have some, but I am not obsessing about more, or obsessing about less.

And if I don't want to obsess about alcohol, then it doesn't make sense to keep up a blog that's devoted to talking about it. So I'm signing off. I'll leave this note for a few days so anyone who reads semi-regularly will see it. Then I'll take the blog down. Time to move on to new obsessions.

Here's wishing that all of you who want to get sober get there and stay that way. And I hope you find the joy and fulfillment you are looking for in life once you take alcohol out of the way. Thanks for keeping me company along this little bit of the way.


Thursday 21 November 2013

My moderation thing: how it's going

I haven’t written in a couple of weeks. This blogging is tricky stuff. I think I’d written myself into too small a corner here with my moderate drinking experiment. If things were going well, I felt I couldn’t talk about it because I don’t want to be smug about what I’m trying. Smug is definitely not my game. If something wasn’t working, I felt I couldn’t write about it without people telling me that just giving it all up for good is the better way. But in not writing, I felt like I was stopping paying enough attention, and this thing I’m trying requires me paying attention.

So, after about a month of trying moderate drinking (following 100+ days without) what have I got?

There are some things I definitely like about drinking. When I stopped for a while, I found it easy to be hyper-critical of the drinking part of our culture. I had to be if I was going to set that aside altogether. So here I’m trying to balance that. Give the culture some credit.

Good wine tastes very good. I like it, much as I like good food and good chocolate. (Apparently I think chocolate is a separate category than food.) Jason Vale is just plain wrong on this one. Maybe he doesn’t like it, or something. I do. It’s best if I accept that, and not try to buy into pretending I don’t. I can’t keep that up for too long.

People like getting together for a drink. It’s fun. Last week I went to the pub with some folks after a meeting, and we had a really enjoyable conversation that just wouldn’t have gone that way over coffee. This isn’t about the chemical effects of alcohol. People start to relax once they’ve made the decision to go out, before they even arrive, much less order drinks. This is a social change, a shared anticipation, and it is real.

I like the rituals of drinking: nice glasses, pretty liquids. Going to the store and choosing the wine to go with the lamb you’re planning for dinner. It’s fun, and festive. These rituals are rooted in the culture I’m in and the habits I have. It’s best to acknowledge them, rather than pretend they don’t exist. In part, the rituals of culture make up who we are.

Having said that, I want to take a good square look at when drinking goes wrong. And that’s pretty much one thing: drinking too much. There is a point past which drinking really isn’t all that much fun. Worse, it's dangerous, especially for women. In Amy Gutman’s excellent article Why feminists don't get drunk, she points out that excessive drinking lessens personal agency because it disables a person’s ability to make decisions. So it’s best not to drink so much that decision-making is impaired. I think this is, over time, what most people do. They find that "enough" feeling, the place to stop. If you can't learn that, you just can't drink. Our culture is big on taking personal responsibility, but we're really gapping out on that one.

I think I'm learning. Yesterday, I took myself out to a fancy lunch with wine, which is something I love to do. Then I came home and had coffee and did some work, and then went to a movie with friends. No more drinking for me that day. I didn't want to. Still, I realized I should have had one glass with the lunch, not two. The first one was good. Partway through the second one I thought, oops, I don’t need this, but I had ordered it, and I drank it, and yes, it made me fuzzy in a way I didn’t like all that much. No big regrets, just noticing what works and what doesn't. 

I am trying to set up new norms, to structure my routines so that they become real new habits that aren’t much work. So some things have to be off limits—easy “no’s” for things that can trip me up, and that I can avoid. No more than two glasses of wine at a time, and always with a meal. Sip slowly and enjoy. And pay attention here. One might be enough. If it is, stop. If two doesn’t feel like enough, work through that tension somehow. Take a walk. Have some tea. Eat a little chocolate. Do the dishes. But don’t have more. And don’t let it ruin the evening. Part of this is I need to make sure I keep up the new evening rituals I started when I stopped drinking. Sparkling water while cooking is a good one. Herbal tea after dinner is another. Wine has a place and it’s a lovely one. Contain it, enjoy it, and move on.

I know there were a lot of people talking about moderation being torture a week or two ago. For me, it isn’t. It’s not automatic, and I expect I will feel cranky sometimes when I have to say no to myself, but I was cranky sometimes when I couldn’t have wine at all. Mostly, this has been really enjoyable for me, but of course it’s not for everyone.

One final note: guilt is off-limits! I am trying to figure our how to do this. It might not work, but I think I’m getting somewhere. I can get caught in a trap of perfection and guilt, but that just doesn’t make sense here. I’m not trying to prove anything, or be the best darn moderator who ever lived so I can win some bloody prize. I’m just trying to change some habits, using what I know about how habits form and change, so I can live a good life. So far so good.

If you’ve read all this, many thanks. And peace.

Friday 8 November 2013


When I started this blog, I wanted to get a handle on my drinking. These days, I'm trying to grapple with the wider issue of my own greed. I have always wanted more of everything. I'm not talking about money here, or stuff. I'm talking about good things happening. I am greedy about moments. I want them to go on forever. It's like I don't believe anything good has ever happened before, or will again, and so when there is something fun or lovely or good on the go, I become some sort of glutton for the experience. Whether it's a good book, or an evening with friends, or a three day camping trip, when it's over I am always bereft.

That's no way to live. I know our economy, and our way of life, is based on competition for scarce resources. But I don't really think life is like that. What if somehow, enjoying the moment means letting go of that urgency to keep it going? Accepting that the moment will end, and other moments will happen, instead of trying to cling fiercely to the fleeting one you're in right now. As I wrote last time, I'm pretty good at the extremes, so I can do self-denial with the best of the self-deniers, or indulge myself as well as many gluttons in the crowd. I didn't learn the middle way when I was a young person figuring out how to live. But I think it's worth the effort to see if I can learn how to live it now.

I am trying this with learning to drink moderately. And it's going well. I am not, as feared, beset with cravings, or spiralling into an out of control mess. During my 100+ days not drinking, I did a lot of mental work. I paid attention to the things make me want to drink, and found other, better ways to cope with some of those things. I realized that being drunk is an awful feeling and a waste of life. That I was using drink as one giant "get me out of here! That being clear and able to remember evenings was a better way to live, one I wanted to stick with. All that stuff I wrote about before.

So now that I'm trying to learn how to drink like a normal person, one who enjoys wine but doesn't go overboard, what I'm learning is a revelation. One amazing thing is, a little really is enough. One glass of wine, maybe two, is a good amount. That means two people sharing a bottle of wine have two whole glasses left over, without any deprivation or hardship. That's astonishing to me! I have never, ever been someone who has had a sense of there being enough. I always wanted more and more. I thought it was come sort of congenital condition. But it turns out that learning to pay attention to the taste and the effect of the wine means I can feel my limit when I hit it, and then I genuinely don't want any more. This is what I wanted to happen, and I had some hope that it could, but I wasn't at all sure.

Another thing is, different situations are different. At home enjoying a quiet dinner with my partner, one glass is lovely. Out in a noisy restaurant with a long relaxed meal, splitting the bottle feels OK, but that's not something I'm going to do very often. One night I had a glass of my favourite kind of beer, a locally brewed extra special bitter, and the single glass was plenty for me. After that, I had a glass of sparkling water, because that's what I wanted. Only once did I see how things fail for me when they fail. I had a glass of wine and then a brandy, and the brandy hit me really fast, and then I did have that old more more more feeling. But instead of resisting it, I had a little more, and stayed with the feeling, and I could feel how wrong that wanting more had been. The extra didn't taste good, and I didn't like the buzzy feeling. I didn't feel guilty or scared, though. I just learned from it, one more bit of knowing what "enough" feels like for me. The moment hadn't lasted, and nothing I could have done would have made it last. In fact, the panic that the moment might end is what makes the moment end too early. Relax into it and it's yours until it's really over, and then there's a whole new moment, with its own promise. This is all new to me. I think it's worth learning.

I do have some absolute restrictions, though. I don't have anything to drink is when I think, "I really need a drink now." When I hit that tired, antsy frame of mind, I drink a large glass of sparkling water instead. If I am going to learn to enjoy wine in moderation, the way people do, it's important that I don't use it in the old escape ways. So I don't pour a big glass of wine after work when I come home feeling beat after working the evening shift. Instead I have a cup of herbal tea, and go to bed. I don't mindlessly pour wine as soon as I come through the door at dinnertime. I pour a sparkling water, and enjoy it, and I always realize I was more thirsty than I had realized.

In this new way I'm learning, wine is something I can have in small amounts, with food and with other people. I am seeing whether I can learn the practice of social drinking that I wish I had learned as a young person. So far, it seems promising. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I have magically fallen into some perfect zone of moderation and now it will all be fine. I am just trying to use the same mindfulness I use in the rest of my life. If I don't want to ride my bike because I'm tired, I have learned to pay attention to know whether I'm really tired or just feeling lazy. If I crave something sweet (or savoury, more likely!) I have learned to figure whether I am hungry, or whether I just want some comfort, and then whether food is really the thing for that. Learning that with wine feels like part of the same process for me. No, it's not going to be perfect, nor does it come naturally to me. That doesn't mean I can't get good at it, though. Learning to ski wasn't natural, but I'm glad I did it. Becoming a fit adult after a couch-potato childhood wasn't natural. Nor was going back to school after years out. I think we can learn to make some changes, slowly and carefully. I'm not saying  this is all OK now, or that I am sure it's going to work out easily from here. But I am trying, using the things I learned from not drinking, and using what I have learned in other changes I have made as well. Mostly I am kind to myself, but not indulgent, and that feels right to me.

I'm not out to convince anyone to do something different; I'm just saying what works for me. Someone mentioned to me that one reason people are afraid of moderation is that people who become moderate drinkers simply drop out of the conversation. (I think more often, people try to do the same thing they did before and just call it moderation, and big surprise, that leads back to where they were before. I know, because I have done that. ) So I plan to drop in once in a while and say, honestly, how this is going for me. I'm actually not doing this for other people, though. I am writing because I want to pay attention to what I'm learning, noticing it so I can hold onto it when I need it.

And for now, I am learning that there is such a thing as enough, and I can recognize that when I come to it. If I really get a handle on that, I won't have to oscillate between my usual poles of deprivation and greed. So far so good.

If you've read this, many thanks. Peace.