I am attempting to go thirty days without a drink. Here is my diary on the subject.
The last time I spent a full week without drinking alcohol was probably when I was a freshman in college. There were spats where a cocktail wasn’t had for nearly seven days but nothing sticks out in the mind as a remarkably dry period. You get in a pattern with drinking from school, from sports, from activities that involve partying and congregating with other people who want to have fun. Something about these situations—and this type of alcoholic situation—feeds you. It’s nourishing to be around so many happy, drunk people. You come out of the night a bit rusty but with a good story. That seems to be the anecdote written at the bottom of every glass.
Now multiply that situation by over a decade. That’s a bit insane, no?
While every day since “those times” in college haven’t been locked into a pattern of drink, drink, drink, drink, drunk, the pattern has broken even by thirty: the harder nights (and days) are traded off for double cocktail evenings, a few nights away from a cocktail, from splitting multiple bottles of with friends, to casually sipping all day until you accidentally drank more than you should have. The “rage” is gone from the party but has instead transformed to a strange, internalized anger at yourself for overdoing it accidentally. Is this the fault of the drinking culture you came from or is this your own inability to set a boundary with the drink?
I do not know. What I do know is that I need a break. With this loving history of drinking, a semi-dangerous pattern of substance intake, I can feel the writing on my inside: this is not sustainable, even if at the minimum. You have to make changes or you will continue on, bedraggled and unhealthy, worn by your own interest in imbibing. You have to become comfortable without the drink. You have to prove your will stronger than desire.
That leads us to January, a new month in a new year, a time for resetting.
In sliding down the slope of 2016, the idea of not drinking kept bouncing around in my head. What if I just quit drinking? What if I maintain as I have been? What if I drink more? What if I switch substances? This thinking leads to trending stories, leads to Instagram posts bemoaning the impending drink-less new year, leads to a Times story on the subject.
It sounded good, really. Reflecting on the subject in late December, it whet the palate. It sounded like a cleanse, minus the juice, plus the food, minus the “buzz,” plus the body. Sign me up.
The deal was: when my New Year travel ended on Monday, January 2, drinking would be left behind for thirty days. This meant no alcohol at all, maybe a taste to try, and perhaps a different substance—but no drinking. There was to be no buzz, no drunk, no hangover: there was to only be alcohol sobriety.
The beginning of the process was easier than expected, a clearer wandering around the week and work and people and places. I rarely feel “hungover” but a minor fog had been lifted, be it by absolute fact or teetotaling fiction. There were no occasions for drinking—No dinners, no drinks, no nothing.—making it easier to ease into the new lifestyle. Dinners into nights at home with Bobby were less about chilling with wine and more about actually sitting and talking, without television or some sort of filter. That was very nice. It felt like a much more sustainable, present weeknight activity. The challenge of not drinking wasn’t a challenge during the week despite annoyances with work and fist clenching days where I wanted to punch a wall to reveal a wellspring of wine to spray all over my face, to soak me out of my mind. Alas.
The stress came with the weekend. I didn’t realize it until Thursday, when texting a friend, revealing the stress that I had to spend a Thursday night—The typical start of the weekend.—without a drink. These nights are usually reserved for reflecting on the week with a glass of champagne to drink in victory. That would continue nightly through Sunday. What is a Thursday without that? It was spent reading. A different type of fun, to be sure. I didn’t lose my mind either.
The realization embedded here was that it’s not about “distracting” yourself from alcohol: it’s about being okay with doing nothing, to be with yourself. As strange (Well, normal.) as it might sounds, you unlock a strength in not drinking which was realized on Thursday and carried through the weekend: the will to drink isn’t as strong as you are. As new age as that is, it worked. No drinks were had.
Some strange things did happen. First, I decided to get a weed card to try a “healthier” stress relief. The result was buying a variety of items for 4.20, which Bobby and I partook in on Saturday. Instead of drinking wine, we split a blunt that helped contextualize what my limits are with weed. I ended up vibrating through my skin for some time, had a sip of cider that Bobby was drinking, and watched an episode of Top Chef where the music was the focus of the episode (to me).
The biggest challenge was a Sunday date night with Bobby at a cozy French restaurant where I had to enjoy a meal…without a glass of wine. Staring at a wall of wine as you get your dinner, disallowed (by yourself) to enjoy, a longing sets in that glasses and glasses and glasses of water cannot replace. It was a strange imprisonment, especially in light of Bobby’s being able to have a glass. But, again: strength. Mind over matter or whatever you want to call that.
The first week without a drink was both as difficult and easy as I had imagined. The first hurdle has been jumped. The key is to keep yourself occupied and to remind yourself that you are bigger than a want. These are lessons you learn, that you must teach yourself, after a decade of steady drinking. My belated Lenten alcohol fast will end in three-ish weeks, where I will come out of my tomb, beaming with sobriety. Who knows what the other side will look like. I hope it’ll be different.