Moderation is my Nemesis

Moderation and I have never been friends. Not natural friends, anyway. I tend to do better with strict rules or total freedom. Anything with too much wiggle room and I turn into a rebel without a cause.

Food and substances have always been common culprits. I’ve always kind of wished I could be one of those people who says, “oh no thanks, I don’t feel like cheesecake right now,” or “nah, one drink is enough for me,” or “I’d rather just stay in tonight.” Rather than feeling compelled to try everything delicious on the table, to drink whenever the opportunity arises, to take every opportunity to hang out.

In recent years I’ve had some success at cultivating a more moderate relationship with food. Sometimes I can even say “no” to the cheesecake. But it’s been hard work and it’s still a work in progress. Especially if it’s a baked cheesecake.

When it comes to substances, I decided a few years ago that any attempts at moderation were futile, and stopped everything cold turkey. And it worked – in so far as I wasn’t drinking or smoking or partaking in any other substances… but I never really stopped thinking about them. Never stopped mourning the loss of a future I once saw for myself, with grown up versions of the fun I had throughout my teens and 20s. Wine with friends when the kids are asleep, a joint on the roof with my husband, work drinks. But just every so often, moderately. Mature fun.

So a few months ago I decided, fuck it. I’ve made so many other changes in my life – maybe I can learn to be moderate. Maybe with the thousands of hours of meditation and therapy and dharma books and writing… maybe I’ve changed. Not completely, but enough. Enough to sustain a couple of glasses of wine and a joint here and there. Enough to have my cake and eat it, too.

At first, it seemed I was right. Anything more than a glass of wine and I felt horrible the next day, so it was easy enough to avoid overdoing it there. And when I first shared a joint with some friends when we were camping it was even easier not to repeat that every day – because I had no weed in the house.

But as time went by I stopped noticing the alcohol in my system the next day so much, and – surprise, surprise – it’s actually pretty easy to find weed. I probably should have seen that coming since I work in a cannabis company, and never used to have any problems finding something to smoke back in my younger, cooler days.

So now it’s just me and my mind. And that nice bottle of single malt we bought at the duty free a couple of weeks ago. And a few buds in a jar at the top of the cupboard next to the whiskey.

Did I mention that moderation and I have never gotten on that well?

As it turns out, all that meditation and therapy did sweet fuck all to change my natural tendencies. Now that these substances are back on the table, I’m basically up for them anytime – just like a toasted cheese sandwich pretty much always seems like a good idea. Those cravings that I was hoping had disappeared with my years of abstention did nothing of the sort – they were just sitting and waiting for me to pick them up again.

So now the question is, what do I do with that? Do I take the “easy” route and ban them all again, so that I don’t need to constantly worry about sliding back into addictions and dependencies? But that would mean giving up this newfound integrated self that I quite like, and going back to feeling bummed out about missing out on all of the fun. Not the end of the world, I know, but it’s the truth.

Or can I learn to live with these cravings? To indulge sometimes, even a lot of the time, but in moderation and not every time. To decide on certain days that I’m not going to drink or smoke – and then to feel good about myself for sticking to it. To recognize the cravings, stare them right in the eye, and say “no, not now.”

So that’s where I’m at now. Playing with it. As mindfully as possible. Keeping up the practices that have helped me to live a conscious lifestyle the last few years, and hoping that they’re strong enough – that I’m strong enough – to be able to see what’s going on. Watching the thoughts and pulls and temptations. Seeing them for what they are, and responding, moderately.

Somewhere along the line in the past few months an old friend told me how happy he was to see me giving this a shot. “When you used to smoke and drink in the past it was extreme, and then you stopped completely, and that was extreme, too. What you’re doing now seems moderate”

Perhaps the only way to learn how to get on with moderation is to try it.

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