This week I’m answering a reader question from Jenny, who writes:
“I’ve been trying and failing to cut down my drinking for a while now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter what I do, once I start I can rarely stop. I hate myself for being so weak. The last few weeks have been especially awful, and I’ve said and done things I regret. I know that I should probably quit completely, but part of me still loves the idea of having a few drinks and wants to believe I can achieve that. Other people, like my husband, have no problem stopping after one or two. I feel so fed up.”
If you’ve got any ideas or advice to share with Jenny, please post a message in the comments section below. Here are my thoughts:
First of all, congratulations on taking action – the very fact that you’re thinking about this stuff puts you way ahead of the game. I understand how frustrating it is when you feel stuck between what you know you ‘should’ do and what you actually want to do. But if you’re repeatedly drinking more than you intend to and it’s making you miserable, then you owe it to yourself to keep working on this. Here are some suggestions to help you move forward:
Review your attempts to moderate
I think you might find it helpful to make a list of all the ways you’ve tried to moderate so far. It’s easy to drift along, convinced you just haven’t discovered the ‘secret’ to moderation yet. Once you start writing, I think you might be surprised by just how much you’ve already tried, and how long it’s been going on for.
Here are some examples of attempts to moderate: waiting until a set time to start drinking, only drinking at the weekend, only drinking on certain weeknights, sticking to one kind of drink, buying wine in small bottles, drinking from small wine glasses, keeping alcohol out of the home, only drinking in pubs and bars, only drinking with other people, alternating alcohol with water, pouring some of the bottle down the sink first, buying cheap wine that doesn’t taste nice… the list goes on.
You don’t need to have tried all of the above to realise that it’s extremely unlikely that there’s a special trick you’ve missed. If cutting down worked for you on a consistent basis then I think you would’ve cracked it by now. Life is short – too short to spend it doing the same thing, over and over.
Get this in perspective
It’s a myth that people who drink too much are weak or lack willpower. The women who join my stop drinking course are always incredibly driven, motivated and successful – and I’m sure you are too. Let’s face it: you have to be a strong and determined person in order to cope with a hangover AND juggle everything else!
Alcohol is a highly addictive, toxic substance that gives you an artificial high followed by a crushing low – it changes the way you think and eats away at your best intentions. We wouldn’t ever expect to be able to ‘control’ ourselves whilst under the influence of other addictive drugs, so why do we demand this of alcohol? Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Stop comparing yourself to others
There are many, many reasons why people like your husband naturally drink less. Some people don’t like the sensation of being drunk or out of control. Others are influenced by family commitments, financial restrictions and other responsibilities. Some people might simply have a different crutch, or other, healthier coping mechanisms they rely on when they want to change the way they feel. Whatever the reason, alcohol just isn’t something they’re drawn to in a big way. They don’t have to ‘control’ their alcohol intake because that intense appeal just isn’t there.
Flip your assumptions
The old saying, ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’ might be true of sweets and crisps and other unhealthy treats, but it doesn’t apply to addictive substances. People often assume moderation is easier than complete sobriety, but I disagree.
The big problem with moderation is that it reinforces the idea that alcohol-free living is awful, and that without this magical, wonderful, life enhancing drug, you are going to be missing out. Trying to control your intake of something that you’ve put up on a pedestal is always going to be hard. Even if you do succeed, the chances are you will feel deprived.
Moderation keeps you stuck in a story: a story where you need alcohol in order to have a full and happy life. A big part of successful sobriety is opening your mind to the possibility that life can be lived a little differently. Moderation stops you from doing that – it stops you from making that mental leap.
Take a proper break from booze
Jenny, I would love you to take a six week break (or longer if you wish). You don’t have to quit forever (that’s way too intimidating) but you do have to give yourself some time to test-drive sobriety properly, and work on the other key ingredients of a happy and healthy alcohol-free lifestyle.
For example, you need to get really clear on what you’ve been looking for in alcohol and find some alternative coping mechanisms. And you’ve got to give yourself the chance to experience the ups and downs of life sober, handle a few challenges and come out the other side.
Taking a proper break from booze will give you time to explore these issues properly. At the end of your break, you can reevaluate and decide what you want to do next. It’ll be completely up to you whether you continue with alcohol-free living… but if you give it a proper try, I suspect you might just love it.
All the best,