I want to give you a gift.
Let me tell you what I have learned about reducing alcohol consumption to medically recommended levels. A personal 10 year lesson, with all sorts of tests.
I understand that alcohol holds no sway over some, so if managing your drinking is not hard for you, then all I offer today is a story. Thanks for listening.
So. As you may know, doctors now say women should have no more than one drink/day, and no more than 7/week. In other words, when you find yourself at a Hawaiian fusion restaurant, down one artisinal gin martini and contemplating a refracting glass of Sauvignon Blanc, you’re going to have to compensate tomorrow.
At one point, this was very hard for me.
Why? How did it happen? As a young woman I was never much of a one for alcohol. After a few bad college experiences with binge drinking, that is. As a young married person, I drank only when we went out to restaurants, or had people over. Could take it or leave it.
Life got more difficult. My work more demanding, my marriage, well, more difficult.
I began to drink regularly. First, after work with colleagues. You know, tough day, out with the team, have a martini. A glass of wine. Then at home. You know, very tough day, long commute, arrive home after the family has finished dinner, drink half a bottle of wine at the kitchen counter with your cold food. Don’t forget the expensive cheese and Acme bread.
Then I got divorced. Let me hasten to say mine never became a story of alcohol abuse, technically. But I did get to the point where I’d have 2 glasses of wine every night, alone. Sometimes 3. Every now and again, when I felt the need to blow myself up, if you will, 4. That’s a lot of alcohol for a 120 pound woman. Technically, that’s what they call “heavy drinking.”
My doctor told me I had to cut back. So I tried. But ambiguous and uncertain future health dangers proved an insufficient incentive. What to do?
Here is the set of practices that finally worked.
How To Drink Only As Much As You Want To
- Confirm there’s a problem. Duh, I suppose, but I really did have hear from the doctor that this mattered. I was too good at swatting away my own internal voices.
- Find or create a near-term reward. Vague future punishments like health problems are infinitely less motivating than near-term good things. In my case, it was sleeping through the night. Everything changed the morning I realized that I could sleep a whole night through if I kept to one 5 oz glass of wine/night.
- Focus tightly on drinking behaviors.
- Settle on a habitual glass. Find out how 5 oz fills it. Too many heavy drinkers will say they had “one glass” when they are in fact holding a tumbler.
- Do not starting drinking alcohol until you’re well hydrated. No need to waste a gulp of tension release on slaking thirst.
- Get yourself situated with food or whatever your drinking trigger is before you start. A sofa. A tearjerker. White tablecloths always make me want wine. Satisfy all the needs at once.
- Drink slowly. Watch your glass.
- Have an “all done” signal for yourself. In my case, it’s a few squares of dark and milk chocolate, and/or a piece of fruit. I believe there’s a scientific reason these choices work for me – alcohol converts to blood sugar, and fruit and chocolate trick the addiction into believing I’m still giving in.
- And most importantly, I remind myself all day long that I’m not going to drink heavily. I have a little mantra, “No Alcohol.” I don’t really mean No Alcohol, of course. But I say it whenever I notice that I’m storing the stress of the day in a little space only alcohol held the key to. Refusing to put the stress away means I have to breathe a lot more. Means I have to pay attention.
And yes, although I can’t call myself an alcoholic, it’s an addiction. But a managed one.
Managed without 12 Steps, by the way. I’m an atheist, so that wasn’t going to work. But more importantly, abstinence wasn’t my goal. I’m rarely a bad drinker, I’m fun. I smile. I tell you I love you. And the one drink is good for one’s health. So I wanted, with all the tools I could collect, to keep drinking.
I wanted to drink the way I wanted to, not the way the alcohol wanted me to.
That’s the final piece. I’ve concluded that when you want a drink you shouldn’t have, it’s actually the alcohol that you’ve consumed before, 5 years ago, last night, 20 minutes past, just now, that’s calling for more. I tell myself, it’s the alcohol that wants more, not you.
I confess that I wish I didn’t miss it, I wish it weren’t work to control. But alcohol runs in my family, and now that it’s in my blood, I think I’ve found my way to a sustainable relationship.
Maybe this is useful, or maybe it’s just a reminder that everyone’s got their stuff. Have a wonderful weekend.
Post updated in 2015, here