I’m on the middle of the dance floor, dancing like a fool to “Do You Love Me” with my Dad. We are both covered in sweat, 100% sober, and 100% committed to dancing ridiculously to this song. Neither of us have any natural rhythm whatsoever, but we are both going for it in a way that makes me feel breathless and outrageously happy to be alive.
We walk back to our seats after a few songs, and I feel good. Better than I have in ages. I was worried about my first sober wedding. Worried about whether or not I’d be able to dance, to pull it off, to be that fun, goofy version of myself that I love so much. Secretly worried that maybe it wasn’t me after all. Maybe that girl wasn’t who I really was. Maybe she was just the byproduct of too much alcohol and lower inhibitions.
But I found her that night. And it was like I was meeting a part of myself for the first time. And I couldn’t stop smiling.
Another wedding. This one is harder. My family isn’t here, and I’m feeling shy. Exposed. Incredibly vulnerable without a drink in my hand. The drinks are served in fancy glasses that make it much harder to hide my choice of Diet Coke. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I see more than one-person eye up my stomach, wondering if there’s another, more socially acceptable reason I’m not drinking tonight.
Towards the end of the evening, I see a girl passed out at her table: head pressed against an empty cake plate, eyes closed, arms limp. She has to be physically carried out of the room, and the moment I see her, I am reeling with emotion. Fear that stops me in my tracks. Empathy that makes me want to cry. Anger, because somehow, that’s always there.
And then it comes, washing over me like a tidal wave: relief.
Because Thank God.
Thank God, Thank God, Thank God.
The next morning I see her at breakfast, the same girl from the night before. She is eerily chipper and laughing about the night’s events and I am looking at her so hard my husband has to put his hand on my knee to stop me from staring.
I don’t understand how she can do it. Show up here like this. Act like everything is fine. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine waking up this morning not covered in an avalanche of shame.
I don’t know if I’m judging her or admiring her, if I’m feeling superior or envious. Probably a little bit of both.
I call my mom later that day and ask How? How can she do it? How can some people get like that and not even care?
She does. My mom reassures me. She just hides it better.
Regardless, I am reminded that this is my story and mine alone. I am not the girl who blacks out the night before and laughs it off the next day. I am the girl who drags it behinds me, who bears the weight of that decision for years to come.
This is about the time when people ask me about moderation.
Can’t you just have one drink?
Can’t you just drink from time to time?
To which I reply: don’t you think I’ve tried that?
I’ve dedicated years of my life to try to manipulate the rules to this drinking game. To setting up a perfect structure that will allow me to keep this thing in my life. This thing I’m not really sure I want but feel obligated to defend.
I will only drink on the weekends. I will only drink beer. I will not drink at home. I will only have two drinks at a time. I will only drink when standing on one foot wearing a striped shirt on the third Sunday of every month.
I find it amusing that the top recommendation to help you stop obsessing about your drinking is to obsess over drinking even more.
But I did it. I created the structure. I moderated to perfection. And it worked.
Until it didn’t.
Because 99 times it’s smooth sailing and the structure holds up and I am fine, happily buzzed and incredibly normal in that perfectly acceptable way that’s fine but not really. And then on the 100th time it doesn’t and I drink more and the wheels fall off the bus and I feel the shame rush through my bloodstream and it’s just not worth it.
Moderation doesn’t work for me. Moderation is some kind of hell, actually. Moderation – to me – is worse than abstaining.
I am not a creature who has one of anything. Not one French fry or piece of cake or kiss in a darkened stairwell.
I am a person specifically designed for more. More food. More conversation. More productivity. More drinks.
I didn’t drink because I like the taste, and I despise people who say they do. (Might I recommend a milkshake?)
I drank to take the edge off. I drank to numb. I drank to fit in with others. I drank to celebrate a special occasion. I drank to get to the next drink. And then the next.
I don’t need to moderate. I don’t need to drive with my foot on the brakes.
I need to get the fuck out of the car.
Still, the decision is not without its struggles. The chief one being loneliness.
The thing that I miss the most? Those nights on the porch with a bottle of wine and a few beers and people feeling vulnerable enough to say the things they might not say otherwise. The way a bottle of champagne signifies the start of a celebration, the invitation to behave bolder and sillier than you normally would. The spontaneous adventures that tend to come up after one too many.
I miss these moments, yes. But after two years, I’ve learned that it’s not the drinking I miss, because it never really was about the drinking. It’s the connection. The spontaneity. The laughter. That’s what I crave. That’s what I was after with every single drink.
It took stopping drinking to discover this truth. And it has been the truth that has set me free every day since. It’s been the very thing I’ve built my life around, this desire for connection. It’s the motivation behind my marriage, my parenting, my relationships, my career. The very reason I am here.
The morning of Day One, I found myself on the floor, crying, not being able to imagine this life without drinking. Mourning the loss of the magic that came after one more drink.
And now, on the morning of Day Seven Hundred And Thirty, I know that it wasn’t the drinking that created those moments. It wasn’t drinking that sparked the magic I so desperately craved. It was me. I hold that magic inside me. I can take it out whenever I want. And now I’ve got the life to prove it.