Why abstinence is easier than moderation.
Updated: May 21
When I was worried that I was drinking too much, the obvious thing to do was to cut down. How hard could it be? I would give myself some realistic limits and stick to them. I mean, I was disciplined in all other areas of my life. I worked out regularly, I ate well, limited my junk food intake and never missed work deadlines. I thought my discipline and willpower would be easily applied to moderating my drinking.
But they weren’t.
Although I sometimes stuck to whatever my latest moderation rule was, often I would not. I remember when I was trying to limit my drinking to weekends only. I’d have a really tough Tuesday and I’d find myself rationalising and justifying drinking midweek because, c’mon! It’d been a really rough day. Or when I was trying to stick to two glasses of wine per night and I bought wine glasses the size of fishbowls, justifying three-quarters of a bottle as “only two glasses”.
The thing for a grey-area drinker like me, was that I had no one pressuring me to drink less. There was no DUI or dramatic rock bottom which left me feeling forced to cut down or quit. No one was monitoring my drinking or pulling me aside for a quiet word for behaving inappropriately. My drinking wasn’t a problem for anyone other than me. And even if it wasn’t an obvious drinking problem, it had certainly become a ‘thinking’ problem.
When I was trying (and often failing) to moderate, what freaked me out the most was how much I was thinking about drinking. I was thinking about when I would drink next, what I would drink and how much I would drink. Then, when I was drinking, I was thinking about how I desperately wanted more but ‘had to’ stop. If I didn’t stop, I would be trying to enjoy the wine while mentally beating myself up for being weak. And then the next day, I would be quietly freaking out that I must have a problem and scheming about how to cut down once again.
All this thinking about drinking was draining and soul destroying. Each time I failed to stick to my self-imposed limits, I whittled away a little more of my self-belief and my self-esteem. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, trying furiously to move forward, but despite the effort, staying stuck.
Eventually, a little voice inside me started asking, “Wouldn’t it be easier not to drink at all?”. I had come to realise that despite my best made plans, once I got a drink in me, rules often went out the window. But what if I just made the one decision? That decision being to not drink at all. Instead of the thousands of decisions I was constantly having to make about alcohol when I was trying to moderate: Should I drink tonight? What should I drink? How much will I have? Should I have another one even though I said I wouldn’t? Will anyone notice? Should I take my glass into the bathroom while I bath the kids, or leave it on the kitchen counter until I get back? Should I just call this a ‘fuck it’ night and have as much as I want?
I was so damn sick of the internal booze chatter. And despite being terrified by the prospect, my intuition was guiding me to explore whether my life would be better if I didn’t drink at all.
When I finally made the decision to quit, I felt an unexpected emotion. Relief. I’d stopped running on the hamster wheel, I was getting off and out of the cage. I felt hopeful that I could now move forward.
The booze chatter in my head slowly but surely subsided. The “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” stopped because I’d made that one critical decision: “I don’t”.
As my mental space opened up, I was free to explore more important and exciting things with my thoughts. What do I actually want to do with my life? How can I be of service to others? What do I like to do for fun? What areas of my life do I want to work on? I think you’ll agree that these thoughts are much better for the soul than “should I have another drink?”.
As hard as it may sound if you’re reading this and still trying (and failing) to moderate, abstinence is so much easier. At least that has been my experience and the experience of many of our Thrivalist students.
Of course, there are drinkers out there who decide to cut down, and they achieve that without too much effort or discomfort. For those people, moderation may well be the answer. But it’s unlikely those people are reading sobriety blogs.
And the great thing about abstinence is that if you try it and find (after giving it a good go!) that your life isn’t better without alcohol in it, you can always go back to drinking. So really, if moderation isn’t working out well for you, you have nothing to lose by trying sobriety.