Last Year I Drank Tequila
And then a beer, a margarita, a couple vodka sodas, and two more tequila shots.
Last year I drank tequila. This year I don’t.
November 2017. The bars in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood close at 2 am on weekends. It is now 3:30 am and I am aimlessly wandering the streets in a T-shirt. Cold and drunk. I lost my jacket, my friends, and my phone is dead.
A month before that night, I came to on a stoop in South Boston. Food at my feet, arms covered in sharpie ink, unaware of how a Saturday bike ride turned into a 2-day binge drink through the neighborhoods of Boston. But the unread text messages told me I had a good time. Good time, huh?
Oh, I almost forgot. Squeezed in between these two nights was the time I drove the 45 minutes home at 2:30 am — drunk and videoing every time I passed 100mph. “Which time” is right as this happened more than once.
I don’t include these stories in an attempt to glorify my nights out, nor to legitimize my party life. The party life I had. If anything, typing these words out are both painful and embarrassing. These were the moments that sparked my sobriety. For so long, I had policed myself by saying “no drinking for one week” or “Sober January” only to return to alcohol and to experience similar chapter endings. Insanity. These were temporary band-aid resolutions to a larger problem. These were the moments that led to the decision to be firm and go sober.
Sober at 26.
I hesitate to use the words lucky, as it implies that this story is almost heroic. I prefer to use the word foolish. I believed alcohol was cool. Or maybe not cool, but necessary. I didn’t know that I could be a star without it and I invested so much of my identity in the culture of drinking.
In the 1 year and 10 days since going sober, I’ve answered “why did you stop drinking?” many times, but haven’t spent much energy into looking at why I drank. So here goes. In high school, it was for the feeling of rebellion, of tasting the dessert before dinner. In college, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the feeling of losing control and getting attention: the attention of being the wildest man at the party, of being the last man standing. And from there it continued. Living and traveling in Europe, it was both to engage in the culture and as an act of pure enjoyment.
But it was difficult to have just one beer, just one glass of wine. “Bring another bottle!” Life was too much fun when drinking, and I thought the thrill of a night out was more favorable than the hangover, the financial anxiety, the lack of motivation, and the impact on my mental health that followed. If I was going out, I was going all the way out.
Going sober is not a popular decision. For the first few months, I wasn’t able to articulate my reasons even well enough for my family or my close circle. For me, there was too much shame. I left out some parts. The parts that might have hurt my mother, my friends. I hid. Four months passed before I was able to talk about it publicly. Now, my response is stronger.
I am sober because the hangovers became too much. They crept from my body to my mind. They ruined my ambition and my mental health. I am sober because I lost my confidence without alcohol. I am sober because I couldn’t control my spending and a night out left me financially unwell and anxious. I am sober because drinking became dangerous to myself and others around me.
I knew all of this during my days of glass clutching, but one drink would make me forget and slip easily into ignoring the truth.
The pages of my 12-year affair with alcohol are filled with empty romances, dishonest conversations, broken promises, danger and blood. And again, this is not me bragging, but me attempting to acknowledge that I thought I was invincible. I could always have one more drink, one more line, one more pill. I was proud of this and would boast that “I can handle drinks and drugs, they don’t change me.” This was a lie. And I am fortunate that life never truly called my bluff by introducing tragedy to open my eyes.
I still have a level of discomfort when it comes to my sobriety. I am comfortable owning who I am, who I was and any actions that I took when drinking, but it is the identity and associations that come with being sober, that I have yet to navigate.
Was I an alcoholic? Am I an alcoholic?
When discussing my sobriety, I don’t use the word “alcoholic” as if my story isn’t as tragic enough. Problem drinker, alcohol misuse, yes, but alcoholic, no. And maybe my distance from this word is rooted in shame. I am proudly part of the sober community, but do I belong to the recovery community? The answer is yes, and one I am still navigating. Alcohol consumption is a spectrum. Shaped like a U. At one end, there are those who have never enjoyed alcohol. They don’t drink. The other end is also a group that doesn’t drink, those that are now sober. That’s where I am. In the middle, we have the casual-glass-of-wine crew, social drinkers, problem drinkers, misusers, abusers, and alcoholics. But where do you draw the line? Is a problem drinker just an alcoholic that hasn’t had a tragedy snap them out of it yet? It’s blurry, to say the least. And what exactly constitutes a tragedy? Is a broken promise not enough? Is putting myself in danger (even though “nothing happened”), not enough?
My struggle now is in identifying my past. My present is as a person who is sober, but I crave an association for my past. I was a person who misused alcohol, and that is why I am sober. But am I being unfair to myself, or to those who are also sober by rejecting my association with alcoholism? I don’t have an answer for this. I was fortunate to never have tragedy mark the narrative of my alcohol consumption, just missteps, just close calls. Maybe that is why I lack the ability to identify with alcoholism.
December 28th, 2018 at 10 am marked one year sober. I’m often asked, will you drink again? My answer used to be, “yeah I will figure out how to introduce a glass of wine, or a beer back into my routine”, but now I am resolute: there is no need for me to do that. That would be a compromise and insult to the work that I’ve put in.
Since going sober, I have become who I want to be. My mind is in the best place it has been in years. I am generating ideas, processing conversations, and creating a sanctuary for myself within myself. My health is at its peak as well. My diet, my relationships, my ambitions. I am in a place that I am proud of and I don’t want to sacrifice any of that for some carbonation or a sweet grape.
“Thank you for the offer, but I’ll pass. May I still sit here?”
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