Trying to Moderate your Drinking can be a Dangerous Dangling Carrot.
It’s time we let go of this illusion.
Oct 5 · 4 min read
Just one bottle before the kids are in bed, and one bottle after.
No more drinking after 8:00.
No more drinking on the couch.
Only on weekends.
Never on Sunday’s or week nights.
Only one drink an hour.
Only five drinks, total.
Have a glass of water in between each drink.
These are some of the different rules I created, over the years, to try and control my drinking. Not surprisingly, I broke every one of them. Rebel with a cause, here. If you’re a problem drinker, you can probably relate. It can feel reassuring to try and moderate your drinking as though it were a simple math equation: If I just do A + B it equals control.
Designating a code of conduct gives you a sense of authority. It allows you to feel like the boss of your problem. It suggests you can take the mayhem and redefine it it with method. Once you have some parameters in place, it’s easy to tell yourself everything will be fine, because now, you have a set of guidelines to follow. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy into my first of only three vodka sodas for the night.
At first, maybe everything goes according to plan. Maybe you even manage to stick with your new program for a significant amount of time. However, the inevitable slip-up is waiting in the margins.
The real truth is this: anyone with a substance-abuse problem is inherently terrible at mitigation mathematics. For problem drinkers, it’s only a matter of time before they mess up the equation.
This is because normal rules don’t exist within the realm of addiction — this domain is defined by anarchy. For addicts, Chaos reigns, not Control (he’s just a beggar here). In this town, there is no such thing as moderation math. Restraint can’t be rendered. Control can’t be calculated. In fact, numbers don’t add up in these parts. Here, it’s just a rat’s nest of indecipherable characters and debauchery. Welcome to Hell, can we get you something to drink?
Still, the illusion of “accomplishing control” is unremittingly tempting. For alcoholics, it can become their great pursuit: mastering the ability to drink like a regular person. For many, the vision of becoming a normal drinker is the dream that never dies.
This is because moderation doesn’t seem like it should be hard. Basic math isn’t hard! Why should other people be able to do it, and we can’t? It’s nonsense, there has to be a way, because sweet-baby-Jesus, there is a will.
This is where temptation slides in to try and trick us. It’s seriously sly. It transforms the unsightly into something alluring. It slaps a thin layer of simplicity over the intrinsically complex. Essentially, it places our problem into a pretty little box, smiles sweetly, and outstretches its arms — here, this is how you want it to look, go ahead, take it — it knows the present we desperately want to be given.
But for addicts, this parcel is a sham. It’s not real. In fact, it’s Pandora’s Box, and opening it only releases our demons. Sadly, once those fiends are out, it’s near impossible to maintain them. They do what they want, when they want — and what they want is your poison of choice, and they want it now.
And even though we know better, at some point during our recovery, most addicts will experience the illusion of suddenly thinking we can “learn” to control our bad habit.
The idea will magically dangle itself in front of us — like a spellbinding, charge-of-will, carrot. Every so often, we’ll truly believe it’s within our reach. We’ll yearn, desperately, to take a crunchy bite of unwavering self-restraint. Wishing, in earnest, that the agency of control was a simple morsel to be swallowed.
It’s a dangerous fantasy, and addicts need to be diligent with themselves. Though our desire for control often feels strong enough to materialize into something real, it’s only a daydream. We need to get our heads out of the clouds. We have to stay grounded. Our fascination is nothing more than a flight-of-fancy, void of the weight needed to walk forward.
For me, I am constantly reminding myself of all the things I hated about alcohol. Every day, there are random moments where the desire to drink again feels all-consuming. I somehow manage to forget all the reasons I stopped. I panic over the breadth and depth of what it means to be permanently sober. I consider the idea of responsibly dabbling in wine consumption, again.
So far, I’ve always managed to stop the bus. I force myself to go through the thick roster of terrible, alcohol-induced consequences I previously endured. I remind myself what an annoying fucktard I become after those first few glasses of wine. I make my brain remember the misery of being shit-faced at 2:00 in the morning, knowing I had to be up in a few hours with my kids. I relive the agony of wasting my weekends being hungover, when I should have been enjoying the time with my children and getting important things done. I place my mind back in that state of sweltering Hell.
It can feel redundant, but for anyone with a drinking problem, consistently reminding yourself that alcohol did not serve you is an absolute necessity. So is taking the time to consciously acknowledge all the ways your life has improved without it. Looking at the bigger picture is essential.
And, as for that silly inkling that you can somehow “learn” to control yourself through moderation, well, that idea is a phony, make-believe, jack-ass of a unicorn. It’s pure fiction. Close the book and throw it away.
Instead, focus on the genuine reality of your life: sobriety is the definitive best thing for you, not the pipe-dream of self-restraint.
Junkie heart, rising from the wreck. Writing about addiction, recovery, sobriety, mental health, parenting, family and well-being.