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Why Moderation?


July 14, 2016

By far, the most popularly-discussed solution to problematic drinking is permanent abstinence, AKA teetotalism, AKA quitting alcohol for good. So when I try to write about why I am choosing to try moderation, I find myself tempted to frame my answer as a list of all the reasons I’m not choosing permanent abstinence. Not only does not not really answer the question, it comes off as unnecessarily critical of people who do choose permanent abstinence. I know this because I’ve browsed through a number of “sober blogs” and found myself feeling defensive, insulted, and/or alienated by posts that spend too much time scoffing at moderation. I end up avoiding those blogs, which is a shame, because there are more things we have in common than not.

Moreover, I may yet end up choosing permanent abstinence. One of the many reasons I like Moderation Management is that it allows for many different definitions of success, including harm reduction (which I consider incredibly important). From moderation.org:

Moderation is a natural part of the process from harmful drinking, whether moderation or abstinence becomes the final goal. Most individuals who are able to maintain total abstinence first attempted to reduce their drinking, unsuccessfully. Moderation programs shorten the process of “discovering” if moderation is a workable solution by providing concrete guidelines about the limits of moderate alcohol consumption.

So moderation may simply be my first step toward permanent abstinence, and I am fine with that. The last three months have increased my confidence in my ability to abstain from alcohol for short or extended periods, and reduced a great deal of the drinker’s anxiety that I used to feel over the prospect. It is hard to insist that I am not choosing permanent abstinence when, in fact, I am carefully building up that skill set.

To answer the title question: there are basically two reasons that I want to try to (re)learn moderate drinking habits. The first is that there are things I like about drinking (including things which seem to still be achievable while drinking moderately), and the second is that there are skills I am hoping to learn.

Moderation and abstinence both have pros and cons, and the most obvious “pro” of moderation is that it allows you to drink. In practice, this means that I can order a drink while out with friends and skip the whole “but why aren’t you drinking” conversation. I can plan an evening out with my SO where we each enjoy a drink or two. I live in a town filled with craft breweries, and moderation allows me to continue to taste the latest seasonal ales.

In fact, most of these are small pleasures. Which is fine, but worth understanding. The single biggest reason I used to drink was to get drunk, which I wanted to do every single day. There is literally no way to do that while moderating, so no matter what approach I try, I don’t get to have that relationship with alcohol again. In total honesty, sometimes, that part makes me deeply sad.

The truth is, my friends wouldn’t mind at all if I told them I’d quit drinking. They’re good people, and would be incredibly supportive. My SO and I would still enjoy special evenings out without any alcohol. The craft breweries could still thrive without my business, and I would find new local delicacies to sample. The promise of “still being able to enjoy drinking” was part of why I was able to give MM a try, but it’s not actually why I’m sticking around.

More than any other obstacle standing in my way of success is an overwhelming fear of failure. I am a person who is haunted by the fear of failure, far beyond a reasonable degree. Because of this, certain approaches are poisonous to my success — for instance, the counting-every-day (restarting at “day one” after even a single drink) that many programs suggest would send me into a tailspin.

Ultimately, I chose to try moderation because it helps me work on the skill of making imperfect progress. Just like the above quote about moderation being a natural part of the process away from harmful drinking, MM allows for the idea that mistakes are a natural part of learning. I need that. I need to practice recovery in many senses of the word, and to give myself room to be human as I go. I need a road that fits my particular needs, even if it takes me to the same place in the end.

This blog post was written by MM forum member lentil.  Lentil is the member’s username and you can follow her “imperfect progress ” on the MM forum, Abstar or her blog, practicing moderation.

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