Everybody's Sober But Me
It’s January, which means everybody is thinking about doing less. The last few weeks, always tough for somebody who can’t really indulge without condemning the action, have been my kind of Russian Roulette for enjoyment. Sometimes, I’d dip right into the brie no problem, or have another hot cocoa with whiskey and just let it warm my stomach. Other times..bam! The old and familiar and comfortable blanket of guilt. But I knew I had an escape. January 1st was coming, after all. The time to make smoothies for lunch and go back to the gym and spend cold nights eating warm stir-fried vegetables and patting myself on the back for it.
Of course, I had never considered Dry January. And I still don’t. I’m not a fan of doing anything for month-long spurts, I tell people. I don’t like to cut drinking out all together, I tell myself. I don’t even drink that much, I tell others. But as I sipped bubbly sweet champagne, because I only seem to think about cutting back on alcohol when I am out drinking, I told my friends: this year, I want to drink less. I didn’t know what less meant. I just meant…less. Because resolutions or not, the last few months have got me thinking about how much I drink, why I do it, and why there seems to be such a damn pull towards it.
When you get older, people start to get sober around you, out of necessity or out of frustration or simply for the challenge of it. I don’t have a real dependency on alcohol, and I’m relieved I don’t, on account of how it’s everywhere. There is nothing we do without some rosé or some whiskey or some liquid courage. The movies. A baby shower. A blowout at the salon. Seeing friends in any capacity. I have a few bottles of liquor in my house just in case ---just in case a friend comes over, just in case a good movie is on, just in case of emergency. It’s just there, and I was never strong enough to not partake in it, at least a little bit. I can go for long stretches without even craving a drink, but the moment it is offered to me, the moment somebody mentions it, I usually take them up on it. Why? Because it was offered. Because it mostly always seems like a good idea. Because I think it makes me a little more fun. Because I don’t really like to say no. Because why would I say no? Like I said, it’s more fun!
As I approach the next decade of my life, I can see how the party has ended, just a little bit, for all of us. Maybe it’s because we all have things to aspire to and appointments to be on time for. Maybe it’s because we just got tired. But drinking has become more casual, more available, and therefore, it shines a spotlight on us and exactly how we handle it. It's no longer an event. It just comes with the brunch meal. And then, we watch with narrowed eyes who orders more, and how much more they order than us. Nobody wants to be the one who has the most drinks. Those are the "real" drinkers. The “real” drinkers start to stand out, and the drinkers like me always move rapidly away from them, clawing all over ourselves to not be lumped into their dangerous category. Without realizing how we are hypocrites. Without realizing we were all the drinkers. In college, when I was younger, when I was in my early 20’s, we would gravitate to be in their orbit. Their encouragement to stay just a little longer was exactly what we needed to have the kind of Friday night they always seemed to have. We followed them, even when we got too sick. Those “real” drinkers are older now, and so are we, and either they’ve calmed down or gotten worse. We pretend we never encouraged those who got worse. We pretend we never egged them on. And we pretend not to know them at the bars we met them at a few hours before, at least when they reach that point we know they won’t return from until morning. We pretend we don’t know what to say to them. Most of all, we pretend we’re nothing like them. And we feel a little better if they get sober, because it really meant that we aren’t like that at all. I’m not the drinker. You’re not the drinker. We just like to drink. Right?
I know people who drink too much, and the truth is this: it’s for the same reasons everybody else drinks. It’s not just them. Drinking makes us more comfortable, and we do it because it makes us feel good and it lets us forget what it’s like to even be uncomfortable. And no matter how much you do or do not depend on alcohol, if you are drinking to get comfortable, it’s best to learn how to not do that. Discomfort isn’t the worst thing we can feel, no matter how much it feels like a wool sweater.
When I drink, I feel like I can speak louder. It feels kind of nice to feel a little more confident about things, or think I look better in the mirror, or know that everybody else around you (who is drinking, of course) thinks you’re more charming. It’s a nice veil, and a manageable one when you remember it’s just a veil. But we don’t always, remember, do we? Don’t we sometimes believe that the moment we are in is as real as it would be without any wine at all? How often do you think you do it, now?
When I drink too much, I just get quiet. I don’t lose credit cards, I don’t break my phone, I don’t get kicked out of bars, I don’t order things on the Internet, I don’t get into fights, I don’t cut people on bathroom lines. I don’t even do shots. I don’t have a drinking problem, and this is not for people who have them. This is for people who like drinking. This is for people who know they should do it a little less. This is for people who couldn’t imagine not drinking as much as they do now because everybody around them does it so often. This is for people who really like to drink, because when you like it so much, it becomes a solution, and then it’s just…a part of the routine. It makes the night way better, every time. It’ll make this less boring. It’s Friday. It’s just one drink.
One of my friends told me you should have only one vice, and I thought to myself that mine is probably a very good or at least halfway decent cocktail. I never liked drugs all that much, and I don’t do them. I gave up smoking cigarettes years ago. I don’t even have a particularly addictive personality. But to me, there is nothing as enjoyable as ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant and splitting it with my boyfriend. Or opening one up with a friend on my couch, about to embark on some television show we will watch for hours. Or sipping a cold beer on a hot day, or a hot toddy on a cold day. To me, they are rituals at best: drinking whenever Real Housewives is on, or a bad day, or I do something difficult, or I want to toast to something good or kind of good or kind of bad or just for the hell of it. To me, they are social dependencies at their worst. I liked the feeling of drinking, and then I started to like me when I drank.
I have the kind of social anxiety that makes me nervous to leave the house and see people I don’t really know. Sometimes, I even get nervous seeing people I do know. And that’s when I drink the most: to erase those fears. When I have a whiskey diet or a vodka soda at some dark bar, it’s like my anxiety got a babysitter. I take the night off. And when everybody’s doing it, it’s never a problem. And sometimes, it feels like everybody does it. And then? Nobody will ever notice that I do it because I lean on it, instead of trusting myself to get through the anxiety on my own.
That is why I want to drink less this month, this year, and probably forever. Noting “happened” that spawned it. The worst was saying silly things to good friends, or tripping in high heels, or waking up with a headache. I am so lucky it is not a problem in the way people think about drinking problems, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a solution for it. I want to drink less because sometimes, I use it as a crutch. I know two glasses of wine will make me no longer nervous. I can’t go to a party without holding on to a cup of something. It feels better knowing I can fix the problem in a few sips. And I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want to drink less because I want to need it less.
I’m not going to stop drinking for a month straight and then move on. I have a goal: I’m going to go to a party sober and leave sober. I’m going to go to another party and leave that party sober. I’m going to see my friends and not order the wine at a restaurant. I’m going to learn how to treat drinking as a nice thing to do occasionally. I am going to say no. I am going to sit in discomfort and nerves and learn how to deal with them in different ways. I am going to wonder if I’m saying the smart thing at the party. I’m going to be more jittery on the subway. I’m going to think more about my interactions. I am going to allow myself to feel the things I usually feel without shutting them up with wine or vodka. And then, when the month is over, I hope I will have learned to manage one more demon of mine, and that I can sometimes go to the party or just not go at all.
I’m not a drinker, I think,
which is probably what most people think. Perhaps it’s time I finally prove myself right.