June review

For June, I posted the following plan:

My June goal is to stick to “by the book” moderation, which means following the Moderation Management limits. For women, that means no more than three drinks on any occasion, no more than four drinking occasions per week, and no more than nine drinks in any week. Those are limits, not goals — I intend to drink below those limits most occasions/weeks.

In June, I fell short of my plan, while still continuing to make good progress and establish some excellent new habits. June was not a “by the book” month for me, but was nevertheless moderate in most regards.

In total, I had 25.5 drinks. However, I had three separate occasions of drinking beyond moderate limits (5-6 drinks on each occasion). Overall, I drank less frequently in June, abstaining on 22 of the 30 days, and never had more than 9.5 drinks in any seven-day span.

The first few weeks of June were more challenging than I’d expected, causing me to adjust course slightly and adopt a temporary new rule (no drinking at home). I don’t know if it was the new rule, or whether I just adopted it at the right moment, but my internal struggles ceased at around the same time. My one “red” night in later June was a celebratory occasion, when my partner received some excellent news and we chose to mark this career-defining moment for him with drinks (including some at home, which was a pre-drinks decision on my part).

I would prefer to have fewer red nights, or at least, to space them out over a much longer period of time. But all told, June was a fairly productive month for me in many ways. I’m proud that none of my red nights led to excessive drinking on the following days, which is an excellent step forward for me. I can feel my new habits becoming easier, and am spending much less time thinking about them. Drinking infrequently is starting to feel normal; drinking moderately on any evening is still something that I need to work on.


cyclical abs

One thing I like about moderation is that it is not “one size fits all.” There are many different approaches, and as long as they result in harm reduction and/or goal achievement, then they are all equally great.

An approach that seems like it would suit me is cyclical abstinence (AKA periodic abstinence), where I would set aside regular time to abstain completely from alcohol. Some people do every other month, but I am thinking of a set period each month. This time functions as a “reset” on our drinking habits, and is also a nice break from having to think about drinking at all.

I’ve been thinking that I might set aside the last quarter of every month — that is, the first three weeks of a month could include moderate drinking, while the days from the 22nd on would be alcohol-free. There are several reasons I prefer this over the first week of the month, particularly because I’ve noticed a tendency for my drinking to creep up toward the end of each month (quite probably due to the monthly time-frame I’m using for plans, though because I’m drinking so little overall, it could just be that I’m attributing too much meaning to too little data). It also means that my “drinking days” would be the same from month-to-month, while the alcohol-free period would depend on the length of the month in question, which is convenient in some regards.

Seems nice in theory, anyway. But why not just keep the rule I’m using now? In my mid-June reset, I adopted a rule to avoid drinking at home for the rest of the month, and it’s been really smooth so far. A few mild urges, of the sort where I am watching a movie and casually think, “gee, I’d like a drink right now,” and then have forgotten about it fifteen minutes later. In fact, since adopting the new rule, I’ve defaulted to abstinence every day since, simply because I haven’t felt particularly social (and skipped the drink on the night we did go out for dinner, actually).

Advantages of the “no drinking at home” rule are that it’s flexible — if a friend calls up on July 28th, I could meet her for drinks without having to fret about my periodic abstinence. It also completely prohibits the specific type of drinking that has been most problematic for me, which is probably the reason I am so resistant to the idea of adopting this rule permanently. Drinking at home is a bad habit that I got really good at, so it’s hardly surprising I struggle with the idea of giving it up entirely.

Knowing that I’m ambivalent about it makes me reluctant to be too confident about the short period of success I’ve enjoyed while practicing this rule. A rule that is too stringent, too confining, is likely to blow up in my face, because maintaining it may become actively aversive. So I’m trying this rule for the rest of June, and will probably try it again in the future, but I’m not yet certain it’s the way to go.

Cyclical abs appeals because it feels like a good fit for me, and provide a valuable reset time each month. But it also appeals because I think it might work just as well in terms of overall results, without causing me as much stress or internal conflict. When it comes to drinking-related behavior, I am more concerned with results than with ideological purity. Moreover, I realize I could experiment with periodic abstinence one month, then switch to only drinking away from home the next, and continue switching until I have a better sense for which suits me. Little by little, I am realizing this is more of a process than a destination, even as I gain confidence in my newfound skills.

course correction

Here we are, almost two weeks into June, and I’ve noticed a little wobble in my moderation. My June goal was to stick to MM limits/guidelines, and I’ve already gone into the red twice, having about sixteen and a half drinks in just thirteen days. This trend actually started in late May, meaning that I’ve had an over-the-limits evening in each of the last three weeks.

This is far from being a crisis, but it involves me repeatedly falling away from my goals several times in a short period of time, which indicates that my behavior modification program probably needs tweaking. I want to stress (again!) that this is not a moral battle. Falling short of my performance goals does not make me a bad person, a failure, or any other label of character. In fact, my behavior is simply useful feedback about the success (or shortcomings) of my behavior modification plan, and right now, my behavior is telling me that I need to make some changes.

I will admit, it is tough to recognize that it is time to make changes. It’s tempting for me to say that I should wait to see how things go, and then maybe make some changes later, but from experience, the right time to make a change is just as soon as I notice a potential problem. Fixing habits is a lot easier before they become entrenched. It’s also tempting for me to argue that those over-the-limits days were exceptional, each of them a response to an unusual set of circumstances, but also easy for those “exceptional” responses to become normalized; I don’t need a weekly blow-out to become my new normal. Not to mention the simplest reality: even just occasionally having 5-6 drinks in one evening is a potential trigger for depression/anxiety, tends to make me sluggish and a bit hungover the next day, and simply isn’t particularly healthy. Time for a gentle nudge to get myself on a better track.

There are several things I could change: planning more strictly (so that I know ahead of time when I will/won’t drink, and can have my strategies prepared accordingly); not drinking at home; reverting back to abstinence for a time; etc.. Of these, I think not drinking at home is the best for my present situation. First, because it will almost certainly eliminate any further “red” days for the month (or as long as I keep it up), and second, because I actually want to cut down on that particular habit anyway.

Drinking at home is an echo of my former drinking habits, and something I indulge in for very similar reasons — it feels like a special treat, it is comforting, it’s something my partner and I can share as a joint “activity,” I like the buzz. In other words, it’s a problematic habit for me to indulge in, because it’s so similar to the very habit I’m trying to change. It’s also something I’ve been ambivalent about cutting out entirely, for a variety of (not always good) reasons.

So, for the rest of the month, I’m going to avoid drinking at home entirely, and see how it goes. I had intended to fade this habit more gradually, but a two-and-a-half week break should not be too trying. I hope this gives me a better perspective about my reasons for continuing to occasionally have a drink at home, and also an improved trajectory for the rest of June.

It’s worth noting that where I really run into trouble is when I go out for drinks in a higher-triggering situation (like with particular friends, or after a stress-filled day), and order something stronger, then buy a bottle of wine on the way home. I don’t think it’s an accident that two of my three “red” nights happened after I ordered a margarita while out for dinner. So even a simple rule like “no drinking at home” requires me to think of the larger context, and do some advance planning.

Tools that I will use to help me avoid drinking at home: no beer or wine in the house, no mixed drinks while out (especially in higher-triggering situations), communicating my plan to my partner to help me stay accountable, writing about my new rule on the MM forums, and updating here as I go (for reinforcement as well as accountability). I think I need to increase reinforcement considerably, actually, but that may be a separate post.




still figuring it out

I am an impatient person. Perhaps that is one reason why I was certain I’d have figured this whole moderation thing out by now. After all, it’s been over four months, and as many posts here testify, I am tired of having to think about this!

Well, I have figured some things out. And overall I’m doing fine. I just continue to feel real uncertainty about how this is going to play out over the long-term, and real impatience to feel like I’m mastering these new habits.

Part of this is because I still find myself wanting to drink too much, frequently. This should come as no surprise: for over ten years, I wanted to drink too much on a more-or-less daily basis, and followed through. The urge lingers, and probably will for a long time (perhaps forever?).

Even as I can accept that, it frustrates me. I was driving home last night and found myself wanting, strongly, to stop at a liquor store to pick up some wine. One of my personal guidelines: the more I want a drink, the less likely it is to be a good idea. I skipped the liquor store, went home, and was grumpy. Not because I felt deprived (which I guess is almost progress), but because I was frustrated to still be fighting this battle.

Another piece of this puzzle is that some progress is subjective. I wrote about the j-curve of change before, as a reminder that our expectations can mess with our perceptions of progress. Things like cravings are subjective as well: my urge to drink last night lasted perhaps fifteen minutes, I was easily distracted by other things, and I actually had a beer in the fridge the whole time and didn’t bother opening it. This is hardly comparable to the urges I felt earlier, which lasted for hours, shattered my concentration, and could barely cope with the fact that the nearest liquor store is about fifteen minutes away on foot. But in my mind, I was still “battling urges” last night, and thus, frustrated by lack of progress.

It seems possible to me that drinking (even moderately) feeds urges. If this continues to bug me, I suppose one solution would be to set aside a period of time and take careful notes on urges (including some kind of ranking scale, to try to quantify them) every day. Then set aside an equal amount of time to practice abstinence and track the urges just as carefully. If urges during moderate periods were higher, I might have some kind of answer. Though I honestly do not know if an absence of urges would motivate me to try permanent abstinence, as there are other considerations at play.

Posting here helps remind me how repetitive these thoughts are. In one version or another, the lack of an identifiable end point is the frustration that has plagued me from the beginning. Eventually, I may make peace with it. Or perhaps it will simply continue to reemerge periodically, my way of chafing against my new habits.


Moderating in June

Monthly plans continue to be helpful to me. My June goal is to stick to “by the book” moderation, which means following the Moderation Management limits. For women, that means no more than three drinks on any occasion, no more than four drinking occasions per week, and no more than nine drinks in any week. Those are limits, not goals — I intend to drink below those limits most occasions/weeks.

Counting continues to be one of my most important tools. I am also working to learn to recognize internal cues about when it is (and isn’t) a good occasion to enjoy a drink, as well as when I’ve had “enough” to drink on any occasion, which is an ongoing (and challenging) process. External cues, such as strict planning or rules, may end up being a more effective long-term tool, but come with their own complications.

June comes with particular challenges of its own, such as warm weather (a trigger, like all weather as far as I can tell) and a less regular schedule. My motivation dropped unexpectedly low toward the end of May, so I am particularly watchful for this in June — will it carry over from May, or rear its head again toward the end of the month, and are there tools I can use to address it.

May report

At the beginning of the month, I posted my plan:

My May goal is to stick to “by the book” moderation, which means following the Moderation Management limits. For women, that means no more than three drinks on any occasion, no more than four drinking occasions per week, and no more than nine drinks in any week. Those are limits, not goals — I intend to drink below those limits most occasions/weeks.

How’d I do?

I had 28 drinks in May, five of them on one occasion. That was the only day I went above moderate limits, so 30 days in May were at-or-below moderate limits. Per week, I was within moderate limits except for one week, when I drank on five separate days and had thirteen drinks in total. This was the week that included my red five — in other words, if I had stayed abstinent on that one night, I would have been within “by the book” moderate limits for the entire month.

This month was a huge success for me, the closest to a fully moderate month that I have had since starting MM (excluding my 45 days of abstinence, anyway). For the majority of the month, it felt really good. In fact, this was the month where moderation actually felt the closest to “normal” that I have yet been able to experience.

Toward the end of the month, which was also immediately after my vacation, I started feeling like my motivation was faltering. This was the week with five drinking days, one of them above moderate limits. No dramatic cause at work, just a feeling of mild fatigue, slight rebelliousness, low motivation, and general crankiness.

During that week, I had three beers at home Sunday night (immediately after the long drive home from our vacation — I do not regret those beers in the slightest!). Then one of the remaining beers Monday night (no strong feelings either way on that one), and a drink out at a restaurant on Tuesday (which I did not want, but ordered because I hadn’t fully made up my mind not to drink — that is a drink I could have skipped). Thursday, we split a bottle of wine at home, which again was something I didn’t plan on but just kind of went with (three drinks, and I would have been happy to skip those too). Saturday, for some mildly complex but not very intense reasons, I opted to go overboard with five beers (eh…not really worried about this one, even though it was my “immoderate” night for the month. It just kind of fit how I was feeling, and if I hadn’t had so much earlier in the week, I could have accomplished the same basic experience with only three drinks).

What’s most noticeable is how much more of my drinking that week was done at home, and how much more casual I was about exposing myself to triggers without a firm plan. That attitude is what I call “low motivation” — like I just can’t really be bothered sticking to my goals, and just kind of want to say “fuck it.” My drinking tends to escalate if I drink several days in a row, which I also did this week (three days in a row, even though two of them were “onesies”).

What’s also noticeable is that it just wasn’t a huge deal. I had thirteen drinks, spread out over five separate nights. No damage done, no real regrets. Thanks to being below moderate limits for the rest of the month, it didn’t even add up to that much…though it did total almost half of my monthly drinking. Not a problem if it’s an occasional thing, not something I want to become any more frequent.

My most interesting week, however, was the one before, when I went on vacation and felt more like my favorite version of myself than I have in…forever. That is the week I’d like to spend more time thinking about and learning from. Out of this past month, that week continues to stand out as the most important.

May was a good month.