The other day I responded to a Twitter post from someone sober who was thinking about picking up again, but only drinking once-a-week and just 2-4 drinks. Their query; is this achievable?
My response was simple: “In my opinion only people who can’t do this ask that question.”
I say that because for the last 15 years of my drinking I was doing just that, attempting to “control” my intake. At least that was the illusion under which I laboured; and labour I did! The rules started simply enough, the most obvious being ‘no drinking during the week’, but that didn’t last too long. Out of interest I list here some of my rules over the years:
- No drinking during the week.
- Only drinking wine with food.
- Leave the bottle in the kitchen whilst drinking in the lounge (that usually lasted for one glass).
- No more than half a bottle during weekday evenings (although this usually came with the get-out clause ‘unless you’ve had a bad day’).
- No spirits during the week (see get out clause above).
- Only good wine to be drunk (I know nothing about wine, but decided that any wine over £10 or $12 was a good wine).
- Champagne only to be consumed on Fridays (yes, this was one of my rules!)
Equally, there were times when I needed more than my regular weekly intake. In fact, in order to maintain what I saw as great restraint most of the time, I needed periods when I could ‘let my hair down’ (there’s a reason I am now bald) and this took some careful planning. Nights out were reserved only for people who I knew would want to drink all night with me. Sober or near-sober people were not entertained. Trips to the cinema or theatre were pointless as they interfered with drinking.
If going out on a binge wasn’t an option then dinners needed to be arranged at my place. Not at a restaurant because they never brought the drinks quickly enough or in sufficient quantities, nor at other’s houses, unless I was able to bring copious supplies and was sure that they would all be consumed (preferably by me). I could not stand the tension that came with eating at other people’s houses or attending parties; I needed to be certain that I would be supplied with enough booze and that my glass was never left empty.
I spent many social occasions, mostly in restaurants, unable to focus on the conversation or to appreciate time spent with good friends, because I was constantly thinking about the drink; “How much is left?”, “should I order a beer between bottles of wine to let people catch up?”, “How can I make sure everyone goes for a drink after the meal?”, “Where’s the waiter, I need more drink!”.
Then those big nights out became too big, too late, too messy. I would blackout and not remember how I got home, who I spoke to and what I said. So in the end I avoided those too and drank at home. I’d share a bottle of wine with my partner, wait for him to go to bed and then top it up with a port or some more wine, perhaps a beer from the shed outside (it kept them cool and meant that they got ‘forgotten about’ by all but me). When I could I’d come home from work with some ‘extras’, a bottle of bubbles or a few beers that could be consumed before the ‘wine with dinner’ (what sophistication) and I would always drink as quickly as possible so that I could get in more than my partner. I confess that I also knew that if I could get him a bit tipsy before the wine started, then I was more likely to have him agree to a second bottle being opened, which he wouldn’t want much of and I could therefore consume the lot when he’d retired for the night. By-the-way, if you’re thinking “why did his partner have to agree to a second bottle being opened” well, that’s easy; if he agreed it meant that it wasn’t just my decision and it meant that it wasn’t my problem.
I do think that I drank less in those last years of my drinking, but I was more consumed by my addiction than ever. If I wasn’t drinking I was thinking about it or planning how to get it, enough of it, without looking like I needed it. By the end of the 15 years I was exhausted and my rules were slowly falling apart. When I decided to quit it was simply because I knew that I no longer had the strength to maintain, what I believed to be, ‘control’ over my drinking. My decision was simple; quit or be consumed by my addiction.
I chose to quit.
So, do I think that controlled drinking is achievable? Well, if you have to actively control what you drink, probably not. In time it will show you who is boss and it’s not you! Non-alcoholics don’t give this stuff a second thought, they don’t need to ask that question – it wouldn’t even occur to them. By asking it you provide your own answer to it.
Today, I choose not to drink. I hope that I make that decision tomorrow and for the rest of my life. If I don’t I have no illusion now that I will be able to control my drinking, but I do have the choice not to pick up a drink and that is the choice that I exercise today.