checking in

I haven’t had many thoughts about moderation, drinking, over-drinking, or anything related lately. Just busy with other things.

Since returning from vacation, I’ve slipped right back into moderate habits. Not drinking at home, mostly abstaining, but enjoying an occasional beer or glass of wine while I’m out. It feels right, for lack of a better term…comfortable, familiar, easy, and not particularly thought-consuming. Since my biggest objection to vacation drinking is the worry that it will prompt a slow slide back to old habits, this is reassuring.

Since I don’t have any big thoughts, how about a check-in? Moderation.org has this to say about what makes a moderate drinker:

When you have made the healthy decision to drink less, and you stay within moderate limits, you should not experience any health, personal, family, social, job-related, financial, or legal problems due to alcohol. The suggested guidelines below allow for a degree of individual interpretation, because moderation is a flexible principle and is not the same for everyone. The suggested limits, however, are more definite.

A Moderate Drinker:

  • considers an occasional drink to be a small, though enjoyable, part of life.
  • has hobbies, interests, and other ways to relax and enjoy life that do not involve alcohol.
  • usually has friends who are moderate drinkers or nondrinkers.
  • generally has something to eat before, during, or soon after drinking.
  • usually does not drink for longer than an hour or two on any particular occasion.
  • usually does not drink faster than one drink per half-hour.
  • usually does not exceed the .055% BAC moderate drinking limit. (see Note 1 below)
  • feels comfortable with his or her use of alcohol (never drinks secretly and does not spend a lot of time thinking about drinking or planning to drink).

Last time I checked in on this definition, I felt like I was close, but not quite there. A few months later, it all pretty much feels like a fit. An occasional drink is a small thing, which I generally enjoy. I have indeed been enjoying a wide variety of things that do not involve alcohol, and feel like I am gradually getting my life more well-rounded (it’s still an ongoing process, but I’ve caught up to the point where I feel more relaxed about it, at any rate!).

Mostly, I feel pretty comfortable with my use of alcohol. I certainly don’t drink secretly. In fact, and this is a funny thing to realize this late in the game, but I don’t think I’ve had even a single drink on my own since I started this journey in January. That’s not a rule I thought about explicitly, it’s just something that makes good sense, especially because I know perfectly well how much I tend to go overboard when treating myself to a little private drinking. I spent a lot of time alone in July, and it ended up being my lowest-drinking month thus far.

My numbers for August are going to add up a lot higher than previous months, which is due mainly to vacation drinking…a topic that may deserve a few more blog posts. But at home, in my usual routine, I find I don’t need to plan or think much about drinking, because my new habits have entered a kind of easy-to-maintain thoughtless phase. I do track and count, and plan to keep doing those things for the foreseeable future.

Does that mean I can now declare myself to be “a moderate drinker?” I don’t quite have that level of confidence yet. Though I’ve been working hard on this for more than half a year, I still have years and years ahead of me to continue to fine-tune things. But if I’m not quite ready to declare myself to be a person who drinks moderately, I do at least feel confident saying that I am a person who drinks more or less like she wants to. Which is to say: occasionally, enjoyably, but not in a way that interferes with all the things in life that are significantly more valuable. And as those things continue to take up more and more of my time & energy, drinking continues to pale in comparison…really, it’s okay once in a while, but it’s not really that interesting on its own. Who knew?!

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vacation rules

I am back from a week of vacation, where I drank more than usual. My new usual, anyway…there were no hangovers, or wild binges, just a tendency to have a few more drinks than guidelines recommend. It was a nice trip, and left me with no real concerns, but has left me pondering a few things.

I went into this vacation without a strict drinking plan, because it was a fairly spontaneous and unplanned trip overall. But I’m also still working to figure out my vacation rules in general, and finding I have to do some trial-and-error learning along the way.

Thinking over what I’ve learned so far this year, I think my vacation guidelines are actually pretty simple. I don’t want to drink if it will interfere with any of the real fun, like hiking or sightseeing or enjoying an amazing sunrise. At the same time, I am happy to include alcohol in my vacations when it enhances the experience, like sharing drinks with new friends, or sampling happy hour in an interesting new restaurant, without necessarily worrying about strict moderation limits.

This is similar to my guidelines for regular life, except that because most of my time is spent in regular life, I also have to focus on my overall numbers more (healthy drinking really is a quantifiable goal, I think). On vacation, I think it’s probably reasonable to focus mainly on each day’s experiences instead of strict numerical limits, even though I certainly aim to keep tracking.

Here’s one example: many of our trips include camping. Drinking does not enhance my camping experience. We nearly always camp high in the mountains, where evenings are crisp and full of mosquitoes, so a walk before bed is almost always preferable to sitting around with drinks. We acclimate to increased altitude easier without alcohol in our systems (even relatively small amounts), I sleep much better if I don’t have to unzip the tent at 3am to get out & pee, and almost all the things I love to do while camping — like getting up early and going for long hikes — are better for leaving alcohol out of the picture. So, earlier this summer, we figured out that abstaining by default anytime we camp is the easiest, simplest, happiest, and most comfortable fit for us.

But what about other types of vacation? What about times when we’re staying in a motel, hotel, or with a friend? What about when we’re visiting a town or city, and want to sample local restaurants? How do I preserve the sense of spontaneity that is such a valuable part of vacations, while minimizing the impact of less healthy tendencies?

Again, I think the question of whether alcohol enhances the experience is probably vital. One of our vacation nights was spent at a backpackers’ hostel in a small mountain town, and it turned out that the hostel offered complimentary glasses of chardonnay down in the lobby from 4-6pm. Sitting around on comfy couches, rain streaking the windows, with a glass on the table beside me was one of my favorite vacation experiences. It felt cozy and indulgent, and when the rain stopped, we went out to explore the town, had dinner and some local beer, and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. I still used my moderation tools to make sure I stopped after approximately 4 drinks (above moderate limits, but only slightly!), so we could get up early the next morning and hike up to a high alpine lake. It was perfect.

The drinking that does not enhance a vacation usually tends to happen when I am tired, stressed, or bored. For instance, when we’ve stopped at a roadside motel in the middle of nowhere, and decide to unwind with a six pack in front of the T.V., not unlike the way I used to unwind at home every night. Choosing a lower-alcohol beer minimizes any next-day effects from these nights, but I still don’t feel like the drinks made the evening any more special. Similarly, deciding to get drunk “because I’M ON VACATION!!!!” usually doesn’t make me feel great the next day, because drunk isn’t a destination I treasure in the same way these days.

Eventually, I hope to feel as comfortable in my vacation habits as I have started to feel at home. Overall, I am pretty happy with the big picture. For me, the main focus of moderation isn’t on exceptional circumstances or occasional slips, but rather, on maintaining healthier habits most of my days over the long-term. It turns out that vacations make relatively little difference to this, because even when I overdo it, I feel my new habits slide back around me when I return home, comfortable and familiar. That’s pretty reassuring, actually. Plus, “overdoing it” has come to mean something considerably different than it used to.

The stronger my moderation skills get, the more able I feel to adapt to circumstances without losing control, to allow myself a vacation excess without it leading to a hangover or missed opportunity, or to happily abstain and feel like I’m having the best time in the world. There is a part of me that worries about this feeling of flexibility, concerned that too much will allow “the creep” (when my drinking slowly creeps up over time, until it resumes its former out-of-control dimensions). So I’m keeping an eye on my numbers, and will continue to monitor my progress. But another part of me exhales in relief, because the flexibility is part of what makes moderation feel sustainable to me. As always, it seems like there’s a healthy balance point in there somewhere.

 

 

six months, all about me

I posted about my numbers yesterday. I’m very proud of them. They also tell only part of the story.

For six months now, I have been pursuing radical changes in my drinking habits. Parts of this were very hard, parts were really pretty easy. I cried. I laughed. I felt like I wanted to give up. I felt like I was coming back to life.

Six months of moderation provides tangible benefits. I have rediscovered sleep. My partner tells me I look ten years younger, and when I look in the mirror, clear eyes look back. My bank account is healthier. I bought a new pair of the same exact hiking pants I already own & love, except I had to order this pair two sizes smaller. Okay, they are a little bit snug around the middle, but I’m pretty sure they’ll fit perfectly soon.

There are intangible rewards to savor too. My mind is less cluttered. I can think big thoughts, or concentrate on small tasks. When I drive home at the end of a busy night, I don’t have to fight the urge to stop at the liquor store. When my partner annoys me, I am sometimes kinder. I get more done, although it must be said, quitting the over-drinking has done nothing to change my chronic procrastination.

That’s because I am still me. I still obsess over pointless things. I still have to apologize and ask people to remind me what their name is, even though they just told me three minutes earlier. I still have bad days, still struggle with depression, still put off cleaning the kitchen until we completely run out of clean dishes. I still want a drink sometimes, and I still make mistakes when it comes to moderation, for that matter. It’s all just a bit more manageable, and I now possess a hot kernel of pride at what I’ve managed to accomplish.

Life is still life, with all its ups and downs. This was neither an exceptionally easy nor exceptionally hard six month stretch, in terms of what else was going on in my life. Some really good things happened. A few really bad things happened. I like to think I was more present for some of the other people in my life who were experiencing their own bad times. I am still worried about how I will handle a major crisis, including some particular triggers that are certain to re-emerge in my life at some point. I am feeling slightly more optimistic than I used to.

I used to experience life as a never-ending source of reasons to drink. For awhile, I felt like moderation was going to transform life into a never-ending series of lessons on why I’m better off not drinking. But the truth is, I don’t think life is either of these things. It’s just a big, beautiful mess of a thing. It is more interesting when I’m not viewing it through a bottle, but it’s also more interesting when I’m not viewing it through the relentless lens of self-improvement. For the past month, I’ve started to feel more and more like myself, and consequently, started to feel like I can experience life on its own terms more often. Which in turn feels like coming alive all over again.

When I started MM, 30 days seemed like an incomprehensibly long time. Six months feels like just the beginning.

six months, by the numbers

I’ve been actively working to change my drinking habits for six months now. By measuring, counting, and tracking my drinks, I now have a six month record of my own behavior, which gives me some pretty useful data. It looks like this:

February: 0 drinking days, 0 drinks, 0 reds

March: 9 drinking days, ~40 drinks, 7 reds

April: 9 drinking days, 22.5 drinks, 2 reds

May: 12 drinking days, 28 drinks, 1 red

June: 8 drinking days, 25.5 drinks, 3 reds

July: 6 drinking days, 10.5 drinks, 0 reds


As you can see, my behavior has actually been pretty consistent throughout. This goes back to what I wrote about “faking it” — I can’t control my feelings, but I have been (mostly) able to control my actions. That’s part of what moderation means to me: learning real, practical skills that let me consistently translate intent into action, so that I don’t get sidetracked by all the other fuzz in my head. And learning to get comfortable with “mostly,” because I’m far from perfect, even when it comes to following my own rules.

My emotions finally caught up in late June, when things started feeling pretty easy. Other things that changed in late June are that I evaluated my progress and made some changes. I stopped drinking at home (mostly), made a mental note to avoid mixed drinks (mostly) and adopted a July mini challenge of a strictly BTB 30. Those changes seem to have had a direct impact on my behavior, as seen by the lower counts for July.

Looking at my numbers above, I can see that I will probably continue to have occasional red days, where I drink above recommended limits. I would like to see these days become somewhat less frequent over time as I continue to make minor, sustainable adjustments. Learning ways to allow myself to be imperfect, while still making progress, has been healthy for me in an uncountable number of ways.

Overall, I am really very proud of myself.

 

 

July review/August plans

My July plan was as follows:

My July 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.

To provide some additional encouragement for myself, I am going to aim for a “BTB 30,” which is 30 days of consecutive by-the-book moderation. Like the 30+ that I used to kick off my attempts to change my drinking habits, I hope that aiming for “perfection” for a predetermined period of time helps me figure out a few specific things, especially with regard to my triggers for occasional over-drinking.

In July, I met all my goals, and for the most part, it felt easy.

Overall, I enjoyed 10.5 drinks, spread out over 6 occasions. Each week, I was well within BTB guidelines, and I did not have more than three drinks on any day. July was an unqualified success, which I have discussed further in an upcoming six month celebratory post.

I completed my mini-challenge, a BTB 30, in July, although it felt less exciting than I’d hoped. It happened easily, as part of the flow of the month and the result of improved day-to-day skills and strategies. Still, I am proud of myself, and I think it is important to celebrate all the successes, not just fixate on the struggles.


My August goal is to continue to stay within recommended alcohol intake ranges, which for me means following the Moderation Management guidelines. For women, that means 0-4 drinking occasions per week, 0-3 drinks on any occasion, and 0-9 drinks in any week.

I intend to continue to keep alcohol out of the house, for the most part. I have several travel/vacation plans upcoming in August, which will require some thought as they approach. I do not expect August to feel as easy as July did, but I plan to continue the skills and strategies which have been working so well for me.