Lots of people have a healthy, rational relationship with alcohol without having to consciously change anything, in the sense that they can happily go for a couple of drinks and then call it a night – they don’t immediately fall down a rabbit hole of binge drinking after a friendly pint in the sun, they don’t transform into their worst nightmare after a few glasses of white wine or wake up having no idea how they got home or where their phone is, they don’t dish out spiteful doses of fabricated truths to their loved ones or morph into an emotional disaster when they drink.
This doesn’t mean that a doctor would agree that their alcohol intake is good for them but it IS certainly healthier than mindless drinking, and it’s a way of life that those of us who don’t have an off-switch will have aspired to achieve at some point.
Other people who moderate their drinking do it as a direct result of some serious self-assessment, hard work and probably from a long time-out from alcohol before making the decision to mindfully drink. Absolutely no-one can go from mindlessly binge-drinking to being a successful, rational moderate drinker overnight. Or even forty nights. So how can you make it work?
People who have given up drinking for the reasons above such as no off-switch, binge drinking, health, or just general bad behaviour, have had to re-programme their brains to break down patterns and disassociate from the habitual behaviours that we all form – it takes hard work and determination to succeed and not throw the towel in at any given opportunity. For this reason, many non-drinkers are not comfortable with the concept of moderation. If you’ve spent the last three months, two years or even ten years seeing yourself flourish as a result of removing alcohol from your life, it can feel a little dangerous to take moderation too seriously. If you’re part of any kind of support network, then you’ll also have had to painfully watch other members and friends attempting to moderate and failing – another strike against moderation. But it shouldn’t have to work like that, many of the same rules and strategies need to be applied for someone who is moderating their intake, as they do for someone who is abstaining completely from alcohol. In fact, whilst the social stigma is perhaps lessened for someone who does partake in occasional mindful drinking, the effort of self-control is possibly more complicated and harder to execute – particularly for someone who has struggled with their off-switch.
In terms of social attitude (I’m setting moral reasoning aside completely here), I’ve personally drawn some pretty close comparisons between moderate drinking and vegetarianism, in terms of what I’ve experienced from those in various positions across the spectrum. I was vegan for several years before reverting to being vegetarian, and whilst I was vegan I experienced a fair amount of ridicule or questioning from the carnivores or even the cheese eaters: “But why? How do you cope? Oh I couldn’t live like that, it’s so boring…” – sound familiar? I also met a lot of vegans who are openly derogatory to those who lead a vegetarian lifestyle because it’s not enough: “How could you know what you know about animal cruelty and yet still consume dairy?” Which is a fair point and I’m pretty sure I said that about vegetarians myself at some point, but I think I was just envious of the cheese-eating. Again, sound familiar? It’s the in-between, the not-quite, the cop-out.
The thing is, it isn’t a cop-out.
I think it’s absolutely integral that we share information with each other, to enable us to make informed choices, evolve and to be more mindful. But imposing your opinion on someone else and never being able to form the understanding that what works for you may not work for someone else, is truly unhelpful for everyone.
I moderately drink now and I have done for almost a year and a half. If you think I’m going to give you some quick fix though, some magic moderation beans, you’re wrong. It’s hard work and you mustn’t ever take it for granted.
I was a non-drinker for three years after being a dangerous no off-switch binge drinker for the majority of my drinking career – which spanned fourteen years. I could happily go Monday-Thursday without even a sniff of alcohol, but once I was set in motion I didn’t stop. I then did three alcohol-free Christmasses, my 30th birthday, the funeral of a close friend and many, many, weddings and birthdays without drinking. I chipped away at, and eventually broke out of, my little shell over that time, faced up to a lot of emotional baggage, grasped what my actual interests were all over again, understood what I was passionate about and realised what I didn’t actually enjoy once my rose-tinted alcohol spectacles had been crushed into the floor. Once all of this new or previously concealed information and emotion had been absorbed, I felt myself gradually transform into someone I actually really liked, trusted and was truly comfortable with. My viewpoints shifted and I became who I had always wanted to be, the person who I had always been but who had been distorted through the blurry, hazy, alteration that the over-use of alcohol and it’s underlying causes bring to a person. If in any way you feel like you aren’t enough, that you’re different or that you are anything short of incredible, alcohol and drugs are an easy route to confidence, temporary stress relief and the fatal obliteration of any connection to our most inner thoughts and feelings.
In a much simpler, more universal sense, alcohol is simply a way to forget the week for many people, and it can make many people over-excited, causing them to make a series of illogical decisions which then lead to the classic “not how I meant the night to go” scenario. Ever had a birthday or wedding where you’ve felt so stoked that you’ve decided to start drinking at midday, with no real thought as to how much water you’re drinking, or what you’ve eaten, and before you know it you’re waking up the next day with no real memory of the event which you’d be so looking forward to? Yup, same here.
If you’ve connected with anything I’ve said here, then you need to do some re-mapping of your brain before you can expect to successfully moderate your drinking, without accidentally ending up on a two-day bender or finishing those two bottles of wine by yourself. Self-restraint alone only works for so long once alcohol is in the picture. I’m sorry to say it, but taking a couple of months off drinking may not give you the tools you need to change your mindset.
Firstly, figure out what your internal triggers are. Are you an emotional drinker? Is there something lurking in your past that you need to talk about? Do you need to do a little work on your confidence? Are you unhappy? Are you over-excitable? Are you just a bit bored? Character and emotional work is tough but book an appointment with a therapist, talk to a friend, do some research online and step away from drinking whilst you figure it out.
Once you’ve put the time in and have decided you’d like to moderate your drinking, these rules should help you stay on track:
So, I guess the key message here is – moderating your alcohol intake is a really brilliant way of leading a more mindful way of life and it absolutely can be successful if it’s right for you and you do it the right way. I never thought I would be able to do this successfully – but it’s not easy. Respect the process, don’t cut corners and if you’re unsure if you can do it, don’t try. Take a time out, re-evaluate, ask for advice and make rational, well thought-through decisions about your next steps.
If you’re thinking of doing a sober sprint, would like to cut down your drinking, stop for a while or quit completely – you can sign up to our FREE mailing list for advice, inspiration, events information and more. You can also join our private Facebook group to access our webinars live and to share stories, advice, and support with like-minded people on different stages of their journeys. Want to keep socialising but not sure which places are good for alcohol-free drink choices? Head to our Club Soda pub guide where we list the best places for mindful drinkers.