Hi, I’m Alex, and I’m an alcoholic.
Well… no, not really. But I do like to drink.
After four years of college, including a 6 month capper where I lived in a frat house while not enrolled in a single class, I’ve amassed a formidable cadre of drinking stories. There’s the time when I pissed on the laptop of someone I’d never met. Or the time when I led six cop cars on a wild goose chase while successfully evading a minor-in-possession charge. I’ve dropkicked trees, uprooted sprinklers, and shattered street lamps. I’ve finished three beers in less than 10 seconds. I’ve thrown up in my hands at parties, on my friends at bars, and on strangers at wine mixers. Shit, my first time drinking was at my grandparents’ house where I finished a fifth of vodka and puked in forty-five minute intervals from midnight to 7am.
Chalk another one up for paragraphs I’ll regret writing in 5 years!
Although my drinking is nowhere near where it used to be—thank god—it’s still an activity I partake in with regularity. It’s not like I sneak around flasks of whiskey or chug beers before work, but hey, sometimes a guy’s gotta wasted on a Friday night.
So as April approached, my anxiety heightened. Like most twentysomethings I know, I’m a social drinker. I’ll usually go out one or both weekend nights and might have the occasional beer after work with friends. In other words, if I’m in an environment which involves alcohol, I’ll participate.
After getting last-time-in-thirty-days drunk on Saturday, the calendar flipped to Sunday, April 1st. This gave me a whole set of weekdays to acclimate before my first sober Friday in San Francisco.
Or so I thought.
On Thursday night, I paid a visit to The Fillmore—the famous music hall in San Francisco—to see a garage rock band called the Heartless Bastards with my roommates. The Fillmore is one of those picturesque music venues—signed pictures of famous artists adorning the walls, blue, purple, and yellow lights dancing over the fog of the crowd, and a full bar with beers on tap and cute female bartenders aplenty. To connect the dots, people (friends included) were drinking.
There’s something unsettling about watching other people sipping a liquid without having anything to drink (or at the very least, hold) in turn, so I walked up to the bar and ordered a Diet Coke.
The bartender grabbed a glass, filled it with ice, and sprayed out a few seconds worth of soda. “That will be four dollars.”
I stared blankly, the words taking a beat to register.
Reflexively pulling out my wallet, I said, “OK, here’s five.” You know, for your trouble.
I glared at my Diet Coke, plucked it from the counter, and walked back to my friends. If I had listened closely enough, I could have heard the bubbles softly fizzling out ssssssucker.
As I stood in the midst of the crowd, sipping my shitty $5 Diet Coke at a fucking rock concert like some kind of middle-aged chaperone, I had some time to reflect: Well this sucks. Yep… this definitely sucks.
I can’t say I was in the mood to pontificate.
Matters didn’t improve on Friday. I resolved that although I may not be drinking, I wasn’t going to spend Friday nights holed up in my apartment eating Chinese takeout and watching Pixar movies. I was going to attend parties sober and pretend to like them, goddamnit!
I showed up at a friend’s apartment dressed in my best (read: only) blue button down. As people arrived, the alcohol began to flow. My buddy smirked as he swooped a bottle of vodka off the table and inquired to the crowd, “shots?”
I pursed my lips together, shook my head slightly, and resigned myself to watching people get hammered while I stood on the sidelines with my hands in my pockets. As I watched the vodka swirl into shot glasses, I grabbed a 2 liter bottle of ginger ale and poured myself a shot.
“Cheers,” I said to myself, and half-heartedly threw back one-and-a-half ounces of Canada Dry.
I felt like Eeyore dressed in a Tigger costume. Inwardly, I was miserable, but since I was at a party, I couldn’t sit around glumly with my heads in my hands. So I faked it. I talked too loudly. I let my words slur. I planted a goofy smile on my face. But that didn’t change the fact that I was still utterly and hopelessly sober.
After a few more uneventful rounds of ginger ale, the party moved to cabs, and the cabs moved to bars.
At this point, I’d like to explain The Contract. When women and men meet at a bar, the man implicitly signs The Contract: “I, the male in this drunken and hopefully sexual encounter, heretofore state that I am at least as drunk or drunker than my female counterpart, thereby following the Hook-Up Corollary that asserts that the female was not taken advantage of and that this is a mutually drunk decision.” The woman then countersigns: “I, the female, am smitten by your charming wit, rugged handsomeness, and mild intoxication, and thus might go home with you, but only if you buy all my drinks.”
That’s the deal. That’s how it’s worked for centuries. And I, in good faith, could not sign that contract.
Not to say that I’m some kind of ladies’ man, but as opportunities came up, I found myself stumbling at the crucial juncture when it came time to make a move and seal the deal. I just couldn’t do it. It was like walking up to the plate, being lobbed a softball, catching it, and throwing it back. But I had one thing going for me.
My BAC read 0.00.
Two weeks in, my lips had only tasted soda and water. After faceplanting on my resolution three months in a row, I needed this. This month provided a clear line: either drink alcohol or don’t. No accidents. No absent-minded decisions. Just hold steady.
Although I’ll often fall victim to some combination of apathy, distractedness, and laziness, there are select times when I’ll train my mind like a laser on the task at hand. My parents like to tell stories of two-year-old me who, when faced with an obstacle, would stubbornly insist, “I do.” Putting on pajamas? “I do.” Feeding myself? “I do.” Solving triple integrals? “I do.”
This was one of those times. I had to do it.
Once I adjusted to sobriety, I cracked the pattern: go out with friends, sip ginger ale, pretend to slur words to fit in, and eventually, slip out the back and get into bed at a reasonable hour. Maybe (definitely) a quick smoke and a few taquitos before bed for good measure. It wasn’t exactly living the high life, but you could do worse.
I’ve now twice mentioned the importance of “fitting in” with the drunkards. I don’t want to give the appearance that I harbor a malleable personality, but I observed a simple truth regarding sobriety: people are uncomfortable drinking alcohol around someone that doesn’t drink. Sometimes it was subtle. A shift in weight. A nervous pause. Darting eyes. But other times, it was overt. At a friend’s family dinner party, I had to twice decline a glass of wine—falsely insisting that water was just peachy—which was met with a hesitant “you sure you don’t want some cranberry juice? Or a coke or something?”
No thanks, I’ll just wallow in my own misery.
As for sobriety’s benefits, I’ll be honest: they were hard to come by. Sure it was nice to wake up Saturday and Sunday mornings sans-hangover. And maybe I felt a little more clearheaded. But that’s about it. If my health was better, it was imperceptible. My social skills were stunted. This all came to a head when a girl at a bar asked how my April experiment was going. I responded, “Oh you know, it’s not that bad…” I racked my brain trying to think of some benefit to follow that up with. None came. “Well… yeah, actually, it is that bad.”
Before I knew it, it was Tuesday, May 1st. I hopped out of bed just as the sun was rising, dragged my feet to the fridge, and cracked a cold, frosty Pacifico. The first sip was bliss. I continued my morning routine, and jumped in the shower, bringing my beer with me.
While letting the cold Mexican beer slide down my throat and the hot steam soak my skin, it hit me: I had just conquered the hardest month to date. Handedly. I tilted my head back, drinking every last drop from the amber bottle, and set it on a shelf, where it still stands proudly. Success. And it tasted goddamn delicious.
Excuse me, goshdarn delicious.
For I wouldn’t utter a swear word in May.