Moderation involves counting. It’s one of those things that feels totally artificial initially, even though it’s really not technically that hard. Or at least, it seemed tedious and off-putting to me at first, and I spent awhile hoping I could somehow be the only moderator who doesn’t have to count (I have a theory that many of us in MM tend to resist conformity, but it’s just a theory. It might just be the way most people are, really).
I think it seemed artificial because it was pretty much the opposite of how I’d been drinking for years. I drank mindlessly, without measuring or counting, except for noticing that the amount I was drinking kept increasing steadily with time. Actually noting real quantities would have filled me with fear and shame, because it was far, far beyond what people “should” be drinking. In a curious irony, trying to moderate can feel like we’re paying MORE attention to drinking than we did when we were actually drinking heavily, or at least it did for me.
Many things about moderation felt artificial at first. It was nothing like the fantasy of “being able to drink again,” although that’s not to say it’s bad…it’s just real life, not a fantasy. Counting was just one of the many new skills I had to learn, which felt totally weird, and then got easier, and now I do it more or less without thought. It has become a habit of noticing — noticing what I am doing, noticing how I am feeling, noticing what my choices are (and considering various circumstances), and if I do order a drink, noticing several things about that too.
For years, I told myself that drinking was a treat I needed to get through the day. I felt like I couldn’t get through anything challenging without the promise of something special at the end of my day, but the truth is, when you drink everyday, there’s nothing special about it. It’s just what you do. It makes all the days blur together in the end, because I did the same thing on every single one of them: get home, pour wine, start sliding into fuzzy oblivion. I’d drink to help manage a bad day, and slowly go numb; even if the first pour was more cheerful, drinking at the end of a good day did about the same thing.
As time passed, I have come to realize that I’m not just counting drinks. I am counting successes. I collect strings of abstinent evenings, bright and shiny sober bedtimes. I count fresh mornings, memories that don’t embarrass or worry me, times I can be the designated driver, the days where I don’t have a single intrusive thought about alcohol, cups of tea made by and for someone I love.
And I count days, and weeks, and sometimes an entire month, when I consistently behave like the kind of drinker I want to be. I collect warm handfuls of evenings out with my partner, raising our glasses (sometimes alcohol-filled, sometimes not) in a toast — to a shared anticipation, a celebration, or simple recognition of how kind we have been to each other lately. I collect moments when I make myself proud — that tight little glow of satisfaction when I say “no thanks” to a second drink; that half-proud/half-rueful feeling of stopping after the third glass of wine; even the tickle of amusement I feel when I discover I’m just not in the mood for a drink, despite having planned on one (still a very novel feeling, for me). My drinks are rare, and so they have become special again, something I share with people I like, in circumstances I enjoy. There are much fewer of them, but they count for more.