Why Moderation is So Stressful
By Karolina Rzadkowolska
Maybe you’ve been questioning the role of alcohol in your life but keep toying with the ever-illusive idea: moderation. If you could just figure out the right amount of willpower and rules, maybe you could square this alcohol issue away. Everything in moderation they say, right?
Quitting drinking just seemed way too extreme, an option for someone at rock-bottom, not me. And so moderating was the answer to everything. I would wake up after drinking and recriminate myself for hours, basically feel like a loser for failing to uphold my standards. And like clockwork, instead of actually doing something different about my relationship with alcohol, I just decided to buckle down, make some stricter rules that I HAD to follow, and try the moderation game again. A game to prove to myself that I could have it all.
And the thing that was so confusing, was that it’s not like I failed all of the time. Sometimes I totally didn’t over do it. Sometimes I totally stuck to my rules. Sometimes I only had one drink. Sometimes I said no to the offer of more.
But boy was it taxing. And it took up a lot of mental space. As if my drinking was the biggest preoccupation of my life. The never-ending struggle to do it right. Pretty closed-minded way to live, don’t you think?
I realize now that the question isn’t can you moderate. It’s, do you actually want to? Moderation, even successful moderation takes up a lot of mental time and energy. And it is a lot less appealing than we think. Some things to consider when deciding on the moderation game:
You can’t ever relax
Your friends invite you out for dinner, but you have an early morning, so the rule tonight is only one drink. But soon you realize that only having one drink is really complicated. First, you have to wait for a table, and everyone orders a glass of wine while they wait. Should you get one and use your one drink now? Or wait until dinner? Your mind fixates on it all night. It’s never just the innocent glass of champagne at the wedding. It’s who what where when how and it’s mentally exhausting.
You deal with enablers
You have your rules in place. No more than two drinks, let’s say. But then mid-way through dinner your uncle Tim pulls out brandy he bought in France and was saving for everyone to try. Ok, well, it would be rude to say no right? Stuff like this happens all the time. Another round? Another drink? As if it was hard enough not listen to your own little demon wanting another drink, now you have to deal with this social pressure too? Being around drinkers means they will coax you to drink more.
You’re fighting an addictive drug
The effects alcohol have on your brain make your brain want another drink. That’s just science. And the more alcohol you have over time, the stronger this craving is and becomes programed into your neural pathways. So unless you’ve always been the lightest drinker in the world who barely ever drinks, you can’t escape the cravings for more. This isn’t something wrong with you, this is just the effect of alcohol on the human body. The only thing wrong with this picture is how little as a society we acknowledge this, and make people feel like a “problem” instead of the drug itself.
you get decision fatigue
You’re constantly presented with the option of drinking or drinking more, and it’s up to you to keep your willpower reserves extra high. Neuroscience shows us that willpower can run short when your motivation runs short and your motivation runs short when you engage in a lot of decision making—aka decision fatigue. I have fundamentally changed my beliefs around alcohol, so I don’t have to make any decisions, ever. But back when I was trying to moderate, I had to make hundreds of tiny decisions about alcohol and they definitely deteriorated as I ingested a beverage that slows down your prefrontal cortex and judgement center.
you’re always borrowing time
This is how it starts. You’re ready to tackle this alcohol thing! No more nonsense. You make rules about when and how much you can drink. And the first week, you stick to it. The next week after that, you stick to it too. Wow, this is incredible you think! But how long can it possibly last? Because the week after that you open a bottle of wine to have with dinner (it’s against the rules but you’ve been so good) and you drink it all (also against the rules), and wake up sad, let down, and disappointed in yourself. It’s only a matter of time before you’re back where you started from.
you gamble with the health risks
What is moderation by the way? In our society it seems to mean not drinking to the point of drunkenness. Normal drinkers drink, but don’t get fall-down drunk, right? But that’s not what the medical establishment says. Moderation means no more than ONE drink per occasion guys. The Center for Disease Control even says two drinks or more for a woman is HEAVY RISKY DRINKING. Umm, I don’t know about you, but two drinks on a night out for me was a success, not heavy risky drinking. And unfortunately, we now know that even light drinking is tied to health risks over time (one drink shortens life expectancy by 20 minutes). If your idea of moderation is still setting you up for cancer, heart disease, and other health risks later in life, what’s the point?
you erode your self-esteem
Saying one thing and doing another erodes your belief in your own abilities and slowly wears down any sense of self-esteem. We make rules so that we can trust that we will follow them and when we don’t, we learn that we can’t trust ourselves. This slowly leached into other areas of my life and made me feel unconfident and insecure in a limiting story of what I was capable of.
you’re not growing
In the end, how does alcohol serve you? All this work and pain and frustration for what benefit? Try to articulate it and make a pros and cons list and why you really want alcohol in your life. My “benefits” included hanging out in my comfort zone, trying to be like everyone else, being more worried with fitting in than living my true essence, and doing the same thing each and every weekend and never learning from my experiences. Growth comes from pushing yourself, from getting out of your comfort zone, from learning to be comfortable in your own skin, and doing things that scare you. Not easy routine drinking.
I had to reframe my thinking on moderation because in the end, it was costing me way more than it was giving. Alcohol was the villain and every day I had to train hard and long to beat him. Hours of mental energy and decisions as if I was training at the gym. Hours of fighting him, him saying more, me saying less. Was it possible that I could beat him? Sure, maybe in one match. But the thing I didn’t realize, is maybe I don’t have to spend my entire life in a dark smelly basement gym, using all my beautiful talents and strength to fight the enemy and win in a game called moderation.
Maybe I could actually spend my life outside, breathing the fresh air, focusing my talents on things that really make me happy, and making a difference in this world.
If you want to end this moderation game and create the alcohol-life of your dreams, click here for details about my online course.