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.

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