I drank for 26 years. And up until the last year or so, I loved it. "I'd drink every day if I could," I often thought, for years with resigned bemusement, eventually with disgust. From my very first drink, I was consumed with wanting more. Two and a half decades later, it finally occurred to me that the only way to get more of what I was looking for was to stop drinking.
I'm not even sure when I had my first drink, but I know that by the time I got to high school, I couldn't WAIT to start. I probably watched too many John Hughes movies as a kid, but I don't remember a time when I didn't consider alcohol to be synonymous with "cool teenage life". I probably would have started drinking in middle school, if I could. Alas, my town was full of good, wholesome kids whose healthy fear of alcohol kept them clean until much later. But drinkers find their crowd and I quickly identified friends who shared this common interest. We usually hear about kids who drink because they want to fit in, to feel more comfortable in the crowd. And while of course alcohol did bolster my confidence when drinking in a group, my driving force was never peer pressure or feeling ill at ease as much as I just wanted to feel different. Giddy. Alive.
By the end of high school I was drinking most weekends, and college fostered five nights per week. My university was known as much for its bar culture as its Greek life, and I spent exponentially more time around kegs than at class. I learned how to day drink and how to last from happy hour to after-hours. I bonded first with my dorm mates, then later, my sorority sisters. Drinking brought boys, and boys brought attention. And I loved, lapped up, every minute. It's worth noting: I was always a very controlled drinker. I would consume a lot, but pace myself, and stop as soon as I sensed getting sloppy. I kept my wits, never blacked out, never had to be babysat or brought home. I graduated magna cum laude in binge drinking.
After college, the five nights per week continued, but the mood changed. What used to be carefree and full of promise turned into something we used for stress relief or to try and recapture our former bliss. Living in New York City, bars called from every corner; bodegas sold alcohol on every block. Going out lasted until 4 AM; getting a last-minute bottle of wine before the store closed became an all-too-frequent occurrence. By the time I decided to move to Los Angeles, I knew I had a problem. I wanted to move to Los Angeles in part because I knew I had a problem, and thought that the healthy lifestyle, plus being forced to drive a car everywhere, would help fix it. I was kind of right. It just took 12 years.
LA car culture was the first factor to change my habits. Traffic across the sprawling city made it much more of a chore to go out, while the need to drive myself everywhere (Uber was years away) ensured I didn't get too wasted to drive home. I still drove drunk, regretfully, but my overall consumption was way less than how I'd been in drinking in New York (which, to be clear, was a ridiculously, disgusting amount; my LA drinking would still be heavy by most standards). Within that first year, I stopped drinking most hard liquor, which I sucked down much too quickly; I limited myself to wine and beer. (Margaritas were the exception for reasons I won't try to justify here.)
The other thing that changed my habits was, simply, age. Car culture drove (unintended pun) my drinking inside - rather than go out for happy hour with friends, it was easier to sit at home with a bottle of wine. And as we got older, the parties stopped, or at least became less fun and desirable, and I started to prefer drinking at home. I could get my favorite fuzzy feeling without worrying about a DUI or other drama. I'd drink alone, nearly every night. Just a few glasses - two or three, maybe four - as long as I didn't finish the bottle. It didn't seem to affect daytime me, at least not until the fifth or so day, when I'd wake up exhausted and short of breath and need to take a day or two of recovery. By the third day, I'd be craving it again, and the pattern would start all over.
There were a few times I tried to slow down. Reading Carolyn Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story scared me straight for a bit, and for the first time, I attempted to abstain three, four, even five nights in a row. I could do it, but by the time I picked up wine again, I'd need to drink the whole bottle to feel full. The frequency may have reduced, but my cumulative consumption likely didn't. In 2015, I halfheartedly tried Dry January; I'd started the year with a terrible cold/flu that made me incapable of drinking, so by the time I started feeling better on the fifth, I figured I had a head start. I made it until the 11th or 12th.
Which is, ironically, the exact time I would stop drinking two years later. (My last drink was on January 11th; my sober birthday is the 12th.) I'll dive more into the reasons and story behind that in another post, but it's fair to say that in the last two years of my drinking, I had a consciousness that at some point, I would stop. I didn't know when that point would come, didn't expect it would come as soon as it did, but when the signs aligned, I was ready. I still have no idea what I'm in for.