Hemingway famously said: “I drink to make other people interesting.” (He also said: “Write drunk; edit sober,” which perhaps does not bode well for this essay since I am writing and editing sober.)
To be candid: When I gave up alcohol, one of my fears was I’d discover people bore me. I often half-jokingly say, “I’m either a low-functioning genius or a high-functioning idiot,” but the truth is, I am a witty, highly intelligent woman with many interests and a low tolerance for inanity. A part of me did think, I drink to make other people interesting.
What would the world feel like without the fog of wine clouding my every moment?
For a while, as I was trying on my new “Sober Me” skin, I avoided my regular socializing scene. Then I decided to test my sobriety at Artsy Fartsy, a Free Stater event I’ve regularly attended since its inception, only missing a few performances over the eight or nine years it has been running. We do stand-up, recite poetry, read stories, play music, sing, dance, and laugh. It’s a lot of so-so “art,” no real farts, and a fun night out.
In the past, I’d be at least a bottle of wine, and then some, into my night by the time I showed up. Dutch courage, what, what! That night, I’d planned ahead: I smoked a pre-game bowl; I had several bottles of bubbly Pellegrino stuffed in my handbag; I had a texting buddy on the ready; and, if it got too much, I would simply cut and run.
I won’t pad it: I didn’t have fun that night.
Everyone seemed loud and obnoxious. Drunk and inconsiderate. The couple sitting behind me were whisper-fighting throughout the entire performance–FFS, EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU! I wanted to cut a bitch.
During intermission, I sought out a friend who doesn’t usually drink. Even he was sipping a cocktail; traitor!
“Drunk people are so annoying,” I whined. He gave me a knowing look and said, “Tell me about it.” So I did.
As I spoke, I realized I was going to have to cut my friends some slack while I figured out what my social life would look like sober. Regardless of the frustration I was feeling, I knew I should be proud of myself for having read my essay without the shield of Three-Sheets-ness, the first time I had done a reading at Artsy Fartsy sober–the first time, in fact, I had done anything with a microphone in my hand without having alcohol in my system. I would just have to learn how to find new, different joys in these experiences, or edit those things out of my life that didn’t serve the new and improved Sober Me.
But I chose that night, that event, with those people, as a test, and I passed. Not with flying colors (more grumpy colors!) but I had chosen to be there, in that milieu, amongst my friends and fellow artists, without the crutch of alcohol, and, that night, I discovered I could still be an artist without a drink in my hand. Take that, Hemingway![Aside: WHY do we revere the artists with the worst substance abuse records? Hemingway hit women and committed suicide. Nothing but pithy insights in declarative sentences to emulate there. When I look at my artistic heroes now, I know I want to be like the ones who lived long and prospered, not like the ones who suffered endlessly and fucked up their lives. Guess I am… maturing?]
My not drinking is not about your drinking, at all, unless you want it to be and then I am here for you
This one is a hard: When you stop drinking, no matter what, the people you used to drink with will feel judged, abandoned, or both. Somehow, we conflate other people’s decisions about their lives with having waaaaaay more to do with our own than they actually do. One of the most profound things I have learned in sobriety is this:
Let me state it clearly: My decision to stop drinking has nothing to do with you…
Unless you want it to…
Face it, the reason people feel judged is because, often, if there’s problem drinking for one person in a group, it might be the case for others in the same social circle. But, please, please, please, do not conflate MY decisions about MY life and MY alcohol abuse with you or your relationship with booze. I’m the master of my destiny. I decide for me. You have to decide for yourself. I can share my knowledge and experience with you, but you and your drinking? That’s between you and your conscience.
My decision to quit alcohol was a mindful, conscious choice that no one else could make for me. Not Louis, not my teetotaling friends, not you. Similarly, I can’t decide for you, and I don’t want to: I have my hands full achieving my own life goals–today, thankfully, without a poisonous neurotoxin mucking my vision.
But, if you are like the scores of people waking up to the downsides of alcohol, if you are becoming “sober-curious,” I hope you will give alcohol-free living a chance.
Think about it this way: What do you like about hanging out and drinking? At the start of an evening, before everyone is sauced up, everyone is chatting, laughing, catching up; present in the moment. You are enjoying the company you keep. You are there in the now.
It is later, after more and more alcohol is consumed, when your speech slurs and you keep losing your train of thought that things start to go downhill, the nonsensical spats, the stories on repeat, that time of night when you don’t even notice you’ve told this same story before, tonight, to the same people.
Being sober allows you to see that, for the most part, nights only get boring or repetitive because of the impact alcohol has on your cognitive functions: your shortened attention span, your pitiable forgetfulness. It’s not the people, it’s the booze IN the people!
Chose to BPHAB!
For decades, I shut down bars: New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Hanoi. I know the lyrics to every “Last Call” song. Now, instead of sticking through to the bitter end–certainly, in retrospect, called that for a reason–I am able to sweep in, attend events, be fabulous, and leave.
This is empowering.
I look and feel great, am the life of the party for a short while, am able to actually converse with people, remember their names, their stories, and genuinely connect with them in the present, and then… I leave with my head held high. Walt Disney said, “Always leave them wanting more,” and now I can, and do. Instead of being the one stumbling home after a night of ranting and raving (often on repeat), I now leave with my dignity intact.
“A quality or state of being worthy.”
When we drink too much, we rob ourselves of our self-worth, thus robbing ourselves of our dignity. Whether it is the cycle of guilt because you are drinking more than you told yourself you would (breaking your own promises and thus destroying your integrity with yourself), or the regret you feel the morning after (assuming you can remember what to regret), or the unexplained bruises from smashing into things, or the puke stains you have to clean.
Face it: Drinking in excess is not dignified, and surely we want to feel worthy in our own lives? Now, after five years without alcohol, I live in dignity, and I love it!
Another consideration, and this was a particularly hard one for me to admit to myself, is how boring I had become. Not just telling those same stories over and over, but, because of my drinking, how little I was actually doing. Instead of attending that new gallery opening, or exploring a new hobby, or going to that baby shower, I would sit at home and drink.
If you open a bottle of wine for lunch, and continue to drink it throughout the afternoon, you should not be driving, and for the most part, I didn’t, but I would use it as an excuse to just “nest” at home, just me and my vino. Pop another cork! Drink till midnight! Stick a fork in her, she’s done!
I was lucky: I didn’t have a shocking wake-up call like some of my friends and get arrested for a DUI. In fact, one of the crazier stories I told myself and anyone who would question my ability to get behind the wheel after a few drinks, was that I’d learned to drive in South Africa in the Eighties, and drinking and driving at that time was not nearly as frowned upon as it is in America today, so, I would joke, if I was ever caught driving over the limit in the States, I would make the argument to a jury of my peers that since I learned to drive while impaired, the science says I would likely be a better “impaired driver” than the average sober driver. The bullshit we tell ourselves!
No one drives better drunk
Today, I no longer bullshit myself… I no longer have to bullshit myself. I don’t tell myself absurd stories or twist the truth or fabricate justifications or wake up with immediate dread, wondering what I did the night before, who I insulted, or texted, or… possibly, who I bored to death.
Now, I wake up invigorated, ready to stare down the day, knowing I have made the best choice for me for a happy and fulfilling life, one that is there for the taking, one that has so much to offer, one that I look forward to every day.
Hemingway, turns out, can go pound sand, I’m ready for guidance from a new kind of person. Lady Astor, the first female member of the British parliament, said this, and I concur: “One reason I don’t drink is that I want to know when I am having a good time.”
I’m having a good time. I’d love it if you joined me!