This post was originally published on September 10, 2015.
I knew I had a drinking problem long before I actually quit drinking. But some of the greatest moments of clarity about my problem have happened in sobriety when I am around “normies” drinking. Recently, I was at the tail end of a wedding reception, sitting around a table with a few close friends. The cake had been served, “Don’t Stop Believing” had been sung with intense drama and fanfare on the dance floor like it’s the first time it’s ever been sung with intense drama and fanfare on the dance floor, per the standard Caucasian wedding protocol, and we were preparing to get back on the bus to take us to the hotel. Stone cold sober and hyper aware, I looked around and asked my friends, “So why aren’t any of you drunk?” Various excuses were hurled my way from “I ate too much” to “Well, I had two glasses of champagne and a white wine” and “I’m too tired.” And that’s when I remember just how abnormal I am.
It’s a wedding! The alcohol is free (if the bride and groom/their parents aren’t cheap asses)! We are dancing! It’s completely socially acceptable to be drunk right now! These were all reasons former me would be completely bombed by that time in the night. Hell, I would still be recovering from getting drunk at the Friday night rehearsal dinner or welcome party. I was notorious for being so hung over Saturday from the previous night’s festivities; I would barely make the actual wedding. Thank God for hair of the dog in the form of the mimosas often served while getting ready for the wedding or the signature drink available at cocktail hour the second the ceremony was finished. Side note, I wasn’t spared the humiliation of barely fitting into more than one bridesmaid dress due to beer bloat. Mad props, Spanx.
Of course, when I was attending weddings in my early to mid 20s, I wasn’t necessarily alone in taking full advantage of the open bar. But as I got older and attended the weddings of people are who were also older (with older guests), I noticed how not normal I was. At the previously mentioned wedding, the bride and groom were in their 30s and all of the people at my table were in their 30s. Of course they’re not obliterated—they’re grown-ass adults who know how to act appropriately. They don’t want or need to get hammered at a wedding anymore because they’ve been there, done that. There is no reason to get fucked up at weddings in your 30s anyway; everyone in attendance is usually already coupled off by this age. The allure of getting drunk and having a romantic interlude with a fellow single guest is long gone. So in moments like this I think, “What would I be like right now if I was still drinking?” The answer is, I’d be the only intoxicated person, most likely hitting on the only single person at the wedding (probably the deejay, I definitely wouldn’t put that past drunk me) and tripping on the dance floor. So in other words, I’d be the token asshole. Thank God I got sober.
Commemorative events like weddings aren’t the only time I have, “What would I be doing right now if I was still drinking?” revelations. I’ll catch myself at a regular ole’ dinner or house party, checking out of the group conversation to think about how no one seems to be drunk. I was recently at a Mexican-themed party where everyone was drinking fresh margaritas with their tacos. I looked longingly at the ample supply of red wine stored on the table in the kitchen and wondered why in God’s name no one was drinking it. It’s wine and it’s there! Yes, margaritas were great for the first couple rounds but next up, Cabernet! Much to my disbelief: MOST OF THE PARTY GUESTS WERE SATISFIED WITH ONE OR TWO MARGARITAS. By the time I left, no one had even touched the wine. I’d be purple-mouth red wine hazed by that point, getting a ride home and waking up feeling like shit. Oh and texting whatever poor soul gave me the ride home and apologizing for being a mess, uncertain of the conversation we had but completely certain I was a rambling dip shit. I always like to play the game with how former me would feel after the event too. I also tend to play it on dates. I’m blown away when I’m out with a guy who has one drink. Just one. I’m always like, “Don’t you want another? Sure, we’re bowling and that’s fun and all but the bar is like right there!” When I was drinking and dating, the more [alcohol], the merrier. What better excuse to overdo it than an awkward first Internet date? Side note, I’m still single so clearly that mentality didn’t serve me too well. Fine, I’ll admit it, dating has been way more healthy and productive sober.
This kind of obsessive thinking around the alcohol at the wedding/party/date and the people drinking the alcohol at said function is exactly why I am, alas, not a normal drinker. Remembering this is an excellent way to remind myself why I stay sober. I quit drinking when I turned 30, and a big part of that decision was knowing this decade isn’t the one that’s supposed to be dedicated to debauchery and fun. I got plenty of that (and then some) in my 20s. Normal people naturally make this transition without actively thinking about it. That’s the difference. Did the tune from “The More You Know” PSAs just strum in your head? Because it should have. It’s moments like these – when I’m the sole alcoholic in a crew of people who can/like to drink in moderation – when I try to garner a lesson, rather than a longing.
At the beginning of my alcohol abstinence journey, I always felt like I was missing out on so much by not being able to drink. I debated every single party invitation or potential date, wondering if I’d be able to survive or have an ounce of a good time sippin’ Coke (or Red Bull if I really wanted to feel like shit could still get crazy). Whenever I’d lament about these concerns and resentments to a good friend who knew my full story, he’d always just say, “MP, there is no there there.” The translation for that is, I’m not missing out on anything because there is nothing to miss out on. Most adults get a little buzz then end their night at a relatively decent hour because they have adult responsibilities to tend to and they just aren’t interested in drinking any longer. For me, every chance to drink was a chance for something amazing, fun and/or story-worthy to happen. Most people aren’t constantly striving for that and it’s something to consider when I start to think I’m always on the outside of some perpetual circle of fun now that I’m sober. I study normal drinkers like they’re textbooks these days. The contrast of how they drink versus how I used to is a stark reminder of why the red wine needs to stay unopened in my life.