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