I sat down on the couch with a cup of tea, trying to find a movie or show on Netflix that would not tempt me with alcohol, which is no small feat. I eventually settled on Calendar Girls, and sat there, depressed, feeling like an old British lady in a cardigan in the middle of the countryside, waiting for death’s icy grip on her shoulder.
It took me several hours to get to bed because it had been years since I had fallen asleep sober. But I comforted myself with the thought that people promised me that I would wake up the following morning feeling refreshed and ready to greet the day.
I woke up wanting to die. Everything irritated me. The garbage men banging outside my window, the woman who wouldn’t get out of what was clearly my path on the street, and especially the guy chewing very loudly on the subway. I had dinner in a Thai restaurant with a friend that evening and the way she jabbed at the rice made me want to shove her chopsticks through her eyeball.
Within the next three days, I lost 3 pounds, not only because I wasn’t drinking, but because not drinking made me naturally cut down my portions. I ate to drink, not the other way around. Without alcohol, all food seemed boring, so I had only enough to keep me alive.
On the fifth day, I had my first challenge: Socializing Without Alcohol. I went over a friend’s house for a sleepover. She and I usually split a bottle of wine between us as we talk about boys and laugh ourselves silly and watch episodes of Sex and the City. I was worried that drinking tea instead would ruin the atmosphere. Wine is what sassy twentysomethings drink in movies when they talk about their problems. Ginger tea is for sad old spinsters in tragic dramas starring Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave. But the truth was that not drinking made me even more energetic, so we laughed until our cheeks and stomachs literally ached. Not drinking has a way of separating the people you actually enjoy spending time with from the people you see just to have something to do. It was nice to have definitive evidence that alcohol often curbs rather than enhances my ability to have the time of my life.
As the weeks went on, I found that more and more to be true. Not drinking made me more imaginative with how I spent my time. I started taking new exercise classes that gave me the euphoria and confidence I sought from drinking but never actually found. I painted while watching Bob Barker shows. I wore a black skater dress and rode a bike through Central Park while the sun was setting and the lanterns were starting to flicker.
I went on a blind date, sober, and found that a boring date sober is not different from a boring date drunk apart from the fact that you go home earlier and get to cook dinner and watch Frasierreruns in peace.
And then, I had a sober adventure.
During Fleet Week, about a month into my new life of semi-sobriety, I was having one glass of wine with a friend while I complained about how I used to be so good at having romantic adventures, and now my love life was barren and full of weeds. I would never have sex again. I would die alone. And I wouldn’t even have a bottle of wine to comfort me.
At that moment, as if in a fairy tale, a tall sailor and his incredibly drunken friend swung open the doors and sauntered in at last call. The tall sailor walked straight up to me and introduced himself, asking if I knew of a good place to have fun. He had the exact soft Southern lilt that the sailor of my dreams had always had, and he was also a pilot. I said I knew just the place.
As we danced on the rooftop of a popular nightclub, I couldn’t help but credit my semi-sobriety to this fortunate turn of events. On a regular evening, I would have been fast asleep in an Uber by 1 a.m., and I would have never met my sailor. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to party until 5 a.m., when he and I left the club, while I was still sober, energetic, and full of life. I wasn’t having a blast in spite of not getting drunk. I was having a blast because of it.
Maybe my days of channeling Sylvia in La Dolce Vita by strolling into a fountain in a ball gown are behind me. But my new persona, the woman wearing big sunglasses who raises her hand politely to a glass of free wine and says, “No, thank you, I’m all right,” feels even more glamorous.
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