one year

January 27th, 2016 was the day I decided — tentatively, fearfully, not quite letting myself think about it too much — to take concrete steps toward changing my drinking habits. Twelve months later, and I can’t say I’ve figured everything out yet. But I’m not so tentative, I’m not so afraid, and I find myself free to think about any number of things now.

The past year has been enormous in terms of self-confidence, self-control, personal growth, and all that good stuff. Personal shrinkage too — my body continues to change and become healthier as I continue to use it for things other than soaking up liter upon liter of wine. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars. I’ve enjoyed dozens of well-chosen drinks, and a couple hundred comfortably alcohol-free evenings. I feel normal, for lack of a better word…or as much like normal as I really want to be anyway.

It’s been a good year for me in ways that have no obvious connection to alcohol too. That’s not a coincidence. The fact that things in general was going better was one reason I found the courage to try (again) to change my drinking, but also, of course, drinking substantially less does have a way of opening up other opportunities. It is both cause and effect, all in one, and creates a cycle of a whole new sort. I’ve traveled more this year than any year in recent memory. I’ve been involved in some good projects here in my own community too. I’ve felt more like my favorite self than I have in years. I’ve felt more free than I can remember.

Adding up all my numbers over the past twelve months, I find I have consumed an average of less than one drink per day. That’s a huge reduction from the many years before, and comes close to being within healthy drinking limits. I intend to do a little more trimming and pruning, so the number for the next twelve months will be somewhat lower…but it’s a comparatively small adjustment, when contrasted with the changes I’ve already made. When I was drinking problematically, or even in the early stages of attempting moderation, I simply could not form a mental picture of what “moderate drinking” actually looked like. Now that I’m closer, it’s coming into much better focus.

I also don’t have as much to say about it as I thought I would. That’s okay. For awhile, thinking about (not) drinking took up a huge amount of my attention, but as more and more of my new habits became ingrained, I’ve found myself free to think about all kinds of other things as well. Which is one of those things you hope for, isn’t it? I did, anyway, wishing desperately that I could get to a point where alcohol had moved so far out of the center of my life that I just didn’t find myself preoccupied with things related to it. It’s a good thing, but also means that I am probably going to post infrequently, if at all, to this blog in the future.

Having tipped my terrified self onto the path of moderation, and then determined to fake my way through a lifestyle change until it felt more real, I feel that I’ve emerged out the other side with a better understanding of how I want to live my life. I have a better understanding of why choice, freedom, and control are important to me, and how to work toward those things in various areas of my life. Instead of feeling desperately broken, I have started to figure out how to move my lifestyle into closer alignment with my values, and it’s a pretty cool thing. So as the next year unfolds, I am working toward some other changes. Feeling like I actually have the power to make those changes is a strange, wonderful thing, and one I can trace directly back to moderation.

It’s been a great year.


New Year

I’m back. Thanks to irregular internet connections, I didn’t post a December report/January plan this month…may get around to it, but still mentally catching up, so may not. I drank a bit on vacation, but there were no major excesses (kept to my plan to limit “overages” to the 3-5 drink range; most “drinking days” were limited to a glass or two of local wine or beer with dinner; I said “no thanks” to many drinks; had more drinking days than I do during normal weeks, but still had plenty of days without any drinks at all). I did manage to practice abstinence in all the hotels we stayed in, which was a particular goal of mine…but one that felt so much easier than expected that I mostly forgot to celebrate it.

Mostly, I came away with the same thought I seem to have after every splendid vacation: as long as drinking never interferes with my fun (no hangovers, but also not prioritizing “finding a drink” or getting tipsy over other, more meaningful, opportunities), I just don’t feel too worried about it one way or another during a trip. I’m not perfect, and I’m never going to be, but working to learn how to moderate seems to have improved my self-control considerably, and I felt very good about the feeling of confidence I carried with me on my travels. For instance, ordering a glass of wine and not needing to worry that it would mean a whole night spent drinking my way to bed…huh, another thing I forgot to celebrate, since it just seems normal now.

Instead of picking apart my travel experiences, I find myself thinking ahead to the new year. I’m coming up on my one year anniversary of practicing moderation; I think the second year is looking pretty promising. I’m also finding myself examining other aspects of my life, and looking to apply the lessons I’ve learned. I suppose it all comes back to balance, as usual.It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Even if you never make New Year’s resolutions (and I never do), it’s so easy to get caught up in the sense that each year is another opportunity to try to open ourselves up in some new way. I’m enormously proud of the changes I’ve made to my drinking in the past year, even if I still think there’s room for improvement (will I ever really feel like I’ve got it? Not sure, honestly).

But it’s the other changes that really delight me, the ones that aren’t strictly about drinking, except that they are. The way my partner and I are kinder to each other now, even with our regular cranky moments. The way we spend more time doing real things, like going for walks or having conversations. The way my mind bubbles with thoughts about interesting things, like books I am reading, things I want to write, art I want to make, hikes I want to take, dreams I want to explore. The ways I have grown in confidence, happiness, and control.

Naturally enough, I’m in the middle of a mid-January burst of enthusiasm for building even better habits in the upcoming year. I’m trying to apply the things I’ve already learned, like breaking goals into smaller pieces, and figuring out tiers of positive reinforcement, and so on.

This month’s project is focused on significantly trimming our budget so we can attain more financial freedom (a process that is shockingly similar to moderation!). It was inspired, in part, by the amazing amounts of money I’ve saved by not drinking it all away, but also by the fact that there’s just so many more things I want to do now. Mostly though, I landed on this project because I’ve started to realized how interconnected all the different aspects of my life really are, and I feel brave enough to deal with the challenges this presents. Something like eating more healthfully, for instance, relates to things like dining out less (which helps us save more), but also might make me think about how I’m spending my evenings, and whether dining out is sometimes just a “treat” I’m using to try to ameliorate some stress I could address more directly, and the dynamics in my relationship, and perhaps dozens of other things. Or maybe it’s not that complicated, but if it is, I think it’ll be okay.

It all turns out to be a way of being kind to myself. After all those years of feeling bad, drinking, and then feeling bad about drinking, this continues to be a liberating concept. I’m not interested in beating myself up for past spending excesses, or vowing to never spend another dollar again. I just want to look at the big picture, to consider my deeper priorities, and find ways to tug my life into slightly better alignment with them. Which might mean cutting out something I used to think I couldn’t live without, or maybe learning how to make it just an occasional treat, or finding some totally new thing that I’ll find I like better, I don’t know. Mostly, it means learning to accept that I’m definitely not going to get it absolutely right, but I can learn to be gentle with myself about mistakes, and not let them knock me completely off course. See, I told you it was exactly like moderation 😉