Updated: Apr 10, 2021
I recently said I was going to spend a couple of weeks talking about the idea of cognitive distortions and how they negatively affect the addict's ability to remain sober, but I was recently inspired to write on another topic. Fear not, I will return to cognitive distortions in my next blog. It could be argued, however, the following topic is part of a cognitive distortion too. It just doesn't fit nicely into one of the commonly known distortion categories, but I think there is definitely some distortion happening in the psyche of all of us who have tried to use it. The topic came up when I was talking with a dear friend of mine who has been trying to or at least wanting to quit drinking for quite some time. In response to my asking how she was doing, she responded, "I'm still flirting with moderation."
Ask anyone who has successfully negotiated sobriety and they will tell you emphatically, moderation is a fantasy, at least for addicts. In response to my friend, I told her people who can moderate drinking don't think about moderating their drinking. They just do it because it is not a thing for them. They do not spend their time worrying about how much they drink because they really do not drink much. Now, on a side note, it can be easily argued that a person who drinks is always at risk of future addiction. Annie Grace, in her book "This Naked Mind" made a statement I will never forget regarding every level of drinker. She said, "Nobody ever drinks less over time." With that said, if you are someone who is "successfully" moderating your drinking, please be aware, you may not be immune, either.
I am going to quit drinking for a month. If I can quit drinking for a month,
then I do not have a problem with alcohol
Flirting with moderation is an incredibly common delusion. It makes sense why we hope for such an unlikely occurrence. Part of addiction is not admitting we have a problem. We say things like, "I don't have a problem with alcohol," or "I can control my drinking if I want to," or "I am not like that person," or "I only drink to relax," or any number of excuses we come up with to justify why our drinking is okay. Trying to moderate our drinking is our way of trying to convince ourselves we do not have a problem with alcohol. There are a number of ways we can try and do this, but here's the thing; they do not work. In fact, in my experience, every time I tried to moderate my drinking, I ended up rebounding and drinking more than I did before moderating. I'll give you a couple of examples of my failed moderation attempts, and then I will explain why I believe moderation does not work for addicts.
My go to moderation strategy was so ridiculous, I am embarrassed to even admit it. It went something like this. At a point when I subcoconsciously knew I was toeing a line with my drinking I would proclaim something along these lines, "I am going to quit drinking for a month. If I can quit drinking for a month, then I do not have a problem with alcohol." I must have done this a dozen times over my thirty seven year drinking career. Even more if you count my failed attempts, as well. Here is how my month long hiatus usually went down. First, I would drink myself into oblivion the night before my proclaimed quitting date only to find myself waking up the next day with a horrific hangover. I immediately regretted my decision to quit. If it was a successful attempt, I would literally grin and bare my way through the month long reprieve from alcohol. It was excruciating and the only reason I was able to overcome the suffering was by looking forward to the payoff, alcohol. I am a little stubborn, too so that also played a role in my ability to get through the month. Nevertheless, the point is, I would white knuckle my way through the month, and then I would dive headfirst back into my drinking habits with even more vigor than before.
Looking back at it all now I can't help but laugh, but also cry, at how well I was able to manipulate myself into a perpetual state of drinking
I tried other moderation strategies too. While I was generally able to pull off the month long no drinking strategy, the following were never even remotely successful. One of my biggest complaints about my drinking, at the time, was my lack of energy or drive to push toward any of my dreams or goals. I was in a perpetual state of hangover and exhaustion. With that in mind, I would often try to convince myself to only drink on the weekends. I figured if I stayed sober during the week, I could be more productive and when the weekend rolled around I could celebrate as much as I wanted because, well, I earned it. I do not think I ever made it through a week. Something would come up, or nothing would come up, and I would easily justify why it was okay to drink on a Wednesday. By Friday, I had forgotten entirely about my plan. This strategy frustrated me because it really made sense to me, at the time. I just couldn't make it work. No surprise.
Another of my strategies was the two and done. Most people called it one and done, but I like to go above and beyond in most things I do, so... Nevertheless, the idea was to only allow myself two drinks a day. This strategy worked until I had three, and then four, and then... You get the idea. There was just always a reason to have another. Here is a fun one. A few times I thought it made sense to only drink when I was away from home. I knew I should not drink alone, so if I drank socially it was okay. This lasted until one of two things happened. The first, I ended up going out every night. The second, because of the first, I realized how expensive it was to drink out every night, so I justified why it was better for me to drink at home. Looking back at it all now I can't help but laugh, but also cry, at how well I was able to manipulate myself into a perpetual state of drinking.
If the reason we want to quit drinking has anything to do with alcohol,
we are not on the right track
I tried a lot of different ways to avoid admitting to myself the inevitable truth. I had a problem with alcohol. No matter how hard I tried to control my drinking, I always found myself back at square one, with a bottle in my hand. The longer I tried to convince myself I didn't have a problem the deeper I sank into my addiction. If you are someone considering moderation as a way to gain back control over your life, here are a couple of reasons why I believe moderation not only does not work, but it also compounds the problem further.
First, any time we white knuckle or grin and bare our sobriety, we are not on the right track. This is tough for a lot of people to hear because I know this is a somewhat common occurrence in sobriety. Here is the problem. If we are white knuckling, it is because we are trying to remove something from our lives of which we are not yet ready to let go. Think of it like mourning. When we lose someone unexpectedly, the grieving process is excruciating because all we can think about is how much we miss them. We cannot stop thinking about all the good times we shared. We cannot fathom a reason why our person was taken from us. We mourn deeply because we loved them and we did not want to lose them. If we think of alcohol in this way, I am sorry, but sobriety is going to be a bitch. We cannot properly walk away from our addictions without adequately acknowledging and solving the deeper issues. I have said this before and I will say it again, indefinitely. If the reason we want to quit drinking has anything to do with alcohol, we are not on the right track. It is deeper than the chemical. It is deeper than the hangover. It is deeper than the physical addiction. When we successfully quit drinking, we do so easily because we know it has nothing to offer us. We know the only thing alcohol does is harm us. It is not our friend. We do not miss it in our lives. We do not mourn the loss of alcohol, we celebrate it.
I am here to tell you, moderation does not work
Second, any time we neglect ourselves of something we want, what happens? We want it more. As long as we still want to drink, withholding alcohol will only increase our urge to drink ten fold. The longer we neglect ourselves of our desires, the more voraciously we will partake when finally given the chance. I can say with utmost certainty, I always ended up drinking more after a period of moderation.
Finally, if we are trying to moderate, if we are trying to convince ourselves we do not have a problem, if we are googling alcoholism, If we are looking for sober groups online, if we are making excuses to hide our drinking, if we are doing any of these things, then we are most likely already past the point of moderation as a viable option. I know this does not sound good to anyone still leaning in the direction of moderation. Trust me when I tell you how much I feel your pain. I tried for twenty years or more to justify in my mind why I believed moderation could work. I am here to tell you, moderation does not work. It is only a fantasy we make up in our minds to prolong what we already know to be the truth. We have a problem with alcohol, and the only answer is to find our why's and to begin making the changes necessary to live successfully without alcohol.