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.


  1. Interesting to read you. I have a friend aged 27 who has only had one period of excess drinking and has moderated quite successfully.

    She has a few ground rules, you might find helpful

    * Always decide beforehand how much you will drink (never more than one glass at lunch and two small glasses spaced with an hour between them at supper) and stop there. Note any discomfort at stopping

    * Never drink alone, or with PMS or on an empty stomach

    * Note the levels of anticipation and anxiety before going out and drinking and delay having a drink if you can because this reinforces the power of choice

    She says the point is to make drinking unimportant and not the key focus of the evening or outing.

    Good luck !

    1. Thanks for passing along your friend's ground rules. My rules are similar, and yet she articulates the spirit of it more clearly than I have here. Changing my relationship to alcohol, making it just a part of the evening and not the key focus, is exactly the point. So far, when I notice that I really, really want a glass of wine, then I think, no, that's too much, it's a bad day for it. I'm giving this a go because I think if I can do it, it's something I can sustain in the longterm. Thanks for your moral support! It's much appreciated.

  2. Wow. On Day #24 of the 100 day Challenge, I have no intention of Never Drinking Again. At least, that's what I think now. As a former fatty who has been slim and fit for 8+ years now, I HAVE figured out how to moderate food, which may be more difficult that moderating alcohol- I don't know. And I'm not sure what my definition of alcohol moderation might be. I am reading your blog with great interest- please do keep posting, about the good and the bad.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Carrie. Good luck with the 100 day challenge. I'm super glad I did that, as the stretch of time without drinking was a real help to me. I appreciate what you say about the food connection, and that's exactly the experience I'm trying to rely on here. I'm not at all sure this will work, and if it does, it will take some effort and discomfort, but so does everything else! I'm really glad you read and commented, as I didn't want to sound like I was advocating drinking to people who were trying to quit. I'll keep you posted. And much luck to you! It's definitely worth the effort to take at least 100 days off drinking. I'm cheering you on here!!!