Essay: From Sober Furious to Sober Curious
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the mocktail
I wouldn’t say I’m a heavy drinker, but I frequently drink occasionally, hehe, enough to heed some prudent, subliminal biological directive that tells me to take seasonal breaks. I’ve white-knuckled it through three or four Dry Januaries now (I can remember them with the keen, almost vibrating clarity produced by the very sobriety they enforced), but I’ve always celebrated the successful completion of a month with no alcohol by splurging on one of the fancier $12 vintages from Trader Joe’s and drinking it while binge-watching a Netflix show it would not behoove my professional reputation to identify here. Which I admit is all kinds of dumb and totally self-defeating — treating sobriety like a grueling strongman competition after which I just go crazy. So, still receptive to this sensible trend of “conscious sobriety,” I’ve recently changed my approach.
For the last year or so, I’ve been focusing instead on curbing my drinking overall, rather than just putting myself in some annual teetotaler jail at the beginning of the year. And let me tell you: Sobriety as a discipline and lifestyle is hard! Especially if you think of alcohol like I do, as something between a muse, all-purpose relaxant, sacred ritual substance, and important dietary supplement crucial for the digestion of steak and pasta. That said, I’m proud to say I’ve successfully curbed my drinking, but not without some struggle. Here’s my account of the many complex, medically recognized psychological stages I went through before it got easier.
Stage 1: Denial Cloaked in Romanticizing Drinking as a Valuable Social Rite and Path to Intimacy and Truth, Heck, Even If It’s a $7 Bottle of Albertsons Cabernet Sauvignon, Whose Fluorescent Warehouse Tang and Notes of Mirthless Retail Mass Production Pair Perfectly With This Hillshire Farms Smoked Turkey Rope Eaten Right From the Package, Yes, This Is Happiness, I Am Happy.
Stage 2: Angry Delusions of Martyrdom and Persecution That Compare Sobriety to Prison, a Prison in Which You Bitterly Refuse to Drink Anything but Plain Water, as Though Water Is Like the Solitary Confinement of Sobriety-Prison to Which You’re Bravely Sentencing Yourself Because All Pleasure Has Fled Your Life and You Might as Well Take a Perverse, Theatrical Satisfaction in Your Sacrifice and Suffering, You Poor Thing.
Stage 3: Starting to Notice That When You Abstain From Alcohol You Wake Up Without the Faintest Scrim of Inertial, Begrogged Reluctance to Get Out of Bed at 5:30 a.m. and You Actually Go to the Gym Instead of Hitting the Snooze Bar 13 Times and Grate Another Whole Hour of Sleep into a Dismal Pile of Five-Minute Naps.
Stage 4: That Time You Attempt to Attend a Social Function Without Drinking and Your Anxiously Leaping, Lugubriously Bereft Heart and Percolating Resentment Give Way to Noticing That, Hey, You Can Speak Sentences With Coherent Ideas, and Some Microscope Knob Has Turned to Bring Your Conversations Into Finer Focus; Also, Your Social Intelligence Has Made Some Small but Significant Darwinian Lunge Shoreward So That Your Greetings to People Are Now More Than What You Think Are Playfully Complicated Fist-Bumps and Actually Approach Something Like a Firm Adult Handshake.
Stage 5: You Realize that When You’re at a Bar, You Can Order a Tonic Water With Lime and Nobody Knows It’s Not a Vodka Tonic and, Besides, There’s That Weird Dynamic at Bars Where You Sort of Osmotically Absorb and Reflect the Collective Atmosphere of Loosened Revelry, as Though You’re Slightly Buzzed Anyway in a Kind of Psychosomatic Social-Cue Contact High, But One Accompanied by Sturdy Footing and Self-Assurance, and That Cliché, “You Don’t Have to Drink to Have a Good Time” Strikes You as Mortifyingly, Indisputably True, and Here All These Years You Laughed at It.
Stage 6: When You Begin to Suspect That Casual, Everyday Alcohol Consumption Has Been Normalized by a Nominally Meritocratic Society Under the Mantle of Deserved Indulgence, a Kind of Warped Idea of Self-Care, and the Leisurizing of Self-Medication.
Stage 7: When You Realize, Whoa, You Probably Would’ve Never Had That Thought in Stage 6, in All Its Lambent Pomposity, Without the Benefit of Extended, Intentional Sobriety. Also, You Get Momentarily Scared That You Might Become One of Those Annoying Sobriety Evangelist Assholes.
Stage 8: When You Realize That Sobriety Doesn’t Solely Need To Be Thought of as Self-Denial, Nor a Dull State of an Absence of Stimulation, but Rather an Active State To Be Developed and Used for Constructive Ends. For Instance, Now You Can Do the Dishes Right After Dinner Instead of Lolling Like a Wine-Soaked Manatee on the Couch.
Stage 9: When You Order Your First Mocktail Without Embarrassment or Irony, and Without Making Simpering Excuses about Being the Designated Driver or Whatever, Though You Do Momentarily Consider Telling the Bartender, “I’m the Designated Driver … OF MY LIFE!,” But Thankfully You Don’t.