the in-between years

I found Moderation Management in January 2014, when I read this article and promptly embarked on my first “30.” It was hard, but I managed to go without drinking for a full 30 days. On day 31, I went out for a drink with some friends, which turned into six or seven drinks. Within a week, I was back to drinking at my former levels.

That’s not uncommon, but I didn’t know that then. At the time, I just thought I’d failed. I had been telling myself I was a loser during years of heavy drinking, so one more failure fit easily into the self-loathing narrative. At the same time, I was enormously relieved that I had been able to take a 30 day break. If I could do that once, maybe I could try to do it again someday. I filed that thought away under “tiny glimmer of hope.”

Even when I was drinking heavily, I was able to make a lot of sensible decisions (thanks to MM, I learned to call this harm reduction). I didn’t drive drunk, for instance. I calculated risks and tried to make reasonable decisions, even when I felt completely incapable of making changes. I never “hit bottom.” Most of the time, I still felt like myself, just a bit more buried under my drinking problem with each year that passed. So I used those years to try to gently nurse that bit of hope.

Between January 2014 and January 2016, my drinking continued to slowly escalate, and I continued to try to keep that tiny glimmer of hope alive. Admittedly, I mostly did this by not thinking about it too hard, because I was afraid I would drown it in a torrent of self-disgust. But little by little, I tried to let myself believe that changes were possible.

Did any of that make a difference? I think so now, although I wasn’t sure then. I think it helped make the idea of long-term change seem possible, while also making the stakes for my next 30 seem a little lower. After all, if that one didn’t work, maybe I could try again. Or maybe I could try something else.

It would be easy to chalk those years up as more time lost to drinking. Personally, I think I’d planted some seeds of possibility, they just needed to lie dormant for a little while. Maybe my moderation journey started six months ago, but I think it is equally accurate to say that its roots stretch back to at least 2014, or perhaps even earlier. Change takes time, and even the in-between years were important.

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