Day 28: Is Moderation Possible?

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ― C. S. Lewis

As you approach the end of your month of abstinence, hopefully you’re reflecting back on all the lessons you’ve learned.  Perhaps you’ve realized that it’s possible to participate in social events without drinking, or you’ve relished in your newfound ability to sip seltzer or a mocktail during those witching hours just before dinnertime.  Maybe you’ve noticed that you’re sleeping better, your energy levels have improved, and you have an easier time expressing your feelings with your spouse, loved ones or friends.  Big wins all around!

So naturally, you’re wondering: what will it be like when I can drink again?  What can I do to prepare?

Oftentimes people are surprised to find that sobriety has not been as challenging for them as they had envisioned.  While eschewing alcohol has its difficulties, many find a comfort in the simplicity and clarity of abstinence.  A large part of this is the relief over not having to think about alcohol. Gone is the daily agonizing over whether or not to drink, or how much to drink, or when to drink.  You know every day from the moment you wake up how much you will have to drink that day: nothing.

By the end of Dryuary, you might be riding off a bit of a natural sobriety high, and assuming that because abstinence was much easier than you expected, surely moderation will be a cinch!  After all, isn’t abstaining the more difficult task of the two?  The answer to that is an unequivocal no.  Once you add alcohol into the equation, and your inhibitions are lowered, it’s much harder to keep yourself to your goals, not to mention your tolerance levels after a month of abstaining will be much lower.

But a life of moderate drinking is absolutely achievable if you work at it.  The first step is to be as vigilant as possible about planning your regimen, starting with your very first drink post-Dryuary.  Choose in advance what kind of beverage you will have; opt for something you enjoy, but that isn’t too triggering for you.  Next, land on the amount, and start very small––remember, your body will metabolize this faster than it did your last drink 30 days ago!  Decide on the environment and the company (consider doing this with a person who knows your history, or at least is aware you’ve just done a period of sobriety).  In advance of the day, read up on the famous mindful eating “raisin exercise,” in which people to eat a raisin extremely slowly while cultivating a hyperawareness of the somatic experience.  Try to bring some of these ideas to your drinking: notice the way the wine looks in the glass, for example, or take a moment after each sip to check in with yourself and see how your body feels.  So often, those of us who struggle with overdrinking get to the point where we race right past the warm and fuzzy part of drinking straight to Drunk.  Can you sit in the pleasant glow of half-a-glass without giving in to the urge to guzzle the rest?

You don’t have to approach every drink post-Dryuary with that same level of attention, but continuing to over-plan for a while will ultimately benefit you in the long run.  Whatever your guiding principles are––whether it’s having a certain number of abstinent days, or only drinking a certain number of drinks per week––try to figure out how you’re going to live by them in advance.  Choose your dry days for the week on Sunday, for example, or decide how many drinks you’ll have on a given evening before noon that day.  Mark every special event on your calendar, from weddings to business functions to holidays, and game out your strategy.  If you didn’t already do so during Dryuary, use this time to figure out what harm reduction tools are best suited to your life: can you commit to starting drinking later in the evening, or attending more than one MM meeting a week?  Maybe alcohol-free booze intrigues you, or you find you’re motivated by pacing yourself with the slowest drinker at the party.  Whatever works for you, use it.

Many people find it frustrating to have to micromanage their own consumption.  After all, isn’t alcohol our culturally-sanctioned stress reliever?  But this level of focus won’t be required forever.  Like learning any new skill, at first you need to actively concentrate on what you’re doing, but after a while, once drinking a certain amount becomes habit, you can soften your approach, and enjoy alcohol like it’s cake––a pleasurable treat, rather than integral part of life!

Post Submitted By: Kelsey Osgood

Kelsey Osgood is the author of How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia, which was chosen for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program. She’s written for Harper’s, The New York Times, and New York, among other publications. She was a consultant to former head of the FDA David Kessler, MD, on his book Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering.

Suggested NA beverage: Mexican Hot Chocolate