Tag Archives: moderate

Should Drink Less, Must Drink Less

This is another biggie for me.  When I was moderating and trying to manage my drinking  I struggled with the ‘I should be able to manage my drinking’ and ‘I must have 3 nights off a week as per the Govt recommendations’.  Then when I couldn’t manage it I would beat myself up and feel guilty for being such a failure and not being able to keep my own drinking rules.  Hello, addictive substance alert!

These kind of thoughts make heavy demands on us emotionally and I love that Albert Ellis termed this “musturbation,” probably because it appeals to my sometimes purile mind (source).  It is one thing to want to try to do something positive about your drinking, like reduce the amount you drink on a daily or weekly basis.  It is quite another to say that you ‘should’ or ‘must always’ be like that.

Strategies:

  • When you find yourself using ‘shoulds and musts’ recognise and acknowledge the thought and then forgive yourself the perfectionism and give it up.
  • Yes, of course it is important to try and change thoughts, feelings and behaviours but don’t punish yourself if you can’t always keep it up or don’t succeed.

This, for me is, is why I stopped drinking.  Because if I drank I’d break my own self-imposed rules and then think ‘what the hell, may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb’ (explanation).

If you don’t drink the only should or must is not to drink.  There is no sliding scale on the perfectionism.  In this instance all or nothing thinking actually works to your advantage 🙂

Mental Filtering and Drinking

This is times when I focusing entirely on negative elements of a situation, to the exclusion of the positive.  I guess for me and drinking that would be thinking about when I was moderating and how when I started to drink heavily again how I could not think about the times of moderating as positive and how each time I was learning new tools for my sober toolkit.  They weren’t wasted they were valuable learning opportunities but I saw them as negative relapses.

Also, it is the brain’s tendency to filter out information which does not conform to already held beliefs.  So if someone said something nice about this blog post I might still think it was not good enough and that it should have been better written because I believe I am not creative.

This is mental filtering.

As Almost Alcohol wrote: Look at how I drink. Obviously I’m an alcoholic. I can’t even quit when I try really hard. I fucking relapsed.  In this piece of writing she focused on the fictional relapse and not on the successful quitting before that night.

The new way of thinking includes:

  • Checking the evidence to support the statement
  • Write a list of all the ‘good bits’ no matter how small they seem by comparison
  • Try not to filter out all the bad stuff and just focus on that

Every time you attempt to moderate and do so successfully, for however long a duration, this is a good thing if you are trying to cut down or stop completely.  I spent years moderating before I finally nailed this quit and I wouldn’t have done it without all the good things I learned about my drinking and myself during the process.  It’s not always the outcome but the process which teaches us the most or to use the oft used expression ‘it is not the destination but the journey’.

What great things did you learn when you turn your mental filter to positive?  I’d love to hear them 🙂

 

Black and White Thinking and Booze

This type of thinking is typified by what I would call, and recognise in myself, as ‘all or nothing’ thinking.  So if I relapse then I’m not just going to have one glass I’m going to get completely smashed.  There is no point relapsing otherwise right?  And if I’m going to relapse on drinking I may as well smoke and eat garbage all the next day and blow off my run.  As Almost Alcohol described it it’s ‘when we finally stop moderating and swan dive down to the rocky, dark, terrifying bottom‘.  No middle ground or grey area.  Success or failure, win or lose, good or bad.

It is related to the common psychological defence mechanism, called ‘splitting‘ which is the error in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.  It is also known as a ‘false dilemma’ and the fallacy is the opposite, unsurprisingly, of the argument to moderation.  Uh oh.  Sounds familiar.

So back to the brilliant passage of Almost Alcohol’s, which you can read in it’s entirety here, these are the lines that resonated with me: I’m a fuck up. I can’t get out of this. I can’t quit.  For me that is at the heart of my all or nothing thinking ‘I’m a f*ck up’.

So how am I working on this thinking error?

By checking the truth of it and challenging myself:

  • What is the evidence for this thought, for saying that I am a f*ck up?
  • It may be true that sometimes I may do things that I regret, and that I could improve the ways I do things
  • However although I feel I have f*cked up – does that make me a f*ck up? NO.
  • I remind myself that reality is made up of many shades of grey (hello, a well known book just popped into my head!)
  • I am not all good or all bad, all right or all wrong
  • There is no black and white.

Does this type of thinking resonate with you too?  What other examples of black and white thinking around booze do you have that you are happy to share, anonymously or otherwise? 🙂

My last drunks

In the last year of my drinking there were two events that put the final nail in the coffin of my drinking career.  I’m going to talk about them in two different posts because there are lessons to be learned from both for me and they both contributed in a different way.  The final one I’ll talk about tomorrow.

The first one was in November 2012 and was a nursing re-union.  It was a 20 year post training celebratory gathering of my old student nurse colleagues back in the city where I trained.  I was on one of my moderation/quitting attempts back then and hadn’t had a drink for 6 weeks running up to it.  It was an opportunity for me to have a week-end away from small children and catch up with other close nursing friends, not from my training colleagues, at the same time.

I had to drive 4 1/2 hours to get there and grabbed a late lunch at a service station on the way down, checked into my hotel and then headed straight out at 4pm to meet another nursing friend.  She is one of my oldest and closest friends and we shared a strong drinking history together and so we started as we had left off with white wine and fags.  The re-union was at 8pm and suffice it to say that by the time it was due to start I was already sh*tfaced.  I had had nothing to eat so was drinking on an empty stomach after 6 weeks off.  Recipe for disaster.

We arrived at the re-union but by now my memory was patchy.  I remember I was very drunk, didn’t recognise people I should have done because of it, was slurring my words and really struggling to stay upright.  Said friend looked out for me, and after me, and I think she realised from the sobbing drunken mess I had become what a bad state I was in and got me into a taxi and back to the hotel.

The next morning I came too, not knowing what had happened and how I had got back to the hotel.  I texted said friend who said that I was ‘tired and emotional’ and not to worry.  I texted one of the re-union members who was kind and focused on how at least I had made the effort to attend unlike some others who lived more locally.

But I was mortified.  I hadn’t seen these people for 10-20 years.  They didn’t know any of the context to my state – 6 weeks off the booze, difficult family stuff going on, meeting and drinking pre-event.  All they had was how I presented and what a shambling drunken wreck at 8pm I must have seemed.  My shame knew no bounds.

In a recent post, linked to my CBT, I have said that I wonder if I need to do more alcohol experimentation and whether I can moderate.  This memory tells me what a joke that thought really is.  Do I really need more evidence of how that isn’t possible for me?  OK I may have worked through some of my emotional history, baggage and how it impacts on my thinking but would it really be any different?  I think we all know the answer to that one don’t we ……..

PS This time next week I’ll have run the Nike 10K and am hoping to do it in sub 1hr.  If you would like to sponsor me for this event and raise some money for Alcohol Concern then you can do so here ( http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/ahangoverfreelife).  Donations can be made anonymously and thank you in advance 🙂

 

Angry Bird (s)

Yep we all know the game and I have spent many hours trying to improve my score on it and beat my kids at it.

As a drinker I could also be an angry ‘bird‘. I grew up around arguments as a child and so was pretty avoidant of any confrontations as I didn’t like them and they triggered negative memories and associations for me.  So I would swallow any angry feelings down with my booze and then when I reached trigger point would explode either whilst drinking or in the fog of a hangover the next day.  This just caused a cascade of guilt and shame on top of the anger and remorse and I would resolve to not behave like this again and then the cycle of the building of unexpressed emotions would start again.  I could be pretty passive-aggressive as a result.

If you want to do a good online test about anger go here.

If you struggle with anger either as part of your drinking, or as you try to moderate or stop, then once again those fab peeps at Mind have it covered.

Their tips for managing anger include:

  • Learn your triggers by keeping an anger diary so that you can identify patterns.  If you find it difficult to identify triggers you may need more professional help.
  • Look out for you physical warning signs.  For me I start to clench my jaw and get a radiating heat out from my stomach, what’s yours?
  • Try some calming techniques, like counting to ten, deep breathing or walking away.
  • Learn to be assertive and to express yourself verbally in an assertive way
  • Look at your lifestyle and see if you need to change anything such as exercise, sleep or causes of stress

I still get angry now but it is less often and I handle the feelings differently.  Now I feel that I am more assertive due to an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem and speak out before it reaches explosion point.  Happier Mr HOF and kids as I am less volatile as a result 🙂

Soberiety Bloggers

I was reading MTM’s blog post (which you can read here) about The Bubble Hour broadcast from Sunday night.  It is called Soberiety Bloggers and featured Mrs D, UnPickled and ByeByeBeer and I just had to listen to it as soon as my kids were in bed.  You can listen to it if you haven’t already here.

For me it was one of the Bubble Hour’s best shows as it featured people whose blogs I had read and followed since my journey towards sobriety began.  Putting voices to their names was the most amazing experience.  Hearing them all together describe their journey from drinker to long term recovery was both inspiring and reassuring at the same time.  I know I had read their journey’s already but hearing it somehow made it more concrete and more real.

I appreciate I am probably coming over a bit ‘gushy’ about this but hearing them talk about their efforts at moderating before they stopped and the ups and downs of the journey just resonated with me in a way I wasn’t expecting.  It made me long to sit and talk with other sober journeymen in the real world over a cup of coffee or tea that the virtual blogging world does not as yet offer.  I felt the same when I ended the Skype chat with Veronica Valli.  Pumped up, alive, renewed, motivated.  The sharing of success and difficulties is both envigorating and humbling at the same time.  I can only imagine this must be what it is like when you attend a recovery meeting and pushes me ever closer to the step of seeking out other people on this journey in the non-virtual world.

I want to belong to the sober community as much as I wanted to belong to the drinking world when I drank.  I want to be buoyed up by the infectious nature of being around people who are rocking it in sobriety but mostly I just want to give Mrs D and UnPickled a hug and say thank you.

Survival’s Law of Three

This is an old adage from battlefield medicine and triage about survival times:

3 seconds – fight or flight decision making time

3 minutes – without air

3 hours – without warmth or shelter

3 days – without water

3 weeks – without food

This rule of three’s has stuck with me for many things and I used it when giving up the fags and then I applied it to giving up the booze too:

3 days – physical withdrawal time.  Towards the end of my drinking my hangovers could last 2 days and I wouldn’t feel recovered until the third morning of waking (unless of course I chose to manage the hangover with a ‘hair of the dog’ and then I was back to square one)

3 weeks – psychological withdrawal time (remember PAWS)  The first 3 weeks can be really tough mentally and can feel like you are ‘white knuckling’ it at times.  Hold on tight and it will pass.

3 months – length of time it takes to break an old habit and make a new habit.  Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) medication programmes are for 12 weeks because of this knowledge.

If you can survive these key stages and push past 3 months to 100 days then you will give your neural networks a good go at breaking the drinking habit.

On any length of days of moderating or quitting you will learn valuable ‘survival without booze’ skills for the next time.  Never give up giving up if that is what you want to achieve.  I got really good at giving up as I got so much practice 😉

Half term hell to half term happiness

It is half term here in the UK which means my two are at home for the week taking a well earned rest from school.  They are both at primary school and are normally struggling with tiredness at this point in the term.

Now in my old drinking life and if I was moderating in a ‘no drinking on a school night’ way then this was carte blanche to up the ante.  No work for me, no school for them, Bingo!  To be honest even if I wasn’t moderating and was on a ‘I deserve the reward of a glass or bottle every night for getting through the day’ stage we were all officially on holiday so holiday means ‘holiday drinking!’  Yep I could always find a bona fide reason to drink MORE.

As you can imagine I used to be pretty cranky and not really very good company for them.  I  would endeavour to keep them in bed for as long as possible, so I didn’t have to get up, and would hustle them to bed as quickly as possible come evening time so that I could get ‘my’ holiday thing on.

Drinking made me a really selfish parent because I grew up around daily drinking and knew the havoc it wrecked so never wanted my kids to see me drinking or drunk.  Never wanted to role-model that behaviour so tried to hide it from them.  That’s when you know you have a disconnect because if it wasn’t a problem then why was I so worried about them seeing me drinking?

The belief that because they didn’t see me drinking somehow protected them also underestimates their intelligence and the impact of drinking even when you don’t  have a glass in your hand.  Who was I kidding that because they didn’t see it – it wasn’t a problem for our family?  I was hiding my drinking from them – that made it a problem.

Fast forward to today and I am awake and up before them, greet them with a smile not a sigh and I genuinely want to spend time with them.  Before I would struggle through the day, wanting to be left alone in a quiet darkened room nursing a hangover waiting for the clock to strike wine o’clock for the hair of the dog to bring some alcohol first aid.

It feels like I have become a better parent but that makes it sound like I was not a ‘good enough’ parent before and that isn’t true.  I was good enough but much of the time I wasn’t as present as I could have been with them.  I missed a lot of the cues and moments because I was too distracted with either a hangover or planning my next supermarket run for booze or thinking about drinking.  I feel like an ‘enhanced’ good enough parent now and long may it continue 🙂

Committing to stopping

winebottlesmilkcartons

Like the postcard above I had always made stopping drinking a joke.  That was my defense mechanism to what I knew was a pretty serious problem, even if none of my friends or family saw me as any worse than any of them.  But now I wanted to take it seriously and so I made a contract with myself.

This contract is modelled on the making changes worksheet taken from the centre for smoking cessation and training here in the UK.  It could be used for any change that you are considering making.

It detailed the change I wanted to make to my drinking, and could just as easily be used for moderating for a specified length of time if you are not ready to stop completely.

It considered; how changing/not changing made me feel. how changing/not changing might affect how others viewed me and the consequences to myself and other people

It listed the advantages and disadvantages of both making the change and not making the change and the conclusions that I had come to.

It then listed a ratings scale of how motivated I was about the change and how confident I felt about the change.  Finally at the bottom it had a section for other considerations. So for me previously when I used it to give up smoking I included the risk of drinking alcohol while quitting smoking as for me the two went hand in hand.

Critically I completed it when I was really hungover and my desire to change was at it’s highest. I then posted it up on the front of my fridge so when ever I was tempted to consider having a drink it was there as a reminder of the deal I’d made with myself.

You can use this with yourself progressively as you moderate or stretch your duration of non-drinking to longer and longer time frames.  You can keep former contracts as a record of progress and to see how your motivation and confidence changes over time and what influences them as you learn more skills to manage your drinking.

If you would like a print friendly pdf version it is included in a guest feature article that was published on Soberistas yesterday here 🙂

thank you

Hi Lucy,

I stumbled across your blog, from mumsnet I think, about a month ago, and the first post that I read was this: https://ahangoverfreelife.com/2014/01/15/the-moderating-game-part-two/.

I wasn’t thinking about giving up alcohol and was utterly unaware of the phenomenon of “sober blogs” (I don’t normally spend much time online). I was worried about my drinking, have been for years between periods of sticking my head in the sand, so I guess just the title of your blog appealed to me.
As I read your list of how you used to moderate, I felt connection, amused recognition: yes, I’ve tried that, tried that, ooh, haven’t tried that, looks like a good idea. Because I hadn’t seen your blog before I didn’t get the point until the last line – and it’s impact was huge.
I genuinely never thought I could stop – I would always try to moderate because the alternative seemed too horrific for me to even contemplate, but I stopped three days ago and I have no intention of drinking again. I don’t know how things will turn out, I have so many fears and uncertainties, but something has changed inside me over the last month. I see myself and the problem booze differently now and I can’t go back to how it was. Part of that change is down to your blog, to that post – I found it at just the right moment, a moment of true serendipity.
So I wanted to say thank you – thank you.
MTM.
PS – have signed up for Belle’s 100 day challenge and already have a new addiction – sober blogs!
Me:
Hi MTM

Thank you for the thank you 🙂  So glad you found the blog helpful and that you have joined Belle’s 100 day challenge.  She was a god-send in the early days for me.  Please feel free to email me too if you would find that beneficial.  I’m at the almost 5 month mark and like you never thought I would be able to stop but I have.  It is possible and if my experience is anything to go by you will not recognise yourself or your life in a few months time.  Keep me posted as to how you’re doing and welcome to the sober blogging community.  They are wonderful and have been pivotal in me staying off the sauce.

Thank you again for emailing me – you have made my day as it makes my blogging feel of value 🙂

Lucy

(Edited to add: MTM has started her own blog so you could always go visit and say hello :))

I love what sobriety has given me both internally and externally and I owe a huge thank you to the sober blogging community too, so thank you xx