Thoughts on moderation at day 50

I’ve toyed with the idea of moderation, thought it’d be so nice and convenient and non-black-and-white to still have a beer every once in a while, though I was never real hopeful about that as a possibility. The last few months have showed me closer up what an on-and-off relationship with alcohol would look like. It’s not pretty.

I’m at 50 days, four times longer than I’ve ever gone without drinking before. Well, four times longer than the longest I had been able to go when I was mostly on my own. When I have other people around it’s quite easy to not drink, or to look like a normal/light drinker. So I don’t exactly count the stretches of time when I was visiting someone and didn’t drink during that time. They were never more than a couple of weeks at a time, and once I was out of view of the person(s), I always, always, went straight for a six-pack of beer the second I could. I knew the liquor stores on the way, or if I didn’t, I became completely focused on finding them.

Starting perhaps a year and a half ago I tried to stop drinking on various occasions. They lasted four or five days, typically. Last summer I reached a new point, where I went almost two weeks. The second of the weeks I was away at a workshop, knew no one else there, and was camping alone, a perfect opportunity to drink nightly, alone, and get buzzed and escape from … well, that’s the problem. Who and what on earth is there to escape from when I’m alone and in a beautiful place and doing something I’m very happy doing? It’s these sorts of experiences that made me start to take notice of my problem. Self-medicating under the least possible stressful conditions imaginable.

At that workshop I was alone and yet managed to not drink. One of the lures was the prospect of getting up a couple of hours before dawn and walking, walking, walking in spectacular natural beauty, me and my camera and my thermos of coffee. Can’t enjoy that – or even do that – with a shitty hangover headache.

A couple of more week-long quittings followed last fall. Sliding back into drinking each time taught me how it feels to start drinking again after several days off. Several days off and in the company of just myself.

That first drinking session after successfully staying away for a series of days was really important for my clarity. Somehow, the drinking reactivated something in me (we’re talking a single beer), it lit something up, woke it from the beginning of a rest, jabbed it awake with a sharp stick. And it stayed awake. In December I had a nice spate of time without alcohol, and then one evening I was out in a nearby town with some relatives whose company I find stressful, and when I left to drive home, I got the brilliant idea to stop and get some beer for when I got home (brilliant, I tell you! and also original). It was the obvious solution to my feeling wound up and stressed, and I didn’t succeed in fighting that idea. I bought the beer, and I drank.

Not only did I wreck that evening and feel shitty the next day, but the next day my body was sort of pre-focused on alcohol from the get go. It’s like I was automatically halfway convinced that I should drink, no matter how lovely the day ended up being. On my way to a meeting downtown, I was an hour early and decided it’d be nice to stop in a cozy hotel bar and get a beer to relax and do some writing before the meeting. Sitting there, the one beer certainly wasn’t enough once I’d had it so I had another. After the second one, there’s no way I could go to the meeting because I smelled like beer – and neither did my buzzed self want to. It wasn’t really an important meeting, so I emailed that I wasn’t going to be able to make it and went home.

That one made an impression on me. I don’t think I’d been that aware before of how adding alcohol to my physiology changed something more… baseline, or neurological. Or how it influenced how likely it was that I’d drink again, and again. I also hated that alcohol had stuck it’s stinky nose into my work life like that.

Moderation is too risky for me. Too much trouble. I’m done.

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