“I don’t know if I should be doing this,” I said, grasping a cold glass of lite beer in hand for the first time after one year of being completely sober.
“You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine!” My friend said, laughing and urging me on with a nod, waiting to sip her own drink while I weighed the option of trying mine.
In a brief moment of courage, I squeezed my eyes shut, then raised the glass to my nose to take a prerequisite whiff, fully intending to follow this with a gulp of the poisonous liquid. But hesitation took me again, and I cried, panicked, “I-I don’t know! Should I do this?! I don’t think I should do this. What am I doing?!” I screamed quietly then, my free hand twitching into a nervous fist, my friend and I both laughing and excited. I looked to her for confidence and reassurance, and she proceeded to ramp me up in the way only a good friend knows how.
“Cheri, you can do this! It’s been a year! You’ve earned it! I mean, only do it if you want to, not because you feel pressured to, but also know it’s okay to choose to drink alcohol. You aren’t doing anything wrong as long as you’re responsible. And I’ll be right here the entire time.”
Well, when you put it that way …
Two girly and dramatic screams with one very loud Cheers! later, and I was done for. I had re-entered the world of drinking.
I like to think of my readers at this point in my writing. What could they possibly be thinking? After some fantastical speculation, I’ve decided they might be pondering one of the following:
- A) Alcohol isn’t a bad thing, and you are crazy for thinking that, Cheri.
- B) Oh, Sherilynn. I am so disappointed in you. You should not be drinking.
- C) WOO! Party! You’re finally drinking again — what can I get you?!
- D) I respect your choices; live your life, brah.
- E) Will you just hurry up and tell the rest of the story?
Let’s assume we all voted for option E.
“Oh my god,” I mumbled. Several drinks later, my vision had become slightly foggy, my senses clouded by an indescribable haze of delight. “I think know why people drink alcohol now,” I laughed, cuddling close to my then-drink and humming cheerfully.
“Why do people drink alcohol, Cheri?” My friend urged me, laughing along as she had consumed quite a few drinks of her own.
“Because it feels so damn good!” I choked out laughing, this followed by my insisting we Cheers! again, which, by the way, is my favorite thing to do when drinking anything. I sometimes cheers with the same bottle or glass three or four times before it is completely empty. And c’mon, everyone loves saying cheers. It never gets old. You sunk the eight-ball at the pool table?! Cheers! You love living in San Francisco too?! Cheers! You just got a new round of drinks for all of us?! Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!
And uh, I’ll admit. My first night drinking is kind of blurry in retrospect, and I don’t quite recall all the details…
- I do remember laughing and walking arm in arm with my friend through the Mission District, hopping from bar to bar, stumbling a bit, leaning on one another, laughing, sometimes cackling maniacally in turn just for fun which just made us laugh more, both of us screaming “Alcohooool!” while we high-fived strangers, sharing compliments in a flurry, like, “You’re hilarious when you’re drunk!” “No, you’re hilarious!” “I LOVE YOU!” “No, I love you!”
- I remember sipping some appropriately-named drink through a straw called an Amnesiac, which is probably the cause of my foggy memory, now that I think about it.
- I remember re-experiencing what a vicious pair of drunk goggles feels like. “He’s kind of cute, right?” “Cheri, nnnooooooo.” “Oh. Thank God you’re here.”
- I remember being approached by creepy guys and not being able to escape them through the night, finding myself wishing I had a boyfriend to play bodyguard.
- But my most fond memory was the bacon wrapped hot dog I bought off a cart on the street, the way it was smothered in onions and ketchup with mustard, and how I swallowed it down so quickly that I gave Takeru Kobayashi a run for his money. … Though I’m pretty sure I threw away half of the grease-soaked bun while screaming, FUCK YOU, CARBS!
And then I woke the next morning safe in my own bed, with all my belongings in my possession, a trail of the clothing I’d worn that night leading from my door to my bed, and a miraculously headache-free day thanks to the full glasses of water I had been gulping down all evening along with the alcohol (yay for responsible intoxication). And okay. Maybe there were a few texts in my phone I don’t remember sending. Ahem.
Sooo … Drinking.
It’s kind of like that.
The most important thing to me about drinking now is that I drink responsibly, and that I drink in the company of good people. It blows my mind to now recognize how drinking around friends can be very different from drinking around folks you are uncomfortable with — how did I not see this before?
Drinking with good company leaves you happy, laughing, screaming, and enjoying the night. Drinking around bad company might leave you feeling angry, tense, emotional, or with a tendency to overreact to small disagreements.
With the friends I’ve made since giving up alcohol, the real friends, the good friends, the genuine people in my life who I truly like and enjoy being around, I completely trust that I will always have a good time in their company. This in comparison to the nights I would have rather gone out alone than out drinking with the terrible assholes I used to associate myself with.
My experiences in drinking now feel totally different.
Am I happy about my decision to stop drinking for a year? Absolutely. I don’t regret a thing.
My life has greatly improved since going without drinking. I’ve formed stronger friendships with amazing people whose company I genuinely enjoy. My fitness level is insane. I’ve found new interests like eating healthy and cooking, running, volunteering, reading more, etc. I wake up earlier now and can enjoy a full day in complete sobriety. My self-confidence has grown immensely. I feel a newfound sense of respect for myself and a sense of appreciation for my own strength and discipline. A feeling of hard-earned pride.
Rather than dunking my head in a vat of alcohol like I did when I first began drinking and had no idea what I was doing, I take a more realistic and balanced approach.
I now approach every sip I take with a quick internal lecture:
- How bad is this drink for my health?
- Am I in a good environment to be drinking right now?
- Do I have water at hand?
- Let’s not let the year I spent practicing sobriety be for nothing!
These thoughts sober me a bit, definitely, but I’d rather check myself like this than go absolutely nuts with drinking the way I used to; I swear I thought I was impervious to alcohol. It was fun, sure, but I’ve blacked out and puked with the rest of them just like every other drunk kid with no worries, and I’m happy to avoid those situations now (not that they aren’t fun to reminisce on).
Here, watch this quick clip from a Nick Swardson standup comedy special about cocky drunk chicks. It’s hilarious.
And while you’re at it, watch this clip from a John Mulaney standup comedy special about why he doesn’t drink anymore, which is also hilarious. And then, y’know, thank me for turning you onto two hilarious comics (if you haven’t already heard of them, that is).
Indulging in alcohol again after a year without it feels kind of like a science experiment. I’m so used to going without it that now going with it feels like I am lightly dosing (or poisoning) myself just for the pleasure in observing the various resulting levels of extremity in drunken debauchery. Alcohol is completely new to me again, the sensations so fresh and so enjoyable that at times they make me feel guilty for having them.
I remember how throughout the year I had elected to go without alcohol, I stayed strong by villainizing the very idea of it, reminding myself daily of the more negative or useless traits to drinking. “I don’t need alcohol!” I would cry. And it’s true. I don’t. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. But I would not have known I didn’t need alcohol if I hadn’t gone so long without it. And it’s not that I really believed I needed it before, but after surviving the year without it, I know full-well that alcohol is merely an accessory in my life that comes in addition to the hundreds of other awesome things I could be doing sober, things I never would have tried if not for avoiding alcohol.
In the past, I would often enter situations and become immediately bored, thinking to myself, “This entire experience could be vastly improved with an open bar.” But after going without drinking for so long, alcohol isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I find I’m not having the best time. In fact, I’m rarely in situations where I’m having a bad time because I now soberly choose to simply avoid them. Which is great! Especially in comparison to the past where I would force myself into social situations with people I didn’t really like because I knew my friend alcohol could act as the social lubrication for a potentially awkward experience.
Will I ever give up alcohol again? Totally. Nothing but good things came from avoiding it, and what little I missed out on was replaced by tons of new and awesome sober experiences.
But for now, I’m really enjoying sharing a drink or two with the new friends I’ve made. They’ve all known me as sober-Cheri for a year! It’s pure, clean fun to now get a little hammered with all of them, to finally share that drunken experience with people I care about, and to know I’m in the company of folks who want to see me happy and enjoying myself, and who genuinely like me as a person both sober and inebriated (and to think, I didn’t have any friends just a year ago). God, I love them.
So, here I am. Drinking again. Amused by how people are suddenly inviting me to their parties again (what, you didn’t want to invite me when I was sober, you bastards?!). Pleased to know that I can share a glass of wine over dinner on a date. Happy to share mimosas over brunch with my girlfriends.
And y’know what?
It’s not so bad.