control

February 15, I wrote this:

There are a lot of things I’ve really enjoyed about these past 2-3 weeks without alcohol: better sleep, terrific mornings, steady downward movement on the scale. But, far and away, the very best part is feeling in control, which is something I’ve felt less and less over the years. Based on this and other experiences, it seems fairly clear to me that I can manage to feel in control (for set periods of time, anyway) by committing to a 30 (or similar). It is not as clear to me that I can manage that feeling for more extended periods of time, and (like many others, I am sure) the fear of slipping back into old habits is fairly strong. I guess there’s no real way to figure this out than by going forward, and making some new good habits.

This is still true: the best thing about moderation is the feeling of control. But I find that I have little control over my feelings, which come and go and are regulated by very complex systems. Like the low-grade depression that followed me around this week, my urges to drink seem to follow their own schedule.

I went out to a bar last Monday night, and didn’t want a drink. This is a novel feeling, since for so long, asking myself if I wanted a drink was sort of like asking if I wanted to keep breathing. My partner ordered a beer (after checking with me, which was supportive of him), and seeing it on the table didn’t make me want a drink. At this point, I was curious about the limits of my apparent freedom, so I took a sip…which tasted nice, but didn’t trigger any latent urges or anything. Weird. Then on Tuesday night, I brought home a bottle of wine, which turned out not to suit our tastes. I sipped a glass, poured another, but ended up tipping half the bottle down the sink (because it wasn’t going to get any tastier, and because it’s a good way to prevent mindless drinking…after all, I drank that second glass simply because I’d poured it). Wednesday, I didn’t really think about drinking, or struggle with urges. Same again Thursday. I won’t be drinking tonight.

In fact, I seem to have only the most indirect ability to influence my feelings, emotional swings, or chemical cravings. My low-grade depression lifted yesterday, as mysteriously as it had arrived. The cravings could return just as easily. But regardless of how I feel, I am using behavior modification tools to slowly change my habits. I didn’t stop drinking-to-excess because the urge to drink left me, I stopped drinking-to-excess and then, somewhat later, got a break from the urges.

There aren’t a lot of moderation blogs, so I read a few sober blogs and learn what I can. Many of them claim that 100 days is a turning point, and things get easier after that. Maybe that is true for us moderators too, and I’ve turned some kind of corner. Or maybe this little burst of confidence is a trap, and whole new way for me to mess up. My brain has done this to me before. Frequently, over the past three months, it has told me, “Hey, you’ve got this figured out! You’re really on top of this whole drinking thing! So if you want, you can totally have as much to drink as you want.” To which the obvious response is: if I had it figured out, the reward wouldn’t be “drinking as much as I want.” Silly brain.

If this is my prize for making it past the hundredth day, then I am delighted. But even if it is simply a temporary reprieve from urges, I will still have the most important prize there is: days, and weeks, and months (past, present, and future) where my drinking was within healthy parameters, where my ability to be kind to myself was magnified, where my life & relationships could flourish, and where I could carefully track and measure and see real progress adding up. No matter how I feel, self-control feels great.

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