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!
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