Up until two months ago, I was drinking, on average, a bottle of wine a night. I don’t know if that makes me an alcoholic. I wasn’t going out and getting blotto at bars; I was coming home from work, pouring myself glass after glass while I did responsible adults things, like laundry, cooking dinner, watching “Scandal,” scowling at OK Cupid messages, and getting ahead on work tasks. I wasn’t sending inadvisable drunk texts, maybe because I wasn’t even drunk — my tolerance was that high. But I was doing it night after night, all the while thinking, I should probably take it down a notch. Drink less. I’ll start tomorrow.
“Tomorrow” came in mid-October, when a close friend came to live at my place to detox from a drug habit. I decided that for the month they were living with me, I would take a break from drinking, specifically at home, where most of my boozing was done. Doing so had multiple benefits: my friend would be in a sober environment, I would be motivated by their sobriety and vice versa, and the context made the booze cleanse low pressure. Thirty days of sobriety, done in solidarity with a friend struggling to kick a drug habit, looks like a kindness, not someone with a problem finally facing their demons.
A few years ago, I took a two week break from drinking, but found myself constantly distracted by the act of not drinking. When I went back to tipping the bottle, some of my associated bad habits — drunk texts, for example — never returned, which was great, but I eventually returned to drinking the same volume. I’ve never allowed myself to drink more than a bottle in a sitting; everyone has their line where drinking a lot becomes drinking too much. My line was popping open a second bottle. I wouldn’t let myself get to that point.
Taking a break from drinking was different this time. Cohabiting with someone, even for just a month, rocked my routine, creating distractions that helped take my focus off of the lack of a wine glass in my hand. Those first few days, when I would normally be hyper aware of all that I was doing without a familiar drink in my hand, I was focused on everything else that going on around me. One week turned to two, which turned to three. I started attending Nar-Anon 12-Step meetings for family members and friends of addicts. Those meetings gave me resolve in more ways than one. Over that 30 days, I had two cocktails while out to dinner/brunch with friends. I drank nothing at home. On my regular walks around the neighborhood, I passed my local wine shop dozens upon dozens of times, and felt very little pull to go in. I drank lots of grapefruit juice. My mixer of choice, drinking it solo gave me a non-alcoholic sense memory that helped a lot with the taste cravings.
After a month, my friend went back home. I still didn’t go to the wine shop. I went out with friends for my birthday in mid-November and got pretty drunk at dinner, the first time I’d been wasted in quite a while. I didn’t beat myself up for it — I had never planned on quitting drinking cold turkey, I had just wanted to clear myself of my drinking-every-night routine. My hangover was pretty brutal. I didn’t like the way I felt. A week or so later, I bought my first bottle of wine in over a month. I drank half of it one evening and then poured out the rest. I haven’t gone back to the wine shop since, except to buy a bottle to bring to a dinner party.
A friend signed me up for a wine club a few months ago and just before Christmas, my latest shipment came. A full case of wine, half red and half white. I used three of the bottles of red to make mulled wine, letting it boil more than you’re supposed to, so more of the alcohol would cook off. I gave a few bottles to my mom. I have two bottles of white left, sitting unopened in the fridge, and one half-empty bottle that’s probably gone rancid. I had a glass of it last week. It tasted good, but I didn’t really want it. I think I’ll pour that out later.
My current relationship with alcohol is basically limited to the occasional cocktail or glass of wine with a meal I’m sharing with friends. I feel good about that. In some ways, I feel healthier. I don’t own a scale, but I know I’ve lost weight, and in places that have always been stubborn. My head is certainly clearer, but I have no clarity. I see that there are more changes I want to make to my life, but I don’t know how. The routine that went along with my nightly bottle of wine, that routine I once found comforting, now feels like a straight jacket. I’m scared. I want newness. I want a child. I want to be more social. I want to let others in more. I want to love and be loved. I want to be brave. I don’t yet know where I’m going or how to get there, but it’s clear that curtailing my drinking was the first step in the right direction. I guess we’ll see what tomorrow has in store.