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An evening with moderation..

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

It starts with an awareness, an awareness that something about your drinking is not quite right, somehow not serving you and you feel its beginning to impact on your life. You start to question what you are doing, are you drinking too much, are you harming yourself or others? Everyone has hangovers but you seem to have them more than you ever did. Comments from family and friends start to add to your feelings of not liking where you are at. You feel like you are a normal drinker but you start to compare yourself to others, checking to see either consciously or unconsciously whether you drink less, the same, or worse, more than them. You think constantly about moderating, but always break your own rules, boundaries or goals. You might use an app to help you tally your drinks for the night but after 2 or 3 drinks you forget to add any subsequent drinks, making it virtually useless as a moderation tool.

You start googling "am I an alcoholic" "how to cut down drinking" "symptoms of liver cirrhosis". You do online questionnaires that score poorly and seem to point you to an alcohol use disorder. You just drink beer or wine, not hard liquor or methylated spirits from a crumpled paper bag. You reason that you can't be an alcoholic in your professional day job of suits, ties and corporate dress, you don't even own an old dust coat.

So you decide to cut out the booze, you beginning reading quit lit to get your mindset right before you decide to cut down or quit completely. The pain of continuing is more than the perceived pain of stopping.

You think about when to actually stop, no wait next Saturday is your partners birthday, you're going on holiday in two weeks, you have a wedding coming up. Christmas is just around the corner, and New Years eve. All the things that we associate with celebration and having a good time seem pointless if we're not drinking.

You are determined to make a change, and you think, "yes I can do this, I will not drink from tomorrow". Tomorrow will be your day one, you will grit your teeth, grab on to your goal of stopping with white knuckles and rely on your steely determination to battle through whatever comes. You are using your amazing willpower and determination to make a positive change. You have reached a snap point where you know you have to change and even though you feel you will be missing out on all the drinking times it will be for the better.

BUT.. wait.. Feeling uncomfortable that you will be missing out in the future, that your life will just not be the same without all the drinking times?

Have you dealt with your brain, your thoughts and beliefs, your emotions around stopping your current behaviour to moderate or to quit? You feel uncomfortable, perhaps apprehensive, you feel that life probably won't be the same without that glass of "Oh me joyful" as my grandfather used to call it, in your hand. Perhaps the quit lit you read didn't even mention what is really going on in our conscious and subconscious minds, perhaps they emphasised all you have to do is determine to stop and then listed all the benefits. Maybe you read some different content about how alcohol affects our brains and what addiction really is but didn't quite get a grasp on it and skipped a lot of the information. Especially the bits about subconscious beliefs, neural pathways and all that weird stuff. Or you believed the one that said you had an incurable allergy disease and the only way forward is a miserable abstinence.

You get through day one, it's Monday. You didn't think much about drinking until the evening. Walking through the door after a day at the office or making dinner, putting the kids to bed, settling down with your partner for a bit of reward time.. except there is no reward tonight. You feel uncomfortable, sweaty, a pit in your stomach, a touch of the mental anguish that denying yourself and your brain a reward that you normally get at this time. The beginnings of a craving. You sweat it out, you grip the chair arms as it passes. All the while you are thinking I'm not doing this tonight.

You go out to the restaurant or pub for your favourite meal but it doesn't feel the same without your favourite tipple in your hand during the meal. You look around and envy all the people blissfully enjoying their drink of choice. You may even feel pissed off at having to be the one that goes without. Why do you have to be singled out with this "disease" that only the susceptible or defective people seem to get.

This may continue for days. If you're moderating you feel relief at the planned day of having your allotted one or two drinks. In fact you are a little excited that your reward for abstinence is near.

You take your drink on the allotted occasion and feel instantly relaxed, but is it a feeling of relaxing or a feeling of relief? Relief that you have finally given yourself permission to have a drink after riding through several days of not drinking or relief in your brain as the alcohol wends its way through your cerebral cortex and leaves you feeling buzzy and fuzzy. Hitting and activating the reward centre, artificially stimulating the release of feel good hormones in the first 15-20 minutes of drinking. As the initial effect wears off you no longer feel the buzz, and perhaps you feel slightly off. Your brain is starting to dampen down the buzz as the alcohol is processed by your liver. Your blood alcohol content is starting to drop. You grab another drink to ease the feeling and bring you back to that initial happy place. It doesn't happen but you keep drinking to counter the effects of the brain maintaining homeostasis. The brain is dampening the artificial releases of those feel good hormones to maintain balance in the brain. The overall effect is to keep you drinking, but wait you are moderating, so reluctantly you decide that the drink in your hand is the last one for the moment.

One of the effects of alcohol on the cerebral cortex is to diminish decision making ability. If you are one or two drinks into your moderated session you will probably feel reluctant to stop but your determination to moderate comes to the fore and you decide to call it a night or switch to a non-alcoholic drink. If you are perhaps two drinks in you might be beginning to think, ah well another one isn't going to hurt after all I've been good x number of days. Before you know it, you have the third drink in your hand. Chasing the buzz that never comes as you drain the third drink, dang may as well have one for the road and you order your fourth. Feelings of oh shit I've busted my quota arise but are quickly swept away as your willpower is drowned out by the new feelings of lowered inhibitions. In the back of your mind you are wondering about any promises you made about getting home early or indeed how you are going to get home when you planned to only have two drinks. Leave the car, take a cab or bus? You are having such a good time though.. you want to stay and power on.

Its at this point the night could be a total write-off or you manage to get home. You may have stopped by the local liquor outlet for some take home supplies to drink later... and crack one in the carpark for a quick top up before departing for home. You reluctantly order a cab and manage to impart the necessary address information to the cabbie in a slow motion conversation littered with ample slurring and repeated stories about the wonderful time you had this evening just past.

Walking in the door, the reception is quite frosty as you make your way into the inner sanctum of your home, simultaneously you spot your dinner wrapped up in alfoil on the kitchen bench and make a beeline for it, feeling suddenly famished. Deftly ducking the steely glares, with mumbled apologies you unwrap your now cold dinner and put it in the microwave on high for what you thought was 3 minutes but turned out to be 30. Since its now past family bedtime, your partner retires to bed, slamming the bedroom door on the way in. You shrug, and make your way to the bar fridge you put what is left of your six pack in the fridge and retrieve a cold one you had in reserve. Forgetting about the microwave you settle into a comfy chair and switch on the telly, pulling a long draft on your stubby.

Moments later you are awoken from your salubrious slumber by the kitchen smoke alarm announcing your dinner is somewhat overdone in the microwave, which in turn causes some alarm for the family who pile out into the family room wondering what on earth is going on.

Sheepishly you wave a tea towel at the smoke alarm, mumbling apologies again and retrieve the remnants of your dinner from the microwave. The kids are herded back to bed and the bedroom door slamming announces your partner retiring for the evening, again. You settle for a sandwich and chill out with another stubby and a bit of late night telly.

One eye opens to see the wee hour advertising spiel extolling the virtues of a steam mop at around 4am. As you come too your mouth is dry, your head is pounding and you are sweating under the combined blanket and room aircon flat out at 30 degrees C. There is a pit in your stomach as you realise you are due to get up for work at 5am, you groan as you get up and slowly make your way to the toilet for a necessary download. Sitting on the loo with stomach cramps, the recriminations begin, how could you be so stupid to get carried away. You were only going to have two, how did it come to this, where did you lose control, what is wrong with you.. you're a bloody alcoholic. F*ck. F*ck this.

5am rolls around, you resolve to take the day off and go back to bed. Your partner isn't talking to you of course, you reek of stale booze and are left to your own devices pretty quickly. Calling in sick by SMS to the boss is the preferred option, happily the boss tells you to get well soon and you pull the bed covers over your head and fall asleep. Your sleep is broken and peppered with not so good memories of drinking on your night out. By late afternoon you resurface to an empty house, kids are at school, your partner is out. You go over the previous nights antics again over a beaker of water and determine that despite the apparent failings this time, and beating yourself up for being weak and lacking self control, you will do better next time. You are determined to just drink normally like everyone else.

You feel that a drink right now is the last thing you want, so it should be easy from here on in.

That evening as you settle down to dinner at the table with the family, you have a fleeting moment where you think gee, a cheeky red wine would be nice with this spaghetti bolognese. Pushing the thought aside you settle for rehydration and top up your glass with water.

The moderation cycle, masquerading as the hamster wheel of drink, blame and shame, begins again..

Thinking of moderating?

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