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.


  1. It's interesting how you know you can moderate- and I know I can't. (I say, curious and mystified a little about the workings of the human brain and body) Maybe it's more of a coping mechanism for some (you) and more of a deep urgent need for others (me). And maybe, on any given day, those things are one and the same.

    I am totally scared to death of moderation. And I'm OK with that. Just like I'm OK with you going out into the water, maybe to the deep end while I sit on shore. We all have our pushes and pulls, leaps and flies.

    I hope you stay part of the conversation as a conscientious moderator. It may make it easier for someone out there to give up hard core boozing and be sober for a time knowing that if they want to have a glass at so-and-so's wedding maybe that might be in the picture. There are not absolutes, not really. There are the beliefs that we know about ourselves, we all have to tell ourselves our own truths. The ones we can live with.

    It's funny, before I came down and read this I was thinking about moderation, but in cookies. That I can, through perseverance, learn to be satisfied with what is adequate and not go overboard. By learning the feelings and the words of "enough".

    Thanks for another thought provoking post. :)

  2. Thanks as always, Amy. People really are mystifying, aren't they? Coping mechanism, urgent need, I don't know which is which. I do think we are all figuring out some similar basic things, though they won't look the same in everyone, and there will likely be different ways that suit each of us. One of the things that interests me in my psychology studies is how we rely on the group average to tell us what works for people, but then it's implied that the same thing works for everyone, even though there are often a large number of people for whom that doesn't work, who can get left out of the discussion.

    I think many people who are drinking too much would do well to take some sober time, and then make some real changes. An all-or-nothing take on things makes it hard for some people to get help, so if being a voice for moderation helps anyone, I'm pleased with that. So yes, I will stay part of the conversation, and thanks for welcoming me in it!

    Your thing with the cookies is not so different from mine with the wine, is it? What is this elusive enough, anyway? I think this stuff goes pretty deep, and the best we can do is be easy on ourselves as we figure it out. Thanks again for reading, and for your kind words. I hope you have a great weekend. xo