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.





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