Friday, 17 April 2015

Moderation. Is it possible?

Moderation. The elephant in the room. The giant enchilada. The hairy chestnut.

I've avoided this one up until now because it's so emotive. A virtual fight broke out recently on one of the sober websites over this topic. Some newer members were discussing moderation and 'just cutting down' in a positive way, and some of the older (wiser?) members got so cross that they abandoned their subscriptions.

The reason this subject is so highly charged is that, at least in the early days of sobriety, many of us hold onto the idea of moderation as the holy grail. The ultimate fairy tale fantasy. Being able to, eventually, raise a glass of chilled champagne with friends and family at a special event, end then - without regret - stop.

Discussing this possibility (fairytale?) is dangerous because, for all of us, it gives ammunition to the wine witch.  Her most fiendish argument is when she whispers into our ear 3 month, 6 months, 1 year in and says "you've done so well! You've really re-calibrated your relationship with alcohol. Now you have a clean sheet of paper. You can start again. Differently. Moderately. You were never a really bad drinker anyway. You never reached that 'rock bottom'. Go on! Just have the one!"

Every time I hear about a properly thirsty (how many euphemisms can I find to avoid the 'alcoholic' word?) drinker giving up and then re-starting - moderately - I feel this surge of hope that I then have to sit on and squish really hard.

Here's an example: When comedian David Walliams married the supermodel Lara Stone she, very openly, discussed her issues with alcohol (she used to drink cocktails for breakfast) and her time in rehab in South Africa. Then, in interviews last summer, she said that she was wasn't being as 'strict' about alcohol and was drinking moderately. A couple of months ago she and David split up.

I have become weirdly obsessed by Lara (who I had no interest in before). Is she still 'drinking moderately'? Did she go back into rehab? What happened?

And this is the problem. Every time one of us claims to be drinking 'moderately' we offer (false?) hope to everyone. And, very often, no-one gets to hear how it all ended. It just goes silent.

I was reading one sober blog a while ago on this subject, and the author said whenever one of her readers was insistent about trying moderation she would, eventually, say 'go on then. Try it. And if it works, come back and tell us all about it.' And, to date, no-one ever has.

I have tried moderation in the past, after a couple of months of total abstinence. Here's how it goes for me:

Some 'trigger event' leads the wine witch to pull out the big guns (see above), and I pour a glass of wine. This does not lead to a 3 day bender and me ending up knickerless in a gutter. Oh no. It's far more insidious than that...

I don't actually enjoy that first glass all that much - it tastes sort of vinegary, not the way I remember. I think "See! I don't even like it that much any more! Ha ha. Put the cork back in the bottle and leave it there for ever. Or, at least until it's a really special occasion."

2 weeks later. It's a mildly special occasion. "I can have a glass of wine! I did so well last time! It's been two weeks already." Drink 3 glasses of wine.

Within 2 more weeks I'd be drinking every weekend, then every time we went out, then every day except Monday and Tuesday, then every day after 7pm...yada, yada, yada. Back to square one.

I had an 'ah ha' moment recently thanks to Anne's fabulous blog ainsobriety. With her usual, beautifully written, straight talking common sense, Anne said 'a normal (if that word even means anything) drinker does not feel the need to write a sober blog.' Or, I expect, to read sober blogs. That sentence has been stuck in my head for days - because she's right.

When I asked at the end of my last post what was over The Wall, Anne replied 'freedom'. I've been thinking about what freedom looks like, and, for me, this is it:

When I quit my chronic, 30 a day, smoking habit (see a pattern here? Just don't let me take up online bingo!) I thought that 'nirvana' was being able to smoke just 2 or 3 a day. One after work, 2 after dinner. Just the best ones. For at least a couple of years I would have leapt at the promise of being able to do this. If I'd been told I only had a month to live I would have immediately taken up smoking.

But at some point (and I wish I knew exactly when), that yearning left me. Now I loathe the idea of smoking 2 or 3 a day. The last thing I'd do with my final month on earth is to spend it smoking.

That's where I want to get to with alcohol because that, my friends, is real freedom. Is anyone there yet? Is it possible?

Wishing you all a fabulous Friday!

SM x

Related posts: Secret Drinker hits the High Bottom, Am I an Alcoholic? Am I an Alcoholic? Part 2
Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2 What's so great about moderation anyway? Celebrity Drinkers


  1. Hi SM, moderating never works for me either. Although don't think I haven't tried! After several periods of sobriety I've decided that it's worth a try but it inevitably ends up the same way. Like you, I didn't like the taste of the first couple of drinks either. Funny how you get used it. Or at least the wine witch would lead you to believe that. Freedom from all this? Sounds pretty good to me. A x

  2. everything in moderation. Amen to that. yes i think it works for some...( those without an alcohol problem.) in some ways I am not too bad at it tbh but the mental effort is almost totally exhausting. Everytime I think of moderation and alcohol now i think of this lady i read about years ago...i only saw the tragic end to the tragic tragic story upon looking up her name after reading your blog today. Moderation is a very complex issue for most i imagine...

    1. Thanks for posting that link, Kats. I'd forgotten that story - tragic. What a mess xx

  3. I think we each have to go through a period of trying to moderate (I did it for years) to reach a place where we truly believe we cannot and become so sick of drinking we really want to stop, whatever it takes. It would be hard to take someone else's word for it. However, I do heed the warnings from those who revert to drinking and come back to sobriety; they almost always warn NOT to try it, and to date I have not and do not plan to.
    I felt the same as you with smoking, some days I think I'm there or very nearly with alcohol (2 years 1 month) but at others I still wish I could forget it all with a bottle of wine.
    I laughed at normal drinkers not having a sober blog! SOOOOO TRUE.
    It would be like having a 'don't eat too many bananas blog'. If they ceased to exist tomorrow I wouldn't be much bothered. Couldn't have said that about booze.

    Anyway, I've rambled on enough! I'm glad to find your blog (Kat76 told me about it). Your bio reads exactly like mine, except I only have 2 children! Will follow.

    1. Thanks, Rachel! You are my heroine. Love your book x

  4. Dear SM,
    I am one of those who tried to moderate many times. I even kept a log like they tell you to do. Ha. Counted drinks for the week. I even kept track of how much money I spent, and what I felt like.
    Still not pretty!
    I am so glad you are staying the course.

  5. Hi SM, I completely understand what you mean about Lara Stone....I'm the same with Zoe Ball! She's been sober for years but last year announced that she's now able to enjoy the odd cocktail with friends. Well that just gave me the green light to try moderating again. We love to seek out people who can justify what we do which is ridiculous behaviour. Love your blog! Nikki x

    1. Aaarrgghhh! No! Not Zoe Ball! Isn't it awful? You want them to be ok, but at the same time, if they ARE ok then it gives you permission to do the same thing (which is dangerous), so in all honesty you want to read that they've been spotted drunk in a gutter. Which is mean. Damn you, Zoe.

    2. It is indeed true. I blogged about this earlier in the year when I was craving wine and feeling sorry for myself. This is the link if you are interested.

    3. Thanks for the link, Rachel. Great post. Exactly how I felt when reading about Lara. X

  6. Thank you for the compliment. I need to figure out how to better follow non Wordpress blogs.

  7. It's a really good point. I can strongly suggest you to check, it is full of article about giving up alcohol and methods that could really help people if they're willing to do it :)