There aren't too many times I think about drinking anymore. Except unless if you count all the time. I decided to veto the drink from my world on December 11, 2010. It was such a simple a decision, which sounds cuckoo, perhaps. And it is cuckoo, because it's a delusion. It wasn't a simple decision, and it certainly wasn't an on the spot decision. I'd thought about it actively for the year leading up to that day, and I'd thought about it in a dilettantish manner for several years prior to that. Like so many of my peers, I was winding down my twenties and prepping for my thirties. Although, truth be told, I wasn't really winding down. It would be 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and if I got a text saying: want to grab a drink, I basically clapped my hands, threw on a pair of clam diggers and a trench coat, gave the dog a treat and beat a hasty path towards the bar. I loved those ten minutes of travel time--dashing down the sidewalk, wrapping my coat around me tightly, applying lipstick as I ran and catching the eyes of a couple walking home from a date. Screw you, my mind would say. Followed by a rejoinder: why did you just think that? I didn't know them. I didn’t dislike them. They'd done nothing wrong, certainly nothing to me, personally.
Or maybe they had. They certainly weren't still at whatever bar they’d just patronized, saying SHOTTTT to the bartender. They weren’t scowling at each other over a second pitcher of beer. They weren't barfing on each other.
They were going home at a reasonable hour, in each other's arms. They were normal. Unlike me. At least I didn't feel normal. In my apartment only twenty minutes before this internal tête-à-tête, I'd been sitting in my bedroom, staring at a book page, crawling out of my skin. But that was then, I assured myself, hurrying along. Now I was on my way to bar where I'd be meeting a friend. I'd be drinking a glass of wine or a local beer. I'd be sitting with a lady who thought nothing of our being out ON A WORK NIGHT. I’d be bemoaning a coworker or my lack of ambition and she’d nod and we’d cackle. Yes, we would be in the company of young twenty-somethings--a burdensome fact, but not a tragedy. So we’d be drinking in a semi-lame bar with kids, listening to songs that sounded like pale imitations of the anthems we'd played...on actual jukeboxes...in our day.
So with so many similar nights leading up to that December morning...afternoon...early evening, I woke up and said: fuck it! I'm making a life change! I’m not drinking anymore! And that’s what I did. I just stopped. I didn't buy a six pack for a friend’s backyard engagement party or linger in the wine aisle after a weird day at work, or insist on making a quick stop to pick up a bottle of champagne on the way to a group dinner. Those things were in the past, I said. Change is good, I said. I knew there would be certain occasions that would be odd sans booze, but nothing I couldn’t handle. And, yes, there was awkwardness. There were some missed parties and some nostalgia for the freedom and flight from the self—the flight so easily achieved by a single martini or a beautiful Zinfandel or really whatever was lying around the house—but for the most part—it was just something that happened. And the benefits were numerous: more energy, better sleep, a sense of accountability and satisfaction, a feeling like I was actually taking control of my life, instead of life itself manning the ship. I wrote in my journal, I'm never drinking again! I can't believe I ever drank! I can't believe ... well, a lot things! I did not write: I'm not drinking today. I didn't write: I'll probably want to drink again at some point. I didn't write: what's my plan if I feel like I want to drink again, and OMG--what will I tell all the same people whom I've preached to about my conversion? I didn't consider any of this, because I was so sure of myself and the feeling I was having at that moment. I didn't because, like so many of us, I fall sway to the impression a new idea beholds. A new city, new car, new person, new habit. In the moment, it all seems perfectly clear. NEVER. DRINKING. AGAIN. I was utterly swept up in the power of my feelings--the same powerful feelings that would later say, um, everyone else is drinking and so, like, what, are you never going to go to a wine tasting again?
So in May of 2011, I put the old journal away and started a new one. I experimented with drinking. And it went...so-so. I drank four times. Twice, I had one drink. And twice I had... more than one drink. One of the latter times was my sister's bachelorette party. I guess maybe someone with more time not drinking would have been OK with going through that ritual without drinking, but with my five little months, I was not ready to take that chance. And I was sure there was no harm in having some champagne. The only harm I saw was in going through this barbaric rite of passage sober. We went to a fancy sushi restaurant, then on to two hotel bars, then back to her apartment on the Lake where we sang and danced to a Lady Gaga video. I went to bed on the couch, having consumed five drinks and feeling, suddenly, very drunk. In the morning, I felt like I'd been run over by a truck. How the fuck did I used to do this? I asked my morning reflection. I wandered around the city of Chicago in various states of mental unease, stopping by the Museum of Contemporary Art, stopping by Bloomingdales, stopping by various cafes in search of the perfect hangover snack to take the edge off. By the time it was night, I turned on "A Simple Man" and prayed for restful sleep. The other drink-a-thon was Memorial Day weekend. We—me and my partner—had our friends over to our house. Our friends, like most people’s friends, drink. Some of them really like to drink. Some of them probably would not have come if we’d said: this is a no booze barbeque. So, here we were. Memorial Day. Yea! After a while, I came to the logical conclusion that the whole backyard bbq thing would be a whole lot more fun with a gin and tonic. Again, everyone else is drinking and laughing at things that aren't that funny. Everyone is talking about ideas with the kind of ease that drinking helps create. I wanted into that world. I felt like I was sitting outside of it, separated by a wall of glass and I didn’t want to be alone. So I took the key made of gin and opened the door. Three drinks and a couple beers later I felt like I was going to hurl. I said a hasty goodnight to the two remaining guests and made a break for the upstairs. The next day I felt like someone had dropped a house on me. Suddenly, whether I wanted to drink or not was no longer the issue. The issue seemed to be my body had grown used to not being poisoned. It rather liked not processing alcohol, nor regulating my electrolyte balance and heart rate, nor adjusting my central nervous system back to status quo. It was not interested in a Freixenet renascence.
So. I did the obvious thing. I returned to not drinking. And passed the rest of the summer and the holidays (for the second straight year) and many birthdays, and my own wedding, without popping the cork off a single bottle of champagne or clinking a single goblet full to the brim with Wolftrap wine against the goblet of a fellow heathen. And all told, things are pretty damn good. Most of the time, I realize, out of nowhere, I couldn't be happier. There’s so much that can’t be quantified, but one thing that I can state in numbers is hours. I have gained many hours, especially weekend hours. I have spent this time in various states of production, and there are times when I’m convinced I must be hungover because I’ve done nothing but watch The Money Pit or a Law and Order marathon or whiled away the hours exploring and exploiting the devil that is Facebook. But I’ve managed to make use of some of the time, plowing through books, writing my own book, tutoring, exercising and being present for the people whom I depend on, and who depend on me. But don't for a second let it go unsaid that there aren’t times... Yes, there are times, very real times, when something in me--or in the world--casts a deep, wordless longing into relief.
And I think of a winter night. Snow coming down from the sky, reflecting the amber glow of the street lamps, casting the background darkness into even greater pitch, and my companion into a kind of essential oneness with me, with me in that place, where we both sit outside of time, outside of the circle, of society, outside of the world of all possible worlds. Where we sit, eternal in that moment. And whatever song begins to play from another room sounds like the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.