While my fashion sense says I march to the beat of my own drummer, I really like to be part of a group. When I moved to Arizona and needed to meet people, I joined a craft group. As a new mom struggling to deal with the struggles of parenthood, I joined a breastfeeding support group. I have now taken on the challenge of changing my drinking habits. I need a group, but I am loathe to say I am powerless over drinking and that I will never drink again. Sound familiar?
As far as I knew, the only support group for drinkers was Alcoholics Anonymous. I am not an alcoholic. That’s not “denial” speaking. I, by definition, am not alcohol dependent. I don’t black out from drinking. I don’t wake up and feel nauseous or vomit. My hands don’t shake when I’m not drinking. I don’t hide bottles. I don’t drink in the morning to shake off last night’s binge. I am a person who got in a habit of indulging a bit too much.
One recent study defined an excessive female drinker as someone who drinks more than eight drinks a week. I am in that boat. I am a two beers a night girl- sometimes three on the weekends. It just became part of the routine. 5pm hits. I’m waiting for my husband to come home and take over kid duties. I’m cooking dinner. Why not make it a bit more enjoyable and have a beer? Kids go to sleep at 8pm- reward for the day, another beer. Two beers most likely gives me the permission to give in and have a couple of cookies or a little bit of ice cream too.
I hate to admit it, but weight is one of the major reasons for seeking a change in habits. Two beers and a variety of late night snacks adds up. I do not feel the need to be skinny to be attractive, and I hate the idea of trying to fit into a specific mold. But I want to be healthy. I want my kids to grow up modeling healthy behaviors. Over about two years, I put on enough weight to be stretching the limits of that ideal. I had to be honest and love myself enough to change.
I happened upon an article in Oprah magazine (yes, I’m terribly square and love me some Oprah) about a group called Moderation Management(MM). The goal of MM is to help people become responsible drinkers. MM is different from AA in that you do not admit you are powerless over alcohol. Quite the opposite- you are responsible for your decisions and have the power to make better ones. They also teach moderate drinking as opposed to abstinence, although there are many MMers who decide that moderation is not for them and become permanent abstainers.
The program has no hard rules, but some general guidelines. They advise a thirty day period of abstaining from alcohol. This time allows you to reflect on your habits and relationship with alcohol, and create new habits and healthy strategies. After the thirty days, you can begin to work on moderation. MM advises no more than three drinks in a single day for women, consumed at least thirty minutes apart (it is not lost on me that this would be considered excessive according to the previously mentioned study, but it would still be an improvement for me). MM also advocates at least 3-4 days a week of not drinking. This seemed more than reasonable in my estimation.
I joined the online forum. I have to admit, it is a bit overwhelming. It is a LOT of email. My inbox became flooded, with most of it getting deleted because I simply had no time to read it.
Some of what I did read had me wondering if I was in the right place. Marriages collapsing because of drinking. People struggling to reduce their daily drinking down to a limit that would get rid of the daily hangovers. Some pretty serious WTF moments. When I introduced myself and had to admit I only drink 2-3 beers a day and haven’t had a serious hangover in years, I felt like a complete charlatan. I waited for someone to call me out ala Bob Saget in “Half Baked.”
But everyone was very welcoming and I soon found some homies who had stories similar to mine. Ladies who enjoyed a little too much wine, saw it in their jelly bellies, and needed some buddies to help get back on track.
I’m figuring out how to sort the emails to the ones that relate to me. There is an item called a “sticky.” Every morning, a volunteer creates a virtual sticky note of people who are pledging to abstain for the day. Every few hours, I’ll get an email offering inspiration or checking in to see how I’m doing. Maybe it’s my inner child screaming for praise, but seeing my name on the list at the end of the day and knowing I stuck to my goal is like getting a gold star.
Some people need a place to talk about some pretty in-depth issues. Others simply need to vent about their day to blow off steam. There is a lot of practical advice about topics like how to deal with insomnia, and what to do when you are in social situations where everyone else is drinking.
While MM does offer in person meetings, and virtual chats, one thing I really like is the anonymity. There is a stigma to admitting you are changing your drinking habits. I wonder if by writing this blog if every time I have a cocktail are people going to look at me like I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’ve spent some time with serious drinkers, and for most of them, going to a face to face meeting for help is out of the question.
In the forum, I’ve talked with people who seemed to have come out of the womb holding a shot. I never would have thought of these types of guys as being ones to join a group, much less one that talks about feelings, but they often are the ones with the best insights. I have to wonder if they didn’t have the option of hiding behind a screen name if they’d be in the place to dispense their wisdom, or if they’d still be at the bottom of a bottle.
When I talk with people whose problems seem much bigger than my own, I feel like I may have gone a little overboard in joining a group. Shouldn’t I just have been able to muster some will power without making a big thing of it? Maybe. But I have noticed that by offering encouragement to others, it strengthens my own commitment to health. Maybe being a cheerleader puts me in a more positive frame of mind.
But let’s get real. We all have our shit. I didn’t end up in a group because of my stellar relationship to alcohol. Somewhere along the way, I decided that food and drink were my ideal way to illustrate emotions. Get a promotion- let’s toast and celebrate! Going through a rough time- go out for drinks and commiserate. Want to show someone how much they mean to you- cook for them! make a great cocktail! Which is all fine- until you are “celebrating” making it to after the kids’ bedtime each night.
I have noticed not drinking is changing how I do things. When I had the first beer each night, I mentally wanted to just zone out and enjoy it. This is when my kids would seem to act up, bicker with each other, and generally drive me insane. Now, that I’m not zoning out, I’m interacting with them. They are behaving better and I want to rip my hair out less. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe they were trying to get my attention.
I’m finding ways to relax while being with them- putting on music we all like, drawing together. And when Dad does make it home in the evening, and I unwind in a bath while watching “Call The Midwife,” I feel a lot less guilty about needing that time to myself.
I am eight days into my thirty days of abstinence, and so far, it is has been much easier than I thought it would be. Did I just need to firm up my resolve, or am I doing it with the help of the group? Who knows, but having a few friends on your side certainly can’t hurt.