This article was written by MM member, Katy Byyrne, psychotherapist, writer and editor.
She has given permission to publish it here:
Stopping an addiction like drinking or moderating the habit is
an ongoing debate in some circles. Whether to quit or regulate?
Alcoholics Anonymous says that drinkers are “powerless” over alcohol and need to “turn it over to a higher power.” Moderation Management offers a place to empower yourself – that is, to manage it.
For me, the MM program is about self-empowerment. It’s not always easy but it gives people choices (everything from abstinence to having two drinks a day or just on weekends,etc.) and time to find their own way.
Moderation Management members, like AA people, seem to have different reasons for drinking. Some want the “buzz”, some are driven by fear of dealing with daily tasks of living or needing help with social anxiety. Some people wanted to numb old trauma and memory. Reasons to drink range widely and wildly.
In our society, we live with a speeded up pace of life that is stressful. (Not to mention politics in the country making us all bite our nails.) So, we turn to habits to deal with our hungers, our loneliness, deaden sorrow, deal with depression, get happy and so on.
I have found through the years of struggling with my own addictions including serial romantic love partners or quitting cigarettes or losing 100 pounds( compulsive overeating) or moderating my drinking- that different approaches have worked for me and some – not so much.
Right now, in Moderation Management I am finding that alot of people discuss: “Why would I drink too much when it makes me more stupid and upsets my digestion?” Increasingly MM seems to include dialogues about how to change our behaviors, but also what is at the bottom of such self-harm?
Triggers causing us to want to numb or cheer ourselves up are everywhere – from relationship break ups to mean bosses at work. A lot of us long for something to hold onto, to feel filled up, to lessen fear and help us socialize or have sex and so on.
Resolutions come to everyone differently. For many it took a long time, years to find a way to moderate drinking. Some were able, after many months, to choose to have a couple of beers at a party and then not drink all month. Others needed the advised (but not essential) 30 days off to see what it was like and better understand their habits (why they drank in the first place.)
I’m just saying there’s another way, besides AA. But, Bill W. and A.A. changed the world for many and I’ve found each path helpful.
We all have to find our own way to wellness.
My family history and the culture said, “AA is the only way”,
but, in MM I see that there is no absolute rule. Some people quit
drinking without AA, some replace alcohol with marijuana, some go back to AA and many eventually regulate their habits. Some quit during the week or have two drinks maximum on any given day. But, whatever way you go, you have tools for change, like delaying the drink or planning the evening or breathing into the social anxiety instead of gulping something.
In studying alternatives to AA I found “Over the Influence”, by Denning, Little and Glickman. The book says that women can feel especially disempowered by the idea that they cannot manage their own lives or lying to themselves about their overuse. And helplessness is not an idea that is emphasized in MM. The book states: “There is surprisingly little actual denial on the part of people who use alcohol and other drugs. Every time a drinker is confronted about her use of alcohol, she feels it. She may be lying, minimizing the problem, ambivalent, hopeful that she can make it better, hopeless about doing anything different, or fearful about losing that warm blanket that alcohol wraps around her each evening, but she’s not in denial…. Since we believe that many drug users have already been traumatized and badly shamed, we find the idea of breaking someone’s spirit in this way to be horrifying. …Powerlessness is a difficult concept. It is questionable, especially for women who have been in a less than powerful position in society for so long.”
I find that Moderation Management facilitates conversations around the world about people’s struggles and victories with alcohol. These discussions are hopeful, intelligent and honest.
In my research I also found that former columnist for The SF Chronicle, Don Lattin, had written a brilliant book called, “Distilled Spirits” about his own challenge with drinking, chronicling the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and his final decision to join the program. He vividly recounts the story of how Bill W started the 12
Step program, explains the history of AA and gives in depth insight about how Bill W’s friendships and radical transformation inspired the program. AA began with pioneering and divine intervention that has saved many lives. The Twelve Step Programs worldwide help multitudes of people.
Other reading, including “Responsible Drinking, “by Rotgers, Kern and Hoeltzel, along the lines of moderating alcohol consumption
reads like this: “I have never sunk back to the drinking levels of those earlier years… I do have a few rules that I can follow that really seem to help. I don’t start drinking past a certain hour…. I never drink on an empty stomach. I keep track. Drink water. Listen to your body etc. …think substitution not restriction.”
Harm reduction therapists are another way to go. I think my eating disorder shifted when I realized in therapy that it was the little child in me eating. Still, I wrestled with myself at the refrigerator for years before I dropped one hundred pounds.
But I think the most agonizing of all was my love and sex addiction. I found Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLA) based on the 12 step model, to be the most helpful program of them all. The deep longing for closeness and attachment was revealed so openly in those rooms and the sharing so authentic that it changed me.
The wound is a worthy opponent.
Whether I struggle with my own workaholic behavior, cell phone mania, french fries at midnight or wine in the wine country – I am glad there are alternative ways to recover from these life sucking habits.
I’m helped by the people who have regulated their drinking in Moderation Management – but, for me, it’s a process and the jury is still out.
Katy Byrne, MA, MFT Psychotherapist in Sonoma,Ca. author of “The Courage to Speak Up, Getting Your Hairballs Out” and columnist for The Sun in Sonoma,California.