This post was originally published on December 31, 2014.
I know a lot of people hate New Year’s Eve. I am not one of them. New Year’s combines many of my favorite elements in life: new beginnings, universal celebrations and dressing like a whore. Ever since my mother invited six of my best friends to sleep over, provided us with a seemingly endless supply of sparking apple cider and let us scream our brains out when “Sweet Child O’ Mine” won number one song on MTV’s Top 100 Countdown, I have loved the last night of the year.
So when I decided to quit drinking on November 15, 2003, like many things in my life at that time, I didn’t really think it through. It never occurred to me that my “last drink” might, in fact, be my last drink for a good long while so I didn’t factor in the timing of it—and thank God I didn’t because there really isn’t ever a convenient time to get sober.
Initially, my plan was to see if I could go a month without drinking. I didn’t think I was an alcoholic but I knew that my drinking caused me to turn into someone else—the kind of person who tells outrageous lies, gives out a fake name and phone number to strangers and then has unprotected sex with them. I wasn’t convinced I was powerless over alcohol but there was no doubt that my drinking habits made my life—and often the lives of others—unmanageable. I wasn’t sure there was a connection between my deep inner sadness and getting wasted an average of five nights a week, but I was willing to investigate. Since I didn’t know how to stop drinking on my own—an activity that was the epicenter of my social life, my modus operandi—I started attending 12-step meetings for support.
I knew I would have to get through Thanksgiving without booze, so I made plans to drive up to San Francisco and spend it with one of my only friends who didn’t have a drinking problem. She was more than happy to babysit me and have a low-key sober holiday together. This was a really good decision. And when December 14th came and went, I decided to try another 30 days without drinking—another good decision. So when I refused to forgo my plans to hit up a house party on New Year’s Eve with my new boyfriend, I figured it might be risky behavior but that I had earned it.
So without running it by my sponsor, I got clad in my finest sequin tank dress and joined my then-boyfriend and his friends at what turned out to be a ranch-style party pad in the Valley. They had everything a girl in her 20s with a drinking problem could ever want—ranging from jungle juice to Jell-o shots, complete with a booze luge and a shirtless bartender. Even the chocolate fountain runneth over with Godiva liqueur. It was a magical liquor-y land and I was in over my 45 days sober head.
But like a good little people pleaser, I played it cool, ignoring the desperate cries from my thirsty inner child, clutching a 16-ounce Diet Rock Star for dear life and chain smoking Marlboro Reds. I was stressed out, sad and uncomfortable. I wanted to drink but knew I shouldn’t, I wanted to relax but realized I couldn’t, I wanted to seem normal but knew I wasn’t. And yet even with how awkward I felt and how much of a struggle it was for me to be there, I still preferred to be sweating at a house party than safe in a church basement, playing foosball with a bunch of sober people who had nothing better to do then slam Styrofoam cups filled with shitty coffee to ease the pain of their life’s mistakes. I thought I was better than that.
It was nearing midnight as I made my way from the outdoor smoking patio into the house to look for my boyfriend. The party was in full swing as a mob of people moved in waves to the beat of “O.P.P.” courtesy of Naughty by Nature. I flashed back to the first time I heard that song—Halloween of 1991—at one of Arthur Davis’ infamous parties where I got so drunk I woke up at 6 am in the back of some guy’s car covered in my own vomit. I guess I was right where I needed to be.
As I moved through a labyrinth of unfamiliar faces, it felt like I was going against the stream—trying to get to somewhere up the down escalator. The music got louder and the crowd drunker as the turn of the New Year descended. My left ear was deafened by a gaggle of girls shrieking over something as I anxiously peered over a sea people—ones who hadn’t yet had to face their relationship with alcohol and make tough decisions—to locate my boyfriend. I wasn’t concerned about a midnight kiss, I was concerned about the snapshot of me, all alone in a mosh pit of drunks celebrating life as it was intended. There I was, clutching the handles of my vintage Jaeger bag—a once-coveted accessory by my group of friends (none of whom invited me to be with them on New Year’s)—both invisible and sticking out like a sore sequin thumb at party that, for me, was over.
When I finally reunited with my boyfriend, I was on the verge of tears. I hadn’t yet admitted to him or myself that I had a drinking problem—I was still living under the guise of not drinking “right now” for self-betterment and only attending 12-step meetings for support and accountability. I was treating the program like Weight Watchers and not like the impetus to the fundamental life change that would mold the trajectory of my life. I had been trite and sophomoric about my sobriety and I was paying the emotional price.
This would be the first of several sobriety-threatening experiences that I would put myself through over the years thanks to being independent and strong-willed—characteristics I valued in myself. I later learned that I was very lucky to not have relapsed that night—or any of the nights I toyed with my sobriety by, say, having sex with someone while he intermittently took shots of Jack Daniels or scored Ecstasy. I learned that self-will for an alcoholic is one of the most deadly things we can indulge in—knowledge I now pass on to newcomers and people I sponsor.
When the clocked struck midnight, I kissed my boyfriend. His mouth was saturated in vodka and the residual taste of it on my tongue was enough to send me over the edge. I had to go. I told him that I had a migraine and was going to take a cab home. After his obligatory “Are you sure?” I hopped in a cab and went home (okay—let’s be honest—it was 12:10 on New Years Eve; I walked to Ventura Boulevard and waited 35 minutes for a cab and then I went home). It wasn’t the best New Year’s Eve I ever had but considering my poor decision-making and lack of self-care, it certainly wasn’t the worst. I stayed sober and learned a little bit more of what I need to do to stay that way.