Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why Is Moderation A Dirty Word?

I recently responded to a post on another sober blog about moderation.   One of the followers of that blog had written in and said that she was still struggling with the idea of giving up drinking forever and she was asking if moderation was possible. I responded, of course I did, that I do know people who moderate successfully, but it takes a lot of work and I'm not convinced that it ever becomes mindless or as unfettered as quitting all together.

My response that moderation was possible for some people was a lone soldier standing in a battlefield ringing with war cries of, "Moderation is a waste of time, impossible, and dangerous!"

A few days later, I read another comment from a follower who said that she had been abstinent for 8 years and then tried drinking. As we so often hear, and we know so often happens, she fell right back down the hell hole and was having a harder time climbing out than she'd ever had before.

I replied to her comment, "Thank you for sharing this. After five years of not drinking, I need to hear these stories to keep me on the path I'm on." Because, I do believe, for me, that trying drinking or even moderation again, would be dangerous. After all, I had started to exhibit signs of physical dependence and kindling.

I was informed my comment was awaiting "moderation." Now, I don't remember my comments needing moderation on this blog before, maybe they always had required this, but I don't think so. Maybe the blogger decided to moderate all comments on the post because the discussion of moderation is such a controversial subject in the sober world. It shouldn't be. Maybe my comment was moderated because I said that moderation is possible for some people. It is.

I don't think discussing moderation is dangerous, I think it is necessary. All of us tried it, for way too many years. On our own. Many of us avoided reaching out for help from others because we were told too often that our only solution is giving up alcohol completely forever, no matter the level of drinking we were worried about. If we were worried at all about our drinking, that must mean we have a problem and we should quit.

I'm calling bullshit on that.

So instead of reaching out to ask for help, when we first became concerned, we waited until we had become so lost and so embroiled in our habit and maybe so addicted, that, for many of us,  it did become impossible, a waste of time and downright dangerous to try and moderate.

See, I do believe moderation can be all those things, but not in the beginning, not when we first become concerned, not the first time we say, "I need to drink less."

Yes, some of us, even in the beginning, may find that moderation is an impossible goal for us. But wouldn't it be better to realize that sooner than later?

For some people, people like me, attempting moderation is the only step they can take and when you tell them it is a waste of time, that quitting all together is the only step available to them, it keeps them from taking any steps. And, to me, that is more dangerous than attempting moderation and failing.

This guy says it a whole lot better than me.


  1. Really nicely said, Kary May.

    I decided to join MM partly because of the research that shows that, while moderation is certainly possible for some people, having resources and support dramatically improve your odds of success. I am not a natural "joiner," but I am not one to pass up an opportunity to stack the odds in my favor!

    People are more likely to succeed with resources and support, but the more people stigmatize moderation, the less likely people are to find those things. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn't it? I can tell you that there was a world of difference between the years when I "tried to moderate" (meaning, drank heavily every night, wished that I didn't, and sometimes managed to take a night off) and 2016, when I tried moderation with the support of a community and some evidence-based resources.

    Moderation and drinking aren't the same thing, but the sober blogging community seems to treat them that way. It frustrates me for a variety of reasons, and not just because it's hard not to feel personally attacked. In fact, moderation is working pretty well for me, which is not to say that it is effortless or perfect. And I feel empowered to continue to evaluate my progress and make changes as necessary, which seems valuable as well.

    Drawing back from my sense of personal injury, I think the determination of many sober bloggers to demonize and stigmatize moderation is incredibly damaging on a wider scale. It is a clear and observable phenomena in 'the sober blogoverse' to see people abstain for 100 days, 150 days, six months, a year, and then start considering what comes next. There will always be people among them who want to discover if they can learn healthier drinking habits. It's a normal thing to wonder, especially since research indicates that it is actually possible for a significant proportion. And not every person who abstains from alcohol for 100 days is doing so because they are severely alcohol-dependent...many of them are probably good candidates for moderation, but it's a heck of a thing to try to learn on your own (especially if our previous drinking didn't exactly trend that way!).

    Right now, those people are given NO tools for figuring out what to do next. None. Instead, they are either shunned directly, shamed indirectly, or simply made to feel excluded. Most of them just stop blogging. So, no resources and now no community -- the very things that research shows can make moderation more likely to succeed. In other words, by treating moderation the way they do, portions of the sober blogging community actually make it more likely that some of their membership will relapse severely.

    I don't mean that sober bloggers shouldn't talk about their personal struggles with the fantasy of moderation. When you write about your choice to embrace permanent abstinence, Kary May, I learn something about how I should be evaluating my own trajectory -- it's really helpful! And I think everyone should be free to share their own journey, rough edges and all. But by turning moderation into a dirty word, people get shamed out of sharing any other kind of story, which means no one can learn from them. It's a shame, and my belief is that it severely impoverishes the blogging recovery community.

    For myself, I'm okay with the idea of permanent abstinence, but it's moderation that has given me the tools to feel confident about that option. I'm also, increasingly, okay with the idea of permanent moderation, because I feel like I have the tools to evaluate whether I'm really moderating or actually just drinking. Now I just have to learn to be okay with the fact that some aspects of this take more patience than I naturally possess! I guess I have reason to be grateful that I came to recovery via evidence-based research, not via abstinence-based communities...but really, I think your point is that I shouldn't have to say that. And I think you're absolutely correct.

  2. Wow! I'm speechless with admiration. Thank you, lentil. I agree that many of us, when we finally reach out, have crossed the line and the odds are not in our favor to be able to moderate, but by promoting an acceptance of moderation with support of a community for people early in the stages of problem drinking, we can give more people the tools to drink responsibly, and if they cannot do that, like you and me, they gain a comfort level with permanent abstinence. It just makes too much sense to me.

  3. Great post, KM.

    I think that everyone needs to try moderation, possibly a few times, before going AF - otherwise the possibility is always going to taunt, and eventually derail, them.
    I agree that moderation is possible for many. I suspect I could even manage it myself. But I also believe that that constant control and denial would take all the fun out of drinking for me, and eventually drive me crazy.
    Most 'problem drinkers' are naturally all or nothing types - moderation is not something that comes naturally to us, that's why we got into this mess!
    Love SM xxx

  4. I tried moderation, too.
    It might have worked if I had made a support system for myself, and if I had tried earlier in my drinking life.
    But it was hard making rules, that I kept breaking, so giving it up was my only choice.
    Interesting discussion!
    Thank you!

  5. How interesting this is. I can only speak for myself but I know I have commented before on others blogs that moderation wouldn't work for me and to try with caution. Each time I have said this I have meant it from a place of worry and concern as in "no, no don't do it" but I see now how that might have evoked a negative response even though I don't recall ever saying DON'T do it. I see now that I am applying my experience to everyone else and for some that might not be the case. Point in fact, when I read SoberMummy's comment my immediate thought was "no you can't moderate" sorry SM. I think this is a good check for me because even though I have lays meant my comments to serve for good I can clearly see how I may have done more harm than good. Maybe it is out of fear for myself i.e. If SoberMummy or KaryMay tried moderation then maybe I could too. It all comes down to understanding do you want to have ONE glass or do you envision drinking a bottle for sure. I have always tried to self moderate my comments as I know how easily words can be misconstrued when you don't know the person or see when things are tongue in cheek or plain old British sarcasm. I only hope now with hindsight I haven't caused someone more shame, embarrassment or turmoil from what I intended to be support.
    Great post KaryMay.

  6. It is a dirty word, isn't it. When I first got sober, I cringed when I heard 'moderation' because of my own complicated failure with it. Moderation is something I do naturally well with vegetables and exercise, but not so much drinking or dessert for that matter. And moderate drinkers don't normally call themselves that or anything because they aren't thinking about it 24/7 like I used to. Maybe our recoiling from the holy grail of moderation is a misguided attempt to save people the time and trouble...like protecting them from what we know our own path looked like. And yet I know this because I tried and failed umpteen times. It is a process we all need to go through in our own way. And if there are those who successfully move to moderation, I have no reason to begrudge them that.

  7. I agree that moderation can be a "dangerous" word when used in certain populations, it can cause people who have reached the decision to abs after much pain, not only to themselves but to others, to start contemplating it again. We do not allow attendees at the Wed. night abs chat that I sometimes host to discuss moderation for that reason. But, I believe we've got to quit huddling all problem drinkers under one umbrella. We still have no proof that we're born alcoholics or not born alcoholics, there are too many factors that influence that outcome and what I'm saying is that some people, maybe the majority of people could learn to moderate (not all of us are natural chocolate moderators either, we have to learn, plan and be disciplined) if they had the support of a community and felt comfortable reaching out for that support when they first start to recognize that they are drinking more than they should. Just like weight watchers. We'd never tell someone that they shouldn't learn to eat more healthily. Yes, I know that drinking isn't necessary to life like food is, but the fact is a lot of people will continue to drink at unhealthy and dangerous levels rather than give it up all together. By insisting on abstinence, we are cutting a lot of people who have a drinking problem off from getting support of any kind. Yes, we have all tried to moderate-on our own. Just like many people only find success in abstaining after they find a community to support them, most people who try to moderate will find more success when they find a community who shows them that they are braver and stronger than they think they are.

  8. I do believe that some people can moderate. I think the difference between those of us that cannot and those of us that can is HOW we drink. I used booze as a prop. When I tried moderation, I wasn't re-learning HOW I should drink, or what OCCASION would be appropriate, I was merely attempting to cut down the quantity. And that was stressful. Some people can re-learn their relationship with alcohol, to learn to enjoy wine as a social thing - I think there is a window of opportunity for everyone. But I missed it. I absolutely think that there should be far more support for moderators. Although i think that life is wonderful without booze, we should not judgemental about those who like an occasional glass of wine - especially because we know all about stigma ourselves.

  9. This! "A window of opportunity" is exactly what I was trying to get at. Agreed, that some people may not even have a small window of opportunity, I believe that most do and if they can learn some techniques and discipline in that window, they may be able to moderate. Then, again, they may decide it's not worth it, either way it's a win.

  10. Trying moderation after drinking addictively (for long enough) is necessary. How else will you know for sure that you can’t control it? It's a difficult path, but like Dorothy in the wizard of Oz you need to find it out for yourself.

    Maybe some people haven’t hit that point yet and can moderate. Good for them. I honestly don’t have a problem with people drinking.

    I'm just so glad I'm done with it and don’t have to. Trying to climb that moderation mountain was soul destroying for me because I could never reach the summit.

  11. These were all such great comments and words of wisdom. I think I'm toying with, or am inside of, my window of opportunity right now. It will be interesting to see where it comes out. I must say thanks to everyone, abstaining or not, who have been so supportive of my journey, many of those above! While I do feel sometimes that my blog is getting checked out just to see if I'm crashing, I also feel folks lurking, just ready to offer non judging support should I need it again and for that I am so grateful. I couldn't have gotten to where I am without this universe. I may not really know where I'm going for sure but I do know what I am NOT going back to!

  12. Glad to meet you, HabitDone. This is your journey, you have to take the path that feels like the right one for you.