Kary May just wrote a lovely post defending moderation, which gets treated as a dirty word by some in the recovery community. I commented, but ran out of space before saying everything I want. Guess I have a few thoughts when it comes to moderation and shame!
What I thought I’d add here is simple: I like moderation. I’m proud of the changes I’ve made to my drinking, and the way my behavior continues to move toward healthier drinking habits. It’s not perfect or seamless, and it’s certainly not the fantasy that most of us imagined at some point. Sometimes I plateau, and sometimes (as in August & September!) I hit some unexpected rough patches, and fall slightly short of my goals. Sometimes, I get frustrated, and tired of the whole thing. But mostly, I’ve done really well with moderation, and feel that I am slowly gaining the tools I need to smooth down those rough areas.
I chose to try moderation partly because I like the science it’s based on, and mostly because of my own fear of failure & the way that negative consequences for mistakes can crater my best attempts at change (you can read more about that in my Why Moderation post, if you want). A desire to keep drinking was not my primary motivation, though it certainly played a role. For one thing, it made transitioning from heavy drinking a bit less frightening. It let me play a complicated mental game, where I could sneak up on serious behavior changes without making any bold declarations. It probably helped me start when I did, instead of waiting another few years to gather my courage. It definitely helped me make real changes to my behavior, instead of starting strong and falling back again.
At the time I chose to try moderation, I actually wasn’t sure I would like it. It had been so long since I had drunk moderately that I wasn’t even sure I’d like the drinking part, which I worried might simply leave me feeling irritable and frustrated (only three drinks? seriously?!?). I also worried that I’d like the drinking part too much, of course. I worried that I’d grow obsessive, that I’d feel constantly denied a privilege (and, feeling denied, eventually rebel with a binge-to-end-all-binges), and that I was simply going to fail. I’m not sure this fact is clear to casual readers, but at the time I quit, my alcohol dependency had moved to a high enough point on the spectrum that moderation might simply not have been achievable for me anymore.
Understanding that, I still had my reasons for trying moderation, but I also made some contingency plans and worked hard to grow comfortable with the idea of long-term abstinence. I didn’t want to be afraid of it, or use it as part of an ultimatum, because for me, fear is a poor motivator. Besides, it turns out I enjoy abstinence quite a bit, so it’s not exactly a fate I ought to fear.
But I sometimes think that people work too hard to stress moderation’s role as a path to permanent abstinence, as though that’s the only thing that makes it really respectable. Moderation can also be a destination in itself, or at least a perfectly healthy long-term habit, and I’m not sure it requires the excuse of being a route to permanent abstinence. In fact, I am growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of permanent moderation, although I am still not ready to make any bold declarations.
Drinking heavily used to cause me a lot of shame. I used to buy my wine at a different liquor store each time, because I couldn’t face the same clerk again and again. I routinely woke up in the early hours of the morning, hating myself, unable to do anything but marinate in self-loathing. And when I first started trying to teach myself how to drink moderately, I carried some of those complicated emotions into the experience, making my first few months emotionally fraught. The edge slowly wore off, things simplified, and I discovered (among other things) that I really do like the way it feels to drink moderately. I like the way it feels to abstain too, which is what I actually do most of the time. And I like the way that I get to decide which to do in almost any situation, and that I have the tools to follow through.
These days, moderation doesn’t make me feel shame at all. Moderation makes me happy, and is helping me continue to build and practice healthy habits. The joy of moderation comes from empowerment, at least for me. It comes from feeling in control of my actions and my choices. The way I used to drink was essentially passive, requiring only that I surrendered to circumstance and urges. Learning to be an active participant in my own life has many dimensions, of which this turns out to be one. However I chose to get here, I’m glad that I am here now, and not because it’s the path to somewhere that’s considered just a bit more respectable. Simply because this, right here and now, is pretty nice, and I’m proud to be here.