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I Quit Drinking 9 Years Ago And I Know You Think I'm Weird

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been side-eyed at functions.

08/04/2017 22:12 SAST | Updated 08/04/2017 22:13 SAST
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Yes, I'm super awkward at parties.

I don't have any wellness advice to give you. At least not anything you haven't heard before. Exercise is good for you, you guys know that, right? And I think we've all gotten the message about kale at this point, so what's left?

Maybe I can talk about my relationship with alcohol, about how one day in August I quit drinking, just quit cold turkey, and how I've been stone cold sober since. Not a drop, not a swig in ...  how long has it been? Nine years? August 2008, so nearly nine years.

That's nine years of being super awkward at parties. Nine years of doing tap water shots and wincing dramatically afterwards. Nine years of being nervous in various social situations, and not having anything to take the edge off. These days, a glass of Kombucha is enough to make me dizzy. That's basically where I'm at.

Was I an alcoholic before I quit drinking? No. Did I ever get drunk off my face and make bizarre choices? Oh, absolutely. All the time. Especially if you consider playing drunk bingo while eating, like, a lot of sandwiches 'bizarre'.

The point is I quit drinking, and I'm glad I did. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you to do the same, or preach to you about the virtues of quitting, or say stuff like: "Your liver loves you, NAMASTE," or whatever else those holistic dietitian types say. No. I'm not doing any of that.

I didn't discover Jesus or join a gang of Hare Krishnas or move to an Amish settlement  --  but I can see where you're coming from. People think being sober is weird.

I'm just going to explain to you how there comes a time in a woman's life when she begins to take a look at her choices. A hard look. She starts to ask herself unfamiliar questions, questions like: what am I doing with myself? And: do I want to be in a serious relationship? And: will I ever be a mum? And: what am I building towards in my work? What's the point of the work, what's the point of me, generally?

And in the midst of all this frantic questioning, she realises she's got to come up with some answers. She decides there's got to be a better way to be, a way to think with more clarity and depth, a way to be more alert, more engaged, more attentive to what life has given her. She understands the things she's been concerned with, the questions she's allowed herself to ask up until this point, have all been much too small.

So she begins to examine things. Her patterns, her patterns in relationships, the way she climbs inside her head and shuts the door, not letting others in, the way she disassociates from moments, from memories. From people.

And then she realises she's been reaching for things, things such as alcohol, other things, too, as a way to avoid asking herself the big questions, the bold questions. Questions about the world, about the universe and her place in it. Questions about God. Questions she was actively avoiding in favor of sitting around at some theme bar, ordering discount mojitos, telling her friends a bunch of stupid stories that weren't even that funny.

I know what you're thinking. You saw the word 'God' up there, and you're listening to me yammer on about not drinking, and I know what just happened in your brain.

But believe me, it's not like that. I didn't discover Jesus or join a gang of Hare Krishnas or move to an Amish settlement  --  but I can see where you're coming from. People think being sober is weird. They don't know what to make of you, where to place you. I get it.

I get it a lot, actually.

The peer pressure around drinking is a little crazy, if I'm being honest. I can't tell you how many times I've been side-eyed at functions, at work parties. Twice I skipped meeting my writers' group because they were doing Happy Hour and I didn't want them to find out my secret. I didn't want them to judge me. An aspiring writer who doesn't drink? Isn't that an immediate disqualification? Do not pass Go? Do not collect $200? Status: ultimate loser?

The other day, I was reading Gary Shteyngart's piece in TheNew Yorker, the one about how he loves wristwatches. And even in an essay about that, drinking is mentioned -- which, if you think about it, is actually kind of perfect, isn't it? Because that's exactly how it is, that's exactly the point. Alcohol is everywhere. You can't escape the stuff.

Twice I skipped meeting my writers' group because they were doing Happy Hour and I didn't want them to find out my secret. An aspiring writer who doesn't drink? Isn't that an immediate disqualification?

No novelist, Shteyngart says in the essay, should write for more than four hours a day, after which returns begin to "truly diminish". This, he says, "leaves many hours for idle play and contemplation. Usually, such a schedule results in alcoholism". It's a joke, but I think it points to a larger truth, an expectation almost, that being a writer means toasting your muse regularly with icy pitchers of craft beer or whatever else. Jugs of wine. I don't have to tell you about the long and sad history we have of artists who've struggled with addiction. As Fitzgerald once said: "First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."

But that is another conversation. That is for another time. For now, all I want to do is come clean, to tell you I quit drinking, and that it's worked out alright so far. And if you think I'm a square because of it, I'll try not to let it bug me too much. Because the way I'm trying to live, the life I'm trying to build, it feels okay to me. I feel okay.

And that's what matters ultimately, right? To not feel ashamed of your choices, to be able to hold your own gaze in the mirror. That's the important stuff. Maybe it's even the entire goal; to inhabit eventually and fully, a version of yourself that feels strong and good. To arrive right back where you started, and to know the place for the very first time.

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This post first appeared on The Slant.


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