Drinking really is the weirdest subject to talk about. Mostly because, at least at my age (freshly 22), when you say you don’t want a drink, people get really confused and judgy. They ask what’s wrong or why you’re not drinking—people almost get mad about it, and they respond by pressuring to drink with them. This leads me to believe that most people aren’t really drinking because they want to, they’re drinking because they think they’re supposed to. Why else would they feel uncomfortable when the person they’re with doesn’t want to drink? It feels like they’re challenging a system that you’ve been taught is truth, and so it feels weird to see someone not participating. And there’s also the fact that more often than not, if you say you don’t drink, people assume it’s because you’re recovering from alcohol addiction. It’s almost impossible for a lot of people to comprehend that some people just don’t want to drink. And I know all of this to be true because I used to be one of those people.

I didn’t used to drink all that much. I would have drinks when I went out with friends, at parties all through college, and on rare occasion, some unfortunate nights ended with my head over a toilet. That all changed in 2020. I don’t know if it’s because that’s when I started waitressing and it made me more a part of the social circles of the restaurant I worked at or if it’s just because 2020 kicked my ass from the very start, but I started drinking with a lot more regularity. I went out with coworkers or friends a few times a week, I’d have a shifty after closing—I don’t know how it happened exactly, but suddenly all of my social interactions were happening over alcohol. And the thing about going out in a big group is more often than not, someone else is paying for your drinks. So I was drinking without having to think about money all that much, and so I’d have more to drink than I normally would. The result was more alcohol-induced puking than I care to remember. A particular low point was puking in a snow bank in a parking lot across the street from a 24-hour Chinese restaurant that served beer out of used soda cans. I remember standing alone in that parking lot, not being able to see straight, and thinking: someone could grab me off the street right now and I wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop them. I was aware of how much legitimate danger I was putting myself in, but I was too drunk to care, and too caught up in the notion that this was what my early twenties were supposed to be like. That this was supposed to be fun.

When quarantine started, I developed some horrible habits. I guess “developed” is the wrong word. It’s more like I already had these horrible habits, but before, I’d been working in a restaurant with crazy hours, which is what caused my weird sleep patterns, my inconsistent diet, and my overall unhealthy lifestyle. But when quarantine started, the work hours were gone and my bad habits persisted. I wasn’t distanced enough from work to actually acknowledge the habits as bad, and the world was crazy enough already, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to reconsider my entire life. So I spent a long time staying up until three or four in the morning, sleeping til eleven, lying in bed or on the couch, and eating weird meals at weird hours. And since I wasn’t able to go out anymore, my roommate and I started getting alcohol delivered to us. At first it was fun. We would experiment with new cocktails or make our favorite blended margaritas, and we’d just hand out and have a few drinks. At first it was like once or twice a week, but as quarantine carried on, it became several times a week. It got to the point where I felt sluggish and crabby all the time because I was constantly dehydrated and had way too much sugar in my body. But none of it felt that bad, because I didn’t really see any other option. Again, I felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing.

A couple months in—after a particularly bad night in which my roommate, who had consumed about two bottles of wine, accidentally gave me a 50 mg edible after I’d already consumed about two bottles of wine—I realized the way I was acting was…kind of embarrassing. I didn’t really like the person that I was, and I started seriously considering what I was doing. For the first time I realized that, hey, I don’t actually have to drink. No one’s holding a gun to my head. I don’t have to do this, and I don’t have to be this person.

At this point, my roommate was working as a live-in nanny a few days a week for a family across town, and during the days she was gone, I didn’t even think about drinking. This wasn’t new—I’ve never been one to drink alone, I don’t enjoy it and I actually don’t think I’ve ever done it. I definitely didn’t do it during quarantine. That’s what really made me stop and think, what exactly was I drinking for? At what point had socializing and drinking become inextricably intertwined for me?

I didn’t say anything about wanting to stop drinking right away. One of my biggest issues is insecurity, and I was nervous that my roommate wouldn’t want to hang out with me anymore if we weren’t drinking (yes, this is irrational, and yes, this is actually what I believed). But then one night, we were hanging out, and she looked at me and said, “I don’t think I want to drink anymore.” And let me tell you, my jaw dropped to the floor. I was in disbelief, because the whole time, we’d both been thinking the same thing and had been too scared to say anything.

Ending drinking is sort of what kickstarted my healthy habits, because taking away alcohol left my evenings and mornings sort of wide open. If I wasn’t drinking, I could spend the evenings doing something else, and if I wasn’t sleeping off a hangover, I could actually do something productive or enjoyable in the mornings. This is when I started building up my routines, and I haven’t looked back once. I don’t miss drinking, even a little bit. I like being of sound mind, and I like being able to socialize without alcohol. It makes the time more valuable, and creates the opportunity for actual human connection that you’ll remember the next morning.

Since giving up drinking, I haven’t been one-hundred-percent sober. It’s been a little over two months, and I think twice since then, I’ve had a glass of wine in the evening. And let me tell you, it was delicious. I got a very light buzz off of one single, very small glass of wine. And I appreciated the taste of it more. Before when I would drink, we’d make cocktails for the sake of getting drunk. But now, I was drinking wine for the enjoyment of that glass of wine. And it felt really fucking good.

The more time that goes by, the more ridiculous drinking the way we’ve normalized seems. Why is it seen as okay or, even worse, fun to get blacked out? Why is it a punchline to be hungover at work, why is it hilarious to share videos of ourselves stumbling around and babbling incoherently? I don’t mean to judge anyone for their choices, and I really truly am not, but I just don’t think the way we drink is actually a conscious choice that anyone’s making. We’ve just normalized binge-drinking to such an extreme that we don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just a part of life. But I guess I don’t really want that to be my life. I don’t like the idea of entire nights being black holes of memory loss because I drank too much. And I really hate the idea that the only way I can spend time with friends is over alcohol.

I was really nervous to tell the friends who aren’t quarantining with me that I’m not drinking anymore. I was scared of their judgement and their dismissal, and their questions of why. But no one I’ve told has even batted an eye at it. Mostly, it’s been congratulatory and welcoming, and a lot of them have shared their feelings that they don’t want to drink or use substances to the extreme that they have been either. I think quarantine has forced a lot of us to really examine ourselves, and a lot of us have come to similar conclusions.

I haven’t completely cut alcohol out of my life. Rather, I’ve turned it into more of a celebratory act, a ritual to be savored and enjoyed. Like I just ordered a set of Olivia Pope wine glasses for my new apartment—you know the ones, and if you don’t, look it up because they’re gorgeous. And I’m more interested in finding out what I like about alcohol. Like, when I think about wine, I go back to my experience waitressing and learning our wine list. I actually think about the different experience that a wine can entail, and it’s a lot more appealing. I think drinking can be fun, I really do. But I don’t think that the fun of it is getting wasted and embarrassing yourself and ending the night face down on your bed, still wearing your coat and boots with your purse still hanging on your shoulder (yes, this happened to me, and I had to be up for work in two and a half hours). I think the fun of it is the experience you can build around it. Because I’m not buying alcohol en masse anymore, I can afford to buy a slightly nice bottle of wine. And then instead of binge drinking cocktails, I can light candles and turn on twinkly lights and me and my friends can watch a movie we all like or eat a dinner we all cooked together.

My perspective on almost everything in my life has done a one-eighty over the past few months, but the changes in my understanding of alcohol has got to be one of the most major shifts. I am a person that I never expected myself to be, but I know honestly that I am becoming my truest self. I don’t claim to know what’s right for everyone. I just think that there’s value in taking the time to consider the things in your life and the choices you make, and ask yourself if those things and choices are what you really, truly want. And if they are, amazing. If they’re not, let them go.

PS: the photo is one I took when I went to watch the sunrise, which is one thing I definitely would not have been able to do if I’d been binge-drinking the night before.

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