Abstinence vs. moderation

Is it all or nothing - what do you think? I like to think that most things in life can be enjoyed in moderation. Although learning to embrace parts of something, that has once controlled one, can be difficult. And indeed for some substances it is just not possible, as the biochemical component is too strong to ever gain a sense of how to enjoy it in moderation again.

Dining and wining in Pompeii - this image of the ancient Romans begs the question of how we today can master moderation to enjoy the pleasures of life more fully. Enjoying a vast range of flavors of life, rather than aiming for a perfect abstinence (when possible) - perfectionism is the lowest standard, and abstinence can easily feed into this mindset, which is not what we want long-term.

Dining and wining in Pompeii - this image of the ancient Romans begs the question of how we today can master moderation to enjoy the pleasures of life more fully. Enjoying a vast range of flavors of life, rather than aiming for a perfect abstinence (when possible) - perfectionism is the lowest standard, and abstinence can easily feed into this mindset, which is not what we want long-term.

Yet, from my years of having worked in the addiction field, I am convinced that the deeper lesson of addiction is to embrace the gray zone.

Recovery is not a black and white thing - it is not that either you are all-out in the claws of addiction or you are 100% abstinent.

Depending of the type of addiction in many cases, true lasting relief can only be found from 3 following keys:

1. Biochemistry re-balancing so that the biological driven cravings subside (the psychological and the habit of using as an emotional distractor will still need to be addressed, though)

2. Self-care. Learning that instead of suppressing our needs, we are responsible for caring for those needs. We are not weak because we have needs. However, we become weak, when we fail to stand up for ourselves and express our authentic truth in every situation, where that is needed. We need to learn to be assertive without confrontational in our way of expressing ourselves. This, so that we do not build up inner tension and feel that we need to numb out from the battle between who we pretend to be and who we really are.

3. Abstinence vs. Moderation. Nothing (drugs excluded due to the biochemical hi-jacking) is totally off-limits forever. This requires discipline, willpower and skill to learn to enjoy things like all foods, wine and activities that one may have previously abused and been addicted to. However, this is often a critical element to master ever so slowly, in order to break through the obsession of NOT doing or taking or eating xyz. When we focus too much on what NOT to do, we end up overdoing it. We often like to think "not for us", but indeed we are not different from the rest of humanity in this aspect. We are misleading ourselves, if we believe that we can achieve perfection and oftentimes extreme abstinence can veer on the border of a perfectionistic black-white thinking pattern.

Moderation needs to be considered in small steps and when the timing is right, as to not be a camouflage for a slow relapse back into addiction.

In turn, moderation gives access to all - it gives a freedom when we can manage the substance and not vice versa. We gain freedom in the long run by not having to be caught in the claws of fear of constantly NOT doing xyz etc. 

This is not a simple matter and how to go about it will be highly dependent on one's current situation. 

However, you do not break an addictive black-white thinking with another extremist fanatic abstinence type of black-white thinking - that only serves as a substitute and will keep the memory and the chains of the former addiction alive in the back of one's mind aka what is called neuro-linguistic programming. And no one wants an addiction lingering around in the back of their mind.