The key to drinking moderately is simply not drinking. I believe that many of us approach moderation the wrong way. We obsessively count drinks. We plot what days we will get to drink on our calendars. We plan ahead for those occasions where we will want and deserve to be able to drink – family functions, music festivals, sporting events, weddings – and then we look forward to these little islands of drinking, albeit with some trepidation, in our self-imposed desert of abstinence days. We’re either drinking or thinking about drinking when we’re not drinking. And the more time we think about drinking, the more it becomes part of our reward system. Drinking is the reward we give ourselves for being good. Therein lies the problem: we’ve proven we’re good at being able to drink, what we need to work on is not drinking.
Isn’t that the reason we’re here after all, because we came to realize that we didn’t like what drinking was doing to us, that we wanted to be able to enjoy our lives without alcohol playing such a prominent role? We wanted a new kind of life, at least I certainly did. I want being able to enjoy life without a drink to be my new normal: waking up clear-headed with the energy and attitude to take on a new day, appreciating the fullness of the day’s moments, times spent with family and friends being truly in the present moment, enjoying the richness of the experience of life’s little moments, feeling healthy, watching movies to the end and remembering them the next day, getting high on things like music and beauty and nature, curling up with a book and a cup of tea, the blessed relief of not constantly stressing over the availability of alcohol when going out, the sense of peace, being able to experience all of those things and more is the reason I wanted to end alcohol’s grip on my life. And those are all things I get to do when I’m not drinking. They are the rewards, and drinking gets in the way of all that. So I focus my mind on not drinking. I don’t consider myself a moderate drinker. I consider myself a non-drinker who has a drink or two now and then. A subtle difference, but a powerful one.
Taking this month off from alcohol is an important first step, getting back in touch with all of the rewards that we’ve denied ourselves by over-drinking. It is an opportunity to practice not drinking as the new normal. And it shouldn’t stop here. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to hold onto this feeling. I will focus my mental energy on all the things I can do when I’m not drinking, how much richer those experiences are for it, and how much better I will feel. “Can I have a drink now?” should be replaced by “Why would I want a drink now?” Sure, there will be situations, mostly social in nature, where I will decide to have a drink or two. I won’t go looking for those situations; I know they will find me eventually, and I will be ready when they do.
With practice, and a little patience, not drinking has become my new normal. I don’t see the non-drinking days as what I have to get through in order to drink again; rather, I see the occasional drink as a slight though pleasant deviation from my usual sober routine during bad days and good days. Drinking isn’t the reward; the good days are. Even the bad days are more tolerable when I don’t wake up feeling like crap. And the more you live that life, even if it feels artificial at first, the more likely it will become the new reality.
This post was submitted by The Forum’s Bruce