It has been said that one of the keys to life is moderation. Don’t sleep too much or little, watch what and how much you eat. Have a job but don’t be a workaholic. Take time to play but don’t play too hard. Find that middle ground. Psychologists call this the “Goldilocks effect”, that point where it’s just right. Graphically, that point would be the apex of an upside down letter U. Anything after that will possibly lead to a point of diminishing returns.
However, American culture values extremes and excess. You can never have too much money, be too skinny, have too many social media followers, never have a house too big or too small. We also live in a world that alcohol has become more acceptable amongst the masses. Beer isn’t just for good old boys and Marlboro men anymore. Discerning palates worldwide are learning to dissect the hop profiles and citrus and pine notes of a locally brewed IPA. In my hometown of Asheville, NC, beer is big business. It’s not unheard of to have a beer with breakfast or a couple on your lunch break from work.
Beer was my drink of choice. In this town, the possibilities seemed endless, what with every month or so a new brewery popping up in an old historic building. I am by no means wishing any of these breweries or their owners any ill will. I am so proud of the business atmosphere they have created.
I would be lying to myself and to every one of you, dear readers if I didn’t admit that I am jealous of drinkers who can moderate. I wish I had had the ability to keep my consumption under control and be responsible. For myself and others like me, moderation is most likely no longer an option. We are different. We addicts, coping with not only alcohol but an overall addictive nature, most likely have something going on in our bodies that will not allow us to moderate. In the Doctor’s Opinion section of the Alcoholics Anonymous manual (often just called the Big Book), alcoholism is described as an “allergy”. While not necessarily the same meaning as what we now understand what an allergy is (the Big Book was published in 1939; the principles are the same, but the nomenclature has changed with scientific innovation), I believe that it is a good way to describe it. Think about it like a bee sting: people who aren’t allergic to bees are stung and can suffer some adverse side effects but they aren’t life-threatening. Some hydrocortisone cream, maybe a Benadryl and a nap can cure what ails you. Conversely, those with an allergy carry an EpiPen. Their bodies have a violent and possibly lethal reaction to the bees poison, which can lead to a trip to the hospital or, in some cases, death. Alcoholics can suffer the same deadly consequences from alcohol consumption. And like the bee poison, it can only take one dose to set off a chain reaction. I’m not saying that one drink can kill you; the chain reaction, for me, was the binge after the first drink. After long periods of sobriety, that one drink can put me in another downward spiral.
This is how I had become. One drink caused something to happen in me that I just had to keep fueling the fire, putting alcohol into my system at an exponential rate. It became nearly impossible to turn the next one down. I was cracking my first cold one within a half hour of waking up and drinking all day. I started doing some calculations and realized that I was drinking 17 beers on average every day, sometimes more but rarely less. It was starting to affect my ability to function on a daily basis. I was passing that point of “functional” alcoholism. I was also becoming an angry drunk, ready to fight or argue at the drop of a hat.
So, how can alcoholics moderate? Or can we?
An article from Psychology Today shows evidence that it is possible. Complete abstinence can appear to be too black-and-white to many alcoholics, leading to what is known as a cognitive distortion. All-or-nothing thinking (also called splitting) is an example of cognitive distortion. This can lead to a string of relapses. This “harm reduction” method limits alcohol but does not eliminate it from a patient’s life. While I hope that it is a successful method for people who choose to try it, that method seems like a slippery slope to me. It is reminiscent of someone suggesting that I replace alcohol consumption with marijuana use because the “adverse reactions are less severe, it’s less addictive, safer, etc”. For an addict, the substance is not the key issue, it is the addiction or lack of self-control. Self-control is thrown out the window once that first drink enters my mouth.
If you can moderate alcohol consumption, good for you. I admire your control and resilience. For millions of people like me, we can’t. I’m all in. Getting bee stung hurts. Why would I want to continually swing a stick at the nest? I have thoughts that maybe one day I can handle it again. I quickly correct myself. I like who I have become, I love how much more enriched my life has become. I like not being hungover; my body hurts bad enough without alcohol!