Interview with Conscious Drinking Coach: Beej Christie Karpen

 

 

 

Who is Beej Christie Karpen?

Beej Christie Karpen, a Certified Coach, Mindfulness Instructor, and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, is best known for her healing work with trauma, anxiety, and issues around alcohol and food. She is the creator of the Conscious Drinking Workshops and has been running the Wednesday MM for Women group for almost 7 years. Beej also holds a Certificate in Harm Reduction Psychotherapy.

Can you provide us with your “elevator pitch”? This is the 30-60 second speech about you, that you would give someone if you were stuck in the elevator with them?

Well, I have a couple, depending on context & audience! If I’m explaining the harm reduction approach to alcohol overuse, for example, it might be: 

It’s a modality that empowers the client to make their own decisions about what feels ok. A lot of people fall into the cracks between “alcoholic” and “normal” drinker—They’re concerned about their drinking but don’t seek help because they’re afraid they’ll be told they need to abstain immediately, and they either aren’t ready or don’t need to abstain completely. Many people can and do learn to drink less. 

If I’m talking about myself it might be: 

I’m a Certified Coach/Mind-Body Therapist with certifications in Harm Reduction Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, Mindfulness, Reiki, and Somatic Experiencing (Trauma Healing). 

A large percentage (but not all) of my clients are over drinkers, both in my private practice and in my Conscious Drinking Coaching Workshops. I also work with issues around eating, stress, anger, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, relationships, and all types of trauma. And other stuff I can’t think of right now! 

As a meditation teacher I’ve taught over 750 classes in various corporations and institutions and offer two Tuesday morning public classes via Zoom. (In my other life I have played the oboe and sung professionally in over 25 Broadway shows, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, etc. But that’s kind of taken a back seat these days!)

 

When did you realize you wanted to be more mindful with your drinking habits? When did you decide you want to help others to also be more mindful with their drinking habits?

Like many others, I was drinking more than I was comfortable with but had gotten stuck in a habit loop. After a while it occurred to me that there had to be other people in the same situation, so I Googled! Found MM and a harm reduction therapist, found Buddhist meditation, and became a moderate drinker. 

I pretty quickly felt a desire to reach back into the quicksand and help others out, so I started the first ever MM for Women group, which I still run every Wednesday evening. (It’s on Zoom now, which is so fun because we have awesome women from all over the country calling in.)

I started training like crazy in every modality I felt would be helpful to people. 

 

How many conscious drinking series are there? Are you considering expanding?

At the moment, Conscious Drinking 101 and Conscious Drinking 202 are both 4-session workshops.  I’d love to offer more workshops, i.e. a series on self-compassion (or, as I prefer to think of it, self-friendliness), and some coaching groups for Conscious Drinking grads. Oh, and there’s that book I’m writing…. 

 

Who is eligible for your classes?

Anyone who has a desire to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol, and is open to learning more about the subconscious parts of themselves that are at work, and willing to work with those parts in a supportive, experiential group environment. 

 A couple of times graduates from these workshops have had such a positive experience that they’ve offered to pay the tuition for people who are on the fence, or have limited financial resources, and I’d love to encourage more of that. 

 

What are the top 3 ways in which MM has changed your life?

I like to say “I sat down on a cushion and my life changed.” MM led me to meditation which led me to contemplating contentment (my answer: helping people heal) which led me to a whole new and incredibly gratifying career. 

 

If you could offer any words of wisdom to your “pre-MM” self, what would they be?

Listen to your instincts. If you don’t think you’re an “alcoholic” (that is a made-up word anyway, not an actual disease) you likely are just a person who developed habits around drinking (or really anything, for that matter) as a response to trauma (your own or inherited) or just the complexities of life. In other words, you’re human! 

 

What advice do you have for people who “linger” in MM, and are not sure if they are ready to try moderation?

Some people stay longer in the contemplation phase than others. Finding motivation can be hard. Ask yourself what you love about drinking. And what you don’t love. Find out what you’re getting from it, and what’s really needed in each situation. (We’re not addicted to the substance so much as what we’re getting from it!) Be sure to stay gently curious. 

Take some time to do some self-exploration with a moderation-friendly therapist or coach, or just on your own. There’s a ton of good material out there right now. Go to MM meetings, join the forums on the website, join the closed Facebook group (under an assumed name if you’re uncomfortable using your real one). Use the support that’s out there—It wasn’t always there. Reap the benefits of the wisdom of those who have traveled this road before you.

 

What are your favorite moderating tools?

External tools: 

Measure & Count

Pace Yourself with the Slowest Drinker

Delay delay delay

Slowwww Dowwwwn

Eat first

Drink alcohol-free stuff in between that you like (besides water)

No pre-gaming

Internal tools: 

Meditation and body awareness

Tuning in to the feeling body

Becoming ultra-aware of how each sip is affecting you

Stress reduction & emotional regulation

Checking in with yourself (i.e. setting alerts, or texting a friend every time you have another drink, to stay aware)

 

What activities do you enjoy in your spare time that help you to abstain?

For me it’s really an internal listening that has developed over time. Learning to be present for and gentle toward all of my experience. Self-compassion is key. 

In general it’s good to go toward things, not away from them. When you focus on not-drinking, the Universe (or the subconscious, maybe it’s the same thing) only hears the “drinking” part. So find things you can get excited about, or find people you can spend time with who don’t focus on drinking. (Those people do exist!) 

Some of my clients find external reminders to be helpful, such as putting creative fun signs or symbols around to keep them positive and moving toward their goals. 

That said, I exercise, meditate, practice yoga, enjoy talking with friends, being in nature, studying psychology and ways to heal trauma (I’m a geek) and playing with the cat.

 

What is your favorite motivational quote?

When you’re going through Hell keep going. —Winston Churchill

And No one ever woke up in the morning saying “Gosh I wish I’d had more to drink last night!” —A Woman from the Wednesday Group

 

What are the pros and cons to moderation?

Some people find abstinence easier, because it’s one decision. 

Moderation requires some internal work. Which I actually think is a pro, disguised as a con.

 

If someone is interested in sharing their moderation goals with friends or family, what advice would you give them?

Oh gosh. This is a hard question, without knowing the specific situations and relationships involved. A wise person once said to me “Talk to those you think will be helpful. Forget the rest.”

 

Is there anything else you want MM members to know about you, your workshops, MM, or moderation?

Yes! Here’s my website: www.insightoutnyc.com. Drop me a note and I’ll add you to my mailing list for MM meetings and future Conscious Drinking workshops. Or schedule a free consult to see if we’re a good fit to do some one-on-one work.

 

Testimonial:

I’ve been to tons of therapists, analysts, and psychiatrists over the years. None of them worked. You work.

The conscious drinking sessions with Beej were so powerful for me!! I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to learn practical and empowering strategies to help feel more present, self-aware and able to make healthy choices. As someone who has struggled with overdrinking and overeating for many years, I appreciated how nicely these sessions complemented the experience I’d had with moderation meetings. As always, Beej creates a warm and open space where participants can feel comfortable sharing and being vulnerable, while also covering a lot of topics in an interactive format. As someone who has carried around a lot of shame and self-criticism, I really feel like these sessions opened up some more space for me to find self-compassion and acceptance. I am very grateful!

For the first time I felt that I was able to be transparent about my issues and feelings along with people that have similar ones. You facilitated  in such a loving and gentle way. I felt at home and truly cared about.

You obviously found your calling and I am grateful to have found you.

Working with Beej has been a life changing experience for me. I came to her when I was at a very low point and struggling with depression, addiction and aimlessness. From the first session she was warm, caring, patient, and encouraging. We would make weekly goals that were manageable and slowly increased my self-esteem and hope. As my mental health improved, we moved from personal goals to professional goals. Beej helped me structure my week in a more productive way. Working with her has helped me realize myself and get my life back.

Moderate Drinking Book cover with stylized image of sun and snowflake

Compassion and Resilience

Moderate Drinking book cover with stylized sun and snowflake

Just one story from Moderate Drinking Success Stories and Lessons Learned: Tales From the MM Community and Beyond.

Before I found Moderation Management all I knew about getting help for my problem drinking was abstinence only programs, and that scared the bjeezus out of me. If I tried one of those and failed (i.e. had one drink), then there was no hope for me. “I might lose everything including my family, my health and even my life, but I’m too scared to try something in case I fail.” Pretty flawed logic, I know. That middle of the night, heart pounding, head aching, nausea rising, hands shaking, anxiety spiraling out of control thinking is not always rational.

In the middle of one of those nights though, I somehow stumbled upon Moderation Management, and my life has been forever changed. That night I bumbled my way through the website and finally found the listserv. There I read posts from people who were facing exactly the same awful, hideous, shameful problem I faced, and they were cracking jokes, making up songs, holding virtual hands, freewheeling through days of abstaining and weeks of moderation like it was some gigantic carnival game. They were also weeping on each other’s shoulder, offering words of encouragement, and whispering little pearls of grace. When someone drank when they didn’t plan to, or drank too much, they were wrapped in virtual warm hugs, held tight for support, and reminded that today is brand new. These kind people were practicing what I now recognize as compassion. Pema Chodron teaches us that, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Compassion. That’s the first thing I learned at MM. And you want to know how I learned about compassion? It’s actually a three-step process that constantly repeats. Step one was when I wrote my first post introducing myself and sharing my dark secret, I was greeted with open arms and warm hearts. There was common understanding, shared experience, and grace. I didn’t need to be perfect. I didn’t need to conquer my problem in one day or one week or even in one year. I didn’t have to do it the way someone else prescribed. I got to take steps in my time and in any direction I chose, and no one judged me. If I strayed off my intended path, I was welcomed back with those same open hearts. I was redeemed through compassion. The next thing you know (okay, actually a few weeks later) I was the one welcoming a newbie, telling her that she was in the right place, that she was going to be doing some hard work, and that she would be fine. She wasn’t a screw up; she made a misstep. She was a good and valuable human being with all the messiness that entails. That was step two. The third step took a few months. You know those horrible, monstrous things you say to yourself in the middle of the night after too much alcohol? That’s called Negative Self Talk (NST). That was pretty much an every night occurrence for me. But after I’d been at MM for a few months, I realized that I wasn’t engaging in that disgusting NST any more! What?!? Seems I had learned to offer compassion for myself by feeling it first for others. I mean, I had the same ghastly problem they had, and they were amazing, wise, kind, funny, smart human beings, so…I must be too! Wow! How cool is that?

The second thing I learned at MM was about resilience. There is a quote that is often attributed to Winston Churchill (who said something similar) but was first actually written, ironically, in a 1938 Anheuser-Busch ad, “…They found contentment in the thrill of action, knowing that success was never final and failure never fatal. It was courage that counted.Boy howdy, does that pertain to my journey at MM.

I remember the first time I literally white knuckled my way through a single night of abstaining. It was brutal, and at the time all I could thing of was how messed up I was that I couldn’t get through one night without alcohol. But the next day…ta da! Look at me! I did it! I set a goal and I succeeded! What a feeling! Then I did it again! Woot! Then I…didn’t do it again. I was going to abstain that night, but instead I drank. And I drank too much. I had failed. But when I shared my “failure” on the listserv the reaction was, of course, compassion. Yeah, I didn’t do what I had planned to do. But today I could make a new plan, bolstered by some tips and tricks from some old timers, plus what I had learned from the previous day, and voila! I had another opportunity to succeed. I could focus on that “failure” and let it pull me down, or I could focus on my previous success and move forward. Resilience.

Through my years here at MM I have cut my drinking from about 35 per week to about 9-12 per week. The 12 is a little higher than I want it to be, and I’m working on that. Abstaining days are, in general, a lot easier than when I first started. Moderate drinking days are usually that: moderate. Sometimes I fall short of my goal, whether it is for one day or one week, and sometimes I exceed my goal. Some days are harder, some days are easier. But on the whole, when I look at where I started and where I am today, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Am I successful? In my book, that’s a big loud Yes!

By, Horse Lover, MM Member

a hand holding a bar bell weight

Moderation Muscles

My quest for new and better coping mechanisms to replace my drinking has led me to taking up regular exercise. It’s known to be mood-altering, so much so, that it’s one of the few proven treatments for anxiety and depression. I can’t help but see some similarity in my workouts and my moderation.

Modern exercise is based on the principles of progressive resistance. We each have our own blend of genetic gifts and challenges, our experience (or hilarious lack thereof), and other factors that affect our strength and skill in sports. To improve, we need to give ourselves challenges that we can adapt to and overcome. There’s a few handy tidbits of proven knowledge we can apply to drinking:

  1. We have to tailor our initial plan to be realistic of our current capabilities.
    A beginner weightlifter will not benefit from the 40 hour/week training program of an experienced lifter. In fact, they will probably just hurt themselves.

Being realistic about our starting place and making a program that takes it into account is a key to success. In drinking, I threw myself into abstaining several times before I realized that I needed to build my readiness to take on the challenge. I had to taper how much I was drinking, if only to prove to myself that yes, I did have some kind of control over my drinking. I succeeded at my first 30 days sober, but went right back to my old habits. I needed to make more internal preparations to be successful – specifically, I had to deal with my anxiety and come up with ways to handle it instead of drinking. The result was that I white-knuckled my way through the second one, and my new habits stuck. A couple of years of therapy later, I now complete my 30 days sober every January (as part of Dryuary) without much effort, it’s just a check-in for how I’m doing with my drinking habits and a chance to re-set my tolerance and keep myself honest. Same 30 days. Different preparation and different results each time.

  1. We adapt the fastest to the smallest incremental challenge.
    Taking on overwhelming challenges can lead to spectacular failure. In the gym, we respond best by adaptation to new stimuli, and it’s easiest to respond to smaller changes than large ones. For example, if you can lift a 100 pound weight and you want to lift 120 pounds, you might add 1 pound each week so force your muscles to adapt.  You’ll add that pound 20 times to get there, and at times that may seem painfully slow. If you’re patient and consistent though, you will be able to lift weights you couldn’t handle mere months before. But here’s the kicker – if you make no progress though – add half a pound. Smaller changes are less stressful, and sometimes are within our adaptation limits where larger changes lead us to failure.

Now, that’s not an invitation to never push yourself, but to be realistic about partial successes and keep trying for small improvements. If you feel like you can’t make progress at, say, limiting your drinking in how many nights a week you drink, consider some interim goals that are more modest. Or try switching to focus on how much you drink instead of how often. Alternately, if you have an overly complicated plan that you can’t keep, a single simple rule can be the easiest change to make – yes, even if that rule is ‘no drinking for 30 days.’ What’s easiest is going to depend on where you’re starting from, and it will vary for everyone.

  1. Progressive resistance is how you keep making progress.
    When you reach your goal, celebrate your successes and keep slowly progressing forward. Things that you maybe thought impossible at one point can come into focus later on, and you suddenly see them as new goals. Don’t limit yourself! Exercise is very well-studied and you have consistent advice to follow, which is sometimes missing when it comes to moderation. For myself, the same principles apply, namely – when I’ve done something consistently, over a long time, and it’s starting to feel easy I can confidently move the goalposts a bit and test new limits. Knowing this has helped me accept certain limits along the way, like never having certain kinds of alcohol that were linked to almost all my over-drinking, and has also opened me up to the prospect of abstaining permanently to improve my health. Both of those possibilities seemed out of reach when I began, but I can examine them now with greater confidence. I also know the pace of these slow, incremental changes, and know that if I take on too much, I can roll back a bit and resume my existing habits without fear of a major collapse in my moderation.

 

By, Jonathan M. Langley (First published on the MM Public Hu; April 4, 2017)

30 Days Sober: a companion guide to taking a break from alcohol

Re-think Your Drinking: 5 Practical Tips To Cut Back On Alcohol

New York Times lists MM as a source of online help during the pandemic

A recent New York Times article lists Moderation Management as a source of online help during the pandemic.

Please click here to read the article.