More than nine years ago I realized that I needed to do something about my drinking. I wasn't a chronic drunk. I was simply drinking too much.
So I did what millions of others have done. I stopped drinking and went to AA meetings. I introduced myself in the tradition of that organization: "Hi, I'm Paul and I'm an alcoholic." But while I appreciated the fellowship, I had a hard time relating to the experiences people shared. They talked about levels of consumption that far exceeded my own, and swapped stories about incarceration and financial ruin. I knew I had a problem, but I also knew that the right place for me wasn't a setting where I could feel smug about not being as bad off as the guy sitting next to me.
So I joined a group that helps drinkers moderate, not abstain. I worked on redefining my relationship with alcohol, not ending it. I came to appreciate that habits begin when we forget that we have the power to choose. I had to learn that the prospect of a drink comes with the option of declining that opportunity. With some clear-cut rules about when I can drink, and the discipline of counting my drinks, I have become a moderate drinker.
There is a tendency towards solipsism that creeps into the debate about alcohol abuse. People whose lives have been saved through 12-step programs will argue that what worked for them is what works, full stop. In response, I'd suggest that a behavior like problem drinking that occurs across a spectrum logically calls for a range of interventions.
But the adage that "one size does not fit all" cuts both ways. Moderation isn't for everyone, and won't work for people looking to continue their old habits. It asks that you confront your appetite and then develop the skill and resolve required to alternately indulge and then restrain it. That can be more difficult than abstinence. But in the end, whether we choose to eliminate or modify a behavior, our success in doing so will always require honesty and focus, as well as the support of others.
About that there can be no argument.
With a Perspective, I'm Paul Staley.
Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.