‘Moderation in all things’ is a well known saying that can be credited to the Ancient Greek philosophers and Oscar Wilde in more recent times. I’ve always thought the word moderation had a dullness to it that made me never want to moderate – ever. To me it suggests that feeling of ‘almost but not quite’.
Of course, when it comes to alcohol, moderation is incredibly sensible and I have met many, many people over the course of my life who naturally moderate their intake without giving it a great deal of thought.
Many women join Sobersistas with the intention of being able to have a spell of sobriety so that alcohol becomes a ‘controlled substance’ in their lives and, once this is achieved, establish a moderate drinking habit so that they can rejoin the world and drink like everyone else.
I often read posts where women are exasperated at not being able to stop at ‘just one or two’ drinks. They believe that they are incapable of any level of control and that as soon as the bottle of wine is open, all the willpower in the world isn’t going to stop them from finishing every last drop. Of course, there are also the women who post who have been sober for a long spell of time and are considering moderation and ask for advice.
In running Sobersistas since 2017 I have learned a few things about moderation and I hope what follows gives you some insight into why it may be a problem and why, more importantly, it’s not your fault that you can’t do it.
It can be helpful if you spend time getting clear about why you want to moderate. If you are in Sobersistas and you’ve been drinking too much and decided it’s time for change, your first task needs to be understanding why you drink in the first place. There are often multiple and complex reasons why women drink and truly understanding this can unlock some old trauma that you’ve been drowning with alcohol or it may be that you’ve just gotten into a habit that’s now out of hand.
Once you are clear about why you drink, you can get clear about why you want to moderate. Asking yourself what reward will you receive from moderating, or what you perceive your life will be like will be helpful in gaining that clarity. Do you want to moderate so that you can feel part of the crowd? Or that it feels somehow adult to be able to moderate successfully? Or is that in choosing total abstinence, you will feel in your mind that you are an alcoholic, and that’s not acceptable?
Whatever your driver for wishing to moderate, clarity of mind is key in being able to decide how you want your life to be and this is easy to achieve once you are sober. It’s always going to be quite difficult to understand your own motivations when you are still suffering from the anxiety and depression that accompanies heavy drinking.
Here are two journal prompts that will help you gain the clarity you need.
I drink alcohol because…
I would like to moderate my drinking because…
I have sometimes likened successful moderate drinkers to unicorn people. Who are these fabled individuals who can have two small beers with a curry and not have any more? Who are these women who can have one glass of wine with dinner and drink lots of water and go home satisfied?
You have no idea what is going on in the lives of other women. You don’t know that the one glass of wine in public is a ‘show’ and they go home and open a bottle and finish it. You don’t know if they moderate because their partners are heavy drinkers or alcoholics and they need to stay in control or drive. You don’t know if they actually don’t want to drink at all but cave in to the pressure to drink that many of us have experienced at one time or another. You don’t know if they genuinely don’t have an issue with alcohol and enjoy one glass with dinner. You just don’t know.
Comparing ourselves to others is a wasteful and pointless exercise. Your life may have similarities to other women but you are unique in the full set of your circumstances, emotional drivers to drink and reasons why you want to release alcohol from your life.
I Can’t Just Have One Or Two
Have you beaten yourself up about your inability to just have one or two drinks? Have you felt ashamed, useless or both because you intended to have one glass of wine and ended up finishing the bottle?
It’s easy to beat yourself up isn’t it? There are too many women in the world who do this as an automatic reaction to things not being the way we think they should be. But, what if it isn’t a failing on your part that you can’t stop once you start?
It doesn’t take many units before alcohol is doing what it is designed to do. An article on Health 24 states: ‘Drinking less than half a glass of alcohol an hour is enough to suppress the functions of the frontal lobes which control your inhibitions, self-control, willpower, ability to judge and concentration.’ You can read the full article here.
If you’re sitting on the sofa pouring your home-sized measures and you’ve had two glasses, you won’t have the self-control to be able to stop. Is that your fault? Perhaps you can take responsibility for that first 2 unit drink but once that first glass is down and you continue to drink you will revert back to your usual habit of drinking too much. This doctor explains how much alcohol it takes to get drunk: click here.
The Brain Loves a Habit
In order to help you, your brain recognises regular behaviour and shortcuts your need to think about how to do things by creating a habit for you. Your brain doesn’t differentiate between good and bad habits. It simply recognises patterns and automates tasks so that you have enough processing power to ensure you don’t get eaten by a sabre tooth tiger. This is why you can drive home from work after doing it several hundred times and not remember the journey.
Breaking our bad habits is the hard work. For me, this is why I never recommend trying to moderate whilst enjoying being sober.
Moderation requires a lot of energy. You will need to decide how much you are going to drink and when. You will need to track how many units you have had and make sure you plan ahead so that you have enough units in the bank to be able to ‘enjoy yourself’ at your friends birthday bash. Plus, you will need to keep track of how many units you’ve had every week.
When you go over your self imposed limits, what then? Are you going to give yourself a hard time and think f*ck it and just give up moderation as too difficult to achieve? Probably.
It’s exhausting constantly counting and justifying to yourself this one drink or that three.
I have seen many women attempt moderation in the group, disappear for a while and come back saying how they started well but ultimately ended up drinking more than they were before they stopped. This usually happens around the 3 to 6 month mark where women feel over confident and think they have it under control.
Not drinking at all creates a freedom of mind and spirit that enables you to live an amazing life that doesn’t need alcohol to ‘enhance’ it because it’s already brilliant.
Be Careful of the Void
One of the things I hear many Sobersistas say is that they can’t imagine what life will be like without alcohol. The reality is that drinking alcohol and it’s associated activities take an enormous amount of time and money out of your life. The average number of hours women spend drinking each week is 35! A whole week’s work! Plus, the amount of money they spend can be equivalent to an extra household income.
When this amount of time and money suddenly lands back in your lap, if you don’t take action to do something with it, it can often feel like you’ve replaced alcohol with the most boring life ever! What will you do in the evening if you can’t sit and ‘connect’ with your partner over a couple of bottles of lovely chardonnay? It can feel like you’re staring into a endless, joyless void.
This is the reason I have heard most often as the justification for attempting to moderate. It’s how you have fun, it’s how you relax at the end of the week, on and on I see reasons for keeping alcohol around when the possibility of what life can be like without has never been explored.
If you use this wonderful gift of time you’ve given yourself to do something you’ve always wanted to do then alcohol will disappear just like that narcissistic boyfriend that you hung onto for too long. The freedom and relief you will experience will be something you never want to let go of.
Not Caring About Alcohol
This, for me, is the real challenge. Doing the work to get yourself to the point of not caring about alcohol one way or another is key in knowing whether you can moderate or not. I’ve been sober now for two years and I know I could moderate if I wanted to because I don’t care about alcohol one way or the other. It no longer has any control over me and I no longer desire the sensation of ‘relaxation’ and ‘stress relief’ that I used to believe alcohol gave me.
The reality is I just don’t care enough about it to want it. I don’t eat meat either because I care about animals and I don’t drink alcohol because, finally, I care about myself.
These days relaxation is defined by having a nice cup of tea and reading a book and stress relief is no longer necessary as sobriety has brought me a sense of clarity and peace that means I rarely get stressed about anything.
It is possible for you to get to this stage of alcohol having no pull or meaning in your mind, however in my experience this feeling can sometimes take time to develop in you. So many Sobersistas report that ‘it just clicked’ with them that they no longer need alcohol in their lives. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a typical length of time when this happens once you’ve given up.
For me, it was around the 3-week mark that I realised I would never drink again. The freedom I felt was exhilarating and, to this day, I still feel this way. Yes, I could moderate if I wanted to but I don’t want that poison messing with my mind, heart and soul anymore. This feeling that I wake up to every day is priceless.
Kindness and Patience
It breaks my heart every time I read a comment from a Sobersista where she beats herself up about her apparent inability to give up or moderate.
If this is you, what if it’s the very shame and guilt that you feel that is holding you back from giving up? No-one wants to feel these horrible feelings and this is why we use alcohol to make them go away. What if it’s the alcohol that is creating this feeling of guilt and shame, not something that is inherent within you?
Being kind with yourself and understanding that this process may take a little time is a much gentler way of approaching your sobriety. In our instant gratification society, it’s easy to be impatient with yourself but you need to remember that your lovely mind is going to take a little time to establish your new habits.
White knuckling your way through getting sober so that you can decide whether you want to moderate isn’t going to work. You need to hold yourself accountable for creating an amazing new life so that you can make the decision in joy, not desperation.
Being in the group is a natural accountability space but there is one key element to this – you need to post when you don’t want to. The shame you feel from drinking and letting yourself down will instinctively make you want to hide but this is the moment when you need to step forward and ask to be held accountable. You know you will be met with love, compassion and kindness and lots of good advice on how to move forward.
Choose the Joyful Path
Whether you decide to moderate or not, I would urge you to choose a joyful path for yourself that sets you free of the burden of alcohol so that you can confidently take back control of your life and live it on your own terms. There is a peaceful, happy life out there for you. I promise.
With over 3 years of experience of running this group, here’s what I have learned. Moderation is possible IF you can say with your hand on your heart that you don’t care about alcohol one way or the other. One of the real issues I see over and over again is that women give themselves the wonderful gift of sobriety but continue living the same lives as they were when they were drinking so there is always an empty space where alcohol used to be.
If you take your sobriety and use it to live whatever, different, amazing life you want to live, then alcohol will become unimportant. It achieves the same status as anything else you choose not to eat or drink. Contrary to what a lot of people might think, I’m not against alcohol per se, I’m just FOR you taking advantage of your sobriety so that you can live a life that makes you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.
I have seen countless women try moderation, leave the group and come back some months later drinking more than they were the first time they gave up. This is because in giving up the first time, sobriety has been treated as a deprivation and they felt they were always missing out.
If I wasn’t running Sobersistas I would be doing something equally brilliant that would fill my heart with passion and joy. I’m not saying something is missing from your life, but if you are considering moderation, what is it you’re really searching for? For most of us it’s connection and love – which will never be found in a bottle.