Tea became my best friend. Blurry photo via my Instagram.
I went alcohol-free for the month of January. When the 2012 holidays were kicking off, I read an article that detailed the effects of a month of teetotaling on the body of a normal drinker: sounder sleep, clearer skin and loss of body fat. It sounded good, but not good enough for me to spend my first post-college holiday party season dry. January! I thought, reading Women’s Health in my boyfriend’s landlady’s jacuzzi tub. I will souse my way through every excruciating holiday shindig, and then begin the new year afresh! And I did. While my parents snoozed in their chairs minutes before 12 a.m. on January 1, I savored my last mouthful of white wine until February.
When I got back to L.A. following my New Year’s celebrations, I read this Hairpin interview with John Ore, the Awl contributor who has made first-month booze abstinence into a micromovement called Drynuary. When I saw that other people, however few, would be striving along with me, I got excited. I love participating in, and finishing, organized group challenges (I have no doubt that that comes from a strong competitive desire to win while others quit, and I don’t really have any qualms about that). The Dryness began.
Not drinking was easy, then hard, then easy again. Here’s a story about the hard part.
When I graduated and moved to L.A. in June, the binge-drinking culture that saturated my college gave way to the “responsible” drinking culture of the adult world. I doubt that this kind of drinking is actually responsible (compare recommended serving sizes to what you actually get at the average bar), but there’s hardly any guilt involved. Most young adults working a room don’t get frat-party wasted; instead, they go to microbreweries and say things like “This one’s not as hoppy,” or visit their friends in wine country over Thanksgiving and swish their glasses and smell it and eat a ton of cheese squares. This kind of drinking made it easy to ease self-loathing at networking events—of course I’ll have a glass; thank you for offering! It was easy to call it “moderation” until I realized that the thought of going to a stranger’s party while having a self-imposed booze embargo is terrifying.
The party was being hosted by the brother of one of my boyfriend wilder friends, so I was expecting a big loft party where I could dance or disappear into the background when things got uncomfortable. The host turned out to be a successful lawyer who had attended our college, and we were two of about a dozen guests at his urban-chic dinner party. Oh.
At this time (the second week of January), I was still feeling really insecure about my underemployment. (I’ve found steadier work since then. Positivity breeds positive change!) The last place I wanted to be was at a casual networking event, where I’d have to pretend like I had other things on your mind than begging the successful people around me for a connection or a job or a mentorship. I was dressed like I was attending a Sleater-Kinney concert. Everyone was asking each other about their full-time jobs with benefits. And there was so much alcohol. Before dinner was served, there were two bottles of wine open and an ice bucket filled with enough beer for each person to have a full bottle. At the dinner table, there were about six fresh wine bottles. The host said, “I didn’t make dessert, because I know people have New Year’s resolutions.” Thanks.
At least since I’m not drinking, there’s no way I can further embarrass myself, I thought.
But after already going around the table and saying what we do for work (“I studied writing but for now I babysit and sometimes walk a dog”), my dinner-table neighbor asked, “So, wait, what do you want to do?” I couldn’t really explain myself. Then my eyes started watering, and my words caught in my throat. “Excuse me,” I said, turning to my inquisitor, who seemed bewildered but cool with it. “I’m crying. I’ll be right back.”
Let me elaborate: For many people, crying is a last resort, but it’s my body’s first defense. Liz Lemon on fertility drugs is me all the time. My crying is usually meaningless, but it’s still terrifying to others and not the best thing to have happen at a dinner party when I am trying to look ambitious and professional. In the bathroom, I cried some more and got extremely angry at the situation. I felt like the party had been sprung on me. I resented my boyfriend for not telling me what kind of party it was and I resented the generous host for providing so much alcohol while I couldn’t drink to diffuse my insecurity.
But then, in less than five minutes, I turned it around, because I had to. I came back to the table embarrassed, but with my makeup intact. We had an uncomfortable laugh (and isn’t that the best kind?). My neighbor and I had a productive conversation where he talked about going after what you want in your career, and then we talked about Curb Your Enthusiasm. When we finally left, I had a couple business cards in my pocket and had made some new connections.
I didn’t pull off an epic triumph here. It was a pretty catastrophic situation, and I’m sure all the people who were there there will remember me as the girl who cried at the dinner party. Still, making it through that party without resorting to drinking made me feel pretty invincible. Later that month, I also survived a weekend-long visit from out-of-town friends, a networking event I organized myself, and an intense couples board game night. Going straight for the water/ginger ale/guava juice only got easier. I enjoyed my first beer of February—a PBR chosen for price over taste—but I’m so grateful and relieved that I can enjoy a booze-free social life…when pressed.