Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 8

Glass Ceiling

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Hi, this is Reinhard from everydaysystems.com, and today I'm going to talk about glass ceiling, my system for smoothing out dangerous and humiliating binge drinking into healthy and pleasurable moderate drinking.

Before I talk about how great it is, I'm going to have to try to scare you off a bit. "Glass ceiling" is not intended for people who suspect they may be serious alcoholics. Common as that problem may be, I'm not going to call it "everyday." If you have any doubts, see alcoholics anonymous .org or talk to you doctor or find some other some other support group. "Glass ceiling" isn't gonna do it for you. And I don't want be responsible for distracting you from seeking the stronger medicine you need. Please keep looking, but don't look here.

Ok, so what is the problem I'm trying to solve?

Occasional binge drinking.

What I mean by this is most of the time you're fine, you can drink like a normal person, it's not like every time you drink you get out of control, but every once in a while you get absolutely smashed, and find yourself in dangerous, humiliating trouble. Your schadenfreude at reading about Mel Gibson is tempered by the realization that the difference between you and him is that you're not famous.

The obvious solution is to just stop drinking. Quit cold turkey.

There are two problems with the cold turkey strategy.

One is that research is increasingly showing that moderate drinking is ridiculously good for you. Moderate drinking is defined as a drink or two a day, depending on how big you are.

The other is that moderate drinking is a great pleasure. Now pleasure alone might not do it -- tobacco is also a great pleasure and I acknowledge that with tobacco cold turkey makes a lot of sense -- , but for moderate alcohol consumption, with its clean bill of health, the claim of pleasure is real and legitimate.

So how do you balance this if you're given to these occasional binges, and still want to get the health and pleasure benefits of moderate drinking?

A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That's your glass ceiling. Yes, there's fudge room. But not so much fudge room that you're going to wind up in jail or in the emergency room.

It's like the one plate rule in the no-s-diet. On the one hand, it's very clear. One plate is clearly different from two. Two glasses are clearly different from three. On the other hand, there is wiggle room. You *can* pile a mountain of food onto one plate and you *can* get one of those enormous Bavarian beer steins and fill it up with everclear, but you can' t do either without seeming like an astonishing glutton or drunkard. You can't hide your excess in lots of dainty little increments, and excess, when it's out in the open like that, is embarrassing, it's disgusting, even to just yourself, it's shameful.

Shame has a bad wrap these days, but shame can be good. I feel like the Gordon Gecco of self help saying this, but it's true, and importantly true, I think. Shame has been around for all of recorded history and probably then some. It isn't going anywhere. You might as well use it instead of fighting it or pretending it doesn't exist. It's powerful. Make shame your ally and in diet and in drinking and in many other things, shame will keep you reasonably moderate.

I know I said that shame can or should kick in even without other people around to be witnesses, but if you're the type of person who does a significant amount of drinking alone, you have a serious problem, and glass ceiling isn't going to solve it. Please do yourself a favor look somewhere else for a solution.

OK, other ambiguities and potential loopholes...

No refills. This should go without saying, but common sense sometimes has trouble with the obvious after a couple drinks.

And no saving up. Use it or lose it. If you don't drink for ten days that doesn't mean you can drink 20 drinks on day 11.

Calendar day or 24 hour day? Calendar day. For simplicity (otherwise you'd be counting hours all the time), and to allow for the occasional date spanning 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it's as small as they get. If you're the kind of person that needs a system like this, you probably would have had much more otherwise. But if you find yourself doing this a lot, alarms should go off. A minimal binge is better than a , but it's still not good.

A word of advice to those with persistent and unsympathetic drinking buddies: don't tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won't notice, especially if you alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A tonic and tonic looks amazingly like a gin and tonic.

Conversely, when you're starting out at least, I would avoid mixed drinks that you mix yourself. The mix is camouflage. With a dash of cranberry juice you can bypass the shame of drinking a big glass of vodka. Shame is your friend. Don't do that to shame!

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on N-days, 2 on S-days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one. If you don't like the calendar day rule, make it a 24 hour period instead. But again, only if you really think you can keep it.

As with food, you'll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don't view it as drunk-juice. Drink for your palate, not your throat. You'll be drinking less, so spend a little more and get the good stuff. Moderation is an opportunity for greater pleasure.

And as an additional benefit: if you were a hardened binger like I was, your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz off of two drinks.

I used to have a real problem. I didn't drink to excess often, but when I did every few months or so I'd often come dangerously close to death/divorce/making the evening news. Glass ceiling totally solved this problem for me -- and without my having to sacrifice the benefit and pleasure of alcohol. I haven't been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my drunken youth. Frankly, I'm amazed. One wouldn't think that huge, potentially deadly problems could be solved with cutesy puns.

That's it for glass ceiling. It's probably the simplest system I've discussed yet, but it changed my life. Next week I'll take a step back from individual, stand-alone systems that address particular problems and talk about the big picture of habit management: how to maintain existing good habits and add new ones without risking what you already have. Thanks for listening.

By Reinhard Engels

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