A Lesson About Moderation: One Mom’s Relationship with Alcohol

I don’t have a drinking problem, but my drinking had become a problem.

It last summer, when I foolishly did NOT sign my children up for summer camp, but instead joined my town’s pool club and headed there almost daily. It was fun at first, but by the end of July, the bloom was off the rose. That made for one long August, and the only thing that got me through was my daily beverage – and I’m not talking about a Frappuccino.

I didn’t set out to drink daily. It just sort of happened. Each day I’d show up at the pool club. My kids would blissfully disappear and I’d find a fellow overwhelmed stay-at-home parent or two with whom to commiserate. Did I mention the pool club has a bar? As the hours ticked on and boredom began to set in, eventually someone would ask, “Who wants a cocktail?” Not wanting to be anti-social, I always said yes, and so would begin my downward spiral where one drink turned into two drinks, which often turned into three, and on a bad day (or if the drinks were weak or especially tasty and someone else was driving), four or more. Who really knows how much one drinks when everyone in the circle takes a turn to buy a round or numerous bottles of wine are opened and passed?

It became my summer habit: Go to the beach or an outdoor concert, bring a bottle of rosé; have friends over for a barbeque, make Moscow mules; hit the pool, hit the bar. The saddest part: I didn’t even like the drinks the pool served. The cocktails were weak and sickeningly sweet, the white wine cheap and beer makes me bloated, so I opted for things like Mount Gay and Tonic – a drink I wouldn’t go near on a normal day were I not so desperate for something to break up the routine and help me survive another day with my kids. It was a long, calorie-ridden, brain-cell killing summer.

Eventually my boys returned to school and I cried from despair and relief as I immediately began planning my 2016 summer camps. The pool closed, thus ending my period of gluttony and excess. Time to scale back, which wasn’t hard to do given how tired I’d grown of the summer drink list. Then the nights grew cool and red wine came back in vogue. Each night I began craving pumpkin spiced beer or a glass of hearty zinfandel. I began to wonder: Was my drinking a problem? Is it ok to have a drink or two every night, with more on the weekends? Is it acceptable, at age 47, to experience the occasional hangover? I decided to give the issue some serious thought, over a glass of wine of course.

In case you’re thinking, “Hmm, sure sounds like this woman has a drinking problem,” rest-assured that I don’t. During life’s most trying times, I’ve never abused alcohol and have, on occasion, given it up altogether. I don’t need to drink, I simply like to.  It’s on my list of life’s pleasures, along with chocolate, bacon and binge-watching shows on Netflix – all things that are fine in moderation. The difference with alcohol is that having that appropriate second glass of wine causes reason and control to go out the window, along with my ability to moderate behavior. That, my friends, is the problem – not the drinking itself.

So I decided to change my behavior. I started by giving up booze on weeknights, which proved positively laughable. On Monday nights I felt fine; empowered even. “This is easy!” I told myself, as I smugly sipped a cup of tea. On Tuesdays I’d feel the pull for a glass of wine, but the pull was easy enough to ignore. By Wednesday I was positively salivating at the thought of my favorite red. On Thursday I’d declare the weekend to have officially begun as I grabbed the corkscrew. Then the next three days I’d throw caution to the wind, rewarding myself with anything I desired. This wasn’t working – I needed a new plan.

In late September I went on my annual girls’ weekend to wine country in Long Island. The car ride to the fourth winery seemed like a good time to bring up my drinking concerns to the group. Three of my friends nodded in understanding and support, but shuddered at the thought of giving up their Tuesday night chardonnay. One friend, whose drinking habits are akin to mine (we’ll call her Joan) said she’d been feeling the same way. She introduced me to Moderation Management ™ (MM), a website for people concerned about their alcohol consumption. We poked around the site and found a plan that sounded reasonable, so we agreed to give it a try. Joan would begin her 30-day period of abstinence after Columbus Day. I couldn’t find 30 consecutive days in which no alcohol would be an option, so I decided to skip that step and move right into moderation. Check in next issue to see how things went…

Last issue I wrote about my experiment with moderation.  This issue I’ll tell you how it went:

After I returned from my weekend in wine country, with two cases of newly purchased wine placed in my typically vacant rack, I felt re-charged and ready to try moderation in earnest.  I began by mentally disengaging alcohol from all events and activities.  I’m the type of person who thinks that everything’s more fun if you add a cocktail (because it is); the one sipping a beer while waiting in line to see the pumpkins at the zoo or bringing a bottle of wine to that late afternoon playdate. I knew this mindset needed to change, so I promised to try doing things like going out to dinner or watching a movie without the expectation of the cherry on top of an already fun activity.

Next I reinstated my plan to abstain during the week and expanded my week to include Thursdays, excepting a weeknight outing with friends. In accordance with MM’s guidelines, I would not have more than three drinks per sitting and not more than nine per week.

It wasn’t hard at first. I’d grown tired of drinking — the calories and the money spent — and desperately wanted to change. I told my closest friends about my plan and they were supportive. I kept count of my drinks at house parties so that never-empty glass of wine wasn’t a problem. All was going well … and then came the holidays.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to give up my moderation plan; it just happened. I just didn’t want to think so much. After all, what’s the big deal if I failed to count drinks, or shared a bottle of wine on a Monday while wrapping presents, and on a Tuesday while watching The Grinch? No one cared except me, and I was beginning to care less.

At some point during the holidays, I got together with Joan to check in on her progress. She informed me that she lasted two days on the abstinence plan and abandoned the whole project shortly thereafter. She did, however, make other thoughtful changes, the most significant being her break-up with wine. “I switched to vodka and soda,” she informed me. It has fewer calories, and the process of making a cocktail holds her accountable, creating an innate awareness of how much she’s drinking. I applauded her efforts and put this option in my bag of tricks – something to be considered after the New Year.

Well, that New Year has begun and I’m feeling slightly lost as I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned from my short-lived experiment with moderation. I’ve realized, drinking has become part of my identity. It’s what I do, and I love it: The deliciousness of a smoky pinot noir or crisp Belgian ale, the sense of relaxation that hits me from the first sip, the freedom to be myself and laugh with abandon. This is why any plan that imposes restrictions or limitations won’t work for me.

So what then? Do I admit defeat and go back to my gluttonous ways, or is there a middle ground? I think I’ve realized that for me, the key is mindfulness — an awareness of how much I’m drinking. I know I’m not a “one and done” kind of person. I have friends who can casually order a glass of wine and no more. In my opinion, there’s no point in having one glass of wine. Once I have that first glass, I always want a second, and sometimes a third.

What I’ve discovered is the second and third glasses of wine aren’t my problem (well, they would be if I had them nightly). My real problem is the fourth or fifth, or who knows how many glasses I’ve had because the hostess never lets my glass get empty and I just love having a buzz, and she’s such a great friend, and ooooh, is that Rick Astley on the radio? “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down … I’m talking to YOU wine!” God I love drinking … sigh …

See the issue?  I’m not saying I’m never going to have one of those wild Rick Astley-belting nights again, but I have decided to reinstate the limitations of no more than three drinks at a sitting and no more than nine each week, with no penalty imposed should the restriction be ignored on occasion. And no more ban on weeknight drinking; that’s just silly.

I don’t know if this much self-examination about drinking means maybe I do have a slight problem, at least in summer or during the holidays. Or perhaps it’s more a reflection of our society that alcohol plays such a major role in the life of your average suburban housewife. I know I’m not alone, as evidenced by the number of wine labels that have the word “mommy” written on them, or the fact that every 30- to 40-year-old female TV character has a glass of wine front and center. It’s a huge part of the culture in which we live, making me wonder why we’re all drinking so damn much. Maybe we’re overwhelmed and stressed so we self-medicate. Maybe we really don’t drink more than any other generation (think of “Mad Men” and “Downton Abbey” – those bitches could throw back). I can’t say for certain, but I do think the issue is worth exploring.  Next issue…

One response to “A Lesson About Moderation: One Mom’s Relationship with Alcohol”

  1. I think the focus on drinking… especially as a de-stresser… is a problem. We never used to think about it as much as people do now! Seems like moms always feel they need wine to survive.. or at least like to joke about it. Also, seems that makes you "cool"… and of course being a wine connoisseur makes you "really cool". Just too much focus on all of it.. I've been around when a group of late 30's mid 40's joke about how slammed they got over the weekend..and laugh.. that happend days ago..is it really that funny? I thought that's what college kids and people in their 20's did.. drank excessively and then talk and laugh about what they did! Perhaps less thinking about it, and trying a true abstinence for a few weeks… or even months…might put it in perspective. Honestly do you really need a drink to get silly and dance all night or laugh at things? I do admit to having some great times after drinking just a bit too much and some events I still laugh about. But yes I think today's world just honors their drinking habits a bit too much. Now that being said they do say a glass of red wine a day is healthy for your heart! So I guess moderation is the word.. and not so much focus. This article was great..and enlightening to me. Your writing, as always, entertains, soothes and motivates!

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