I don't remember the exact date that I had my last drink. But I do remember the exact circumstances.
I was back home in Washington, exchanging Christmas gifts with my best friend. We hadn't seen each other in about 7 months, and she bought me a bottle of wine. I felt weird drinking it, I hadn't even had a sip of alcohol in almost 3 months. That wasn't a conscious choice though, it just so happened that I got so caught up with work that I never found the time to enjoy a beer before bed. That was pretty unusual for me. I was one of those annoying wine girls in college. Always finding an excuse to drink a glass, or talk about drinking one, I even did my capstone documentary project about a local winery.
I was mostly ignoring my glass of christmas wine, instead focusing on catching up with my best friend. Things were different this time. We hadn't seen each other in so long that things felt forced, we were victims of time and distance. She had a new boyfriend who I had never met, who lived in her apartment with her. I was so used to sleeping next to her when I visited, and so used to spending time with her getting drunk in our underwear while we joked about how we didn't believe in love. It was hard feeling like I had been replaced. I was always the one to take care of my best friend, and now she had someone new to do that for her. Instead of getting drunk and complaining about men, we were slowly sipping wine and talking about how in love she was.
At one point in the evening she changed the conversation. "So do you remember how we were looking at wedding rings earlier?" she asked. I felt my face get hot and I pretended that I had no idea what she was talking about. In reality, wedding rings were a huge topic of our infrequent conversations. It was weird for me to talk about. I didn't like picturing my best friend spending her life with someone I had never even met before. I didn't like picturing her spending her life not needing me anymore.
"Well, I found the one I want and he's going to buy it." Panic set in. You know that scene in Bridesmaids where Kristin Wiig's character freaks out at the news of her best friend's engagement? That was me. My skin started to itch and I felt my breath getting shorter and shorter. I didn't know what to do. So I reached for my glass of wine and I drank the whole thing.
I tried to remain calm and be excited for my best friend. After all, if she's happy and in love, why did I feel that pit in my stomach? Why was I even freaking out? I'm sure there were a lot of reasons. It's no secret that I've got some deeply rooted issues regarding my failed past relationships. I didn't want my best friend to get hurt. But it was also a lot more selfish than that. I was wondering if marriage was now something I should aim for. Something I should want. I was acting immature, I was jealous, I was confused and I wasn't doing a good job of hiding it. I waited for the wine to set in and dull my brain, which was in full on attack mode.
That was the last time I drank, and it was about a year ago.
Sobriety was something I kind of fell into. One day in December I just stopped, and then in January of 2015 I decided I wanted to go the entire year without drinking. And I've been doing it. I've also come to the conclusion that I am happier without alcohol, or any other substance for that matter.
I'm lucky that I don't suffer from alcoholism, or any other substance abuse issues. It's easy to stop doing something that isn't really that important to you in the first place. I fully acknowledge that my story would be a lot different if that weren't the case. Most of my new life in LA was easily molded to incorporate my new sobriety. Bringing sparkling water to parties, drinking soda water and lime at the bar. It wasn't alway the most perfect transition though. I got dumped early on in the year, and it was the first time I had to go through that without a cocktail to numb my feelings. I told myself that if I could just get through it, I would be experiencing the pain at the absolute worst it could get. And that was true. Without alcohol to cover up my sadness or prevent me from feeling, I experienced my pain all at once. It was... not great.
But there's something pretty amazing about experiencing your emotions in their purest form like that. I was finally listening to my body and my heart, and using the sadness I was feeling to grow and improve. My heart healed faster because I was forced to deal with my feelings instead of ignoring them.
I also got a chance to experience pure joy a couple months later, when I got promoted in my freelance career into a position with more responsibilities and better pay. I felt like my hard work was really paying off. Normally I'd be the first one to go out for a celebratory drink, but I didn't. Instead I cried actual tears of happiness and got a chance to remember why I love what I do so much. I think if I had been drinking in that moment, I wouldn't be able to look back on that memory with such clarity. All I would be able to remember would be the fuzzy feelings, instead of the pure, untarnished ones.
I keep describing the way I feel without alcohol as "pure", and I think it's an apt description. I don't have any secret thoughts I'm hiding away that will surprise me later. I'm stronger and more capable without alcohol or drugs.
But fitting sobriety into my social life was a little more difficult. It's hard to go on dates when you can't meet someone for a quick drink. It's hard to get up the courage to talk to a cute guy at party without the encouragement that a tequila shot provides. And it's really awkward telling people that you're sober because they always have a lot of questions. Oh god the questions and the looks. Those are the hardest. People assume I have some crippling addiction to alcohol, or they make weird statements like "oh what a goody two shoes!" Sometimes people break down and tell me they think they need to stop drinking. I've become some kind of voice of reason to them, an example that shows them sobriety is possible and not that bad. I'm the person they make fun of to their friends, but also the person who drives them home at the end of the night.
It was scary making it official, scary the first time I actively turned down a drink. I braced myself for the question and panicked because I wasn't sure I knew how to answer. I didn't know if people would judge me or if I would feel like I was having less fun. I still feel self conscious about it a little. I don't like feeling like I have to explain myself to people, and it's scary knowing that if a little voice in my head tells me my best friend is moving on in her life without me, I won't be able to shut it up with a glass of wine.
But that's also the best part. Finding out that I am so much more capable that I ever knew. I feel strong and powerful knowing that I can still have fun without getting drunk. I can still make my friends laugh and I can still get men to talk to me. And now I can actually remember everything about my evenings, and get through my day with more money in my wallet and absent of headaches. I don't have to worry about getting home safely or embarrassing myself in front of coworkers at happy hour.
My best friend is now officially engaged, and the 'guy I had never met' turned into the 'guy I've met a few more times and who really isn't that bad'. He's just what she needs, and she's just what he needs. My selfish thoughts about trying to keep my best friend all to myself have quieted down, and the day she got engaged I cried tears of happiness. It was amazing to see that someone I cared about so much finally found someone who made her so happy.
Just like my life has changed since becoming sober, my adult friendships have changed since I've gotten older. Of course they're not the same, but I think that's a good thing. People grow up and grow apart, you spend a lot less time closing out the bar with your girlfriends and a lot more time at home decorating your apartment and going to bed at 9:30. It's just what happens, it's not bad, it's just different. But it is scary. There's a whole chapter of my life behind me, one that is full of beautiful memories I'll cherish forever. That chapter is comfortable, and full of things I know how to deal with and how to respond to. And there's a whole new chapter just up ahead, full of some great things I don't even know about yet. I think I'm finally ready to take that chapter on all by myself.
This essay was edited on 12/17/2015 to fix some grammatical errors and strengthen some metaphors.