I’ll say it: I’m a drinker. I’m no Lindsay Lohan, who reportedly keeps a bottle of vodka next to her bed, but drinking is a significant part of my social life, and I’ve been known to have a couple glasses of wine on a school night, too. I don’t always indulge to the point of outright drunkenness, especially not during the week, but many of my Friday and Saturday nights are spent hanging out in bars with friends until 3 a.m., then paying for it the next day when my heart is pounding out of my chest and my head hurts so badly I can’t lift it. I’ve been doing this for years, so it had really started to feel like the norm—have a killer time, then wake up the next morning wishing someone would actually kill me.
Obviously, this is no way to live, even when you, like me, are in your early 20s. I’ve always had some trouble with moderation, so going out always meant getting shitfaced. I’d never attempted to lay off the sauce for an extended period of time—it just didn’t suit my lifestyle. I mean, what would I do with myself?
I have my boyfriend to thank (and/or blame) for my decision to try “sober January” on for size. This is, apparently, a thing of which I was not previously aware. It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution, except for the part where it lasts only 31 days, and the man with whom I share a home had done it a few times before. I figured that if he wasn’t drinking, it would make it a lot easier for me to do the same—no temptation in the house, and I’d at least have one person who would hang out with sober me, alleviating my concern that I would have no friends for a month.
The experience was … interesting, and not entirely pleasant. January is a good time to do it because the weather is horrific, and you don’t want to go outside anyway, but it was really hard for me to not dash across the street for a bottle of wine while burrowing inside because it’s two degrees. As you can imagine, I definitely felt all-around better, healthier, and clearer-minded—the biggest physical takeaway was how much less bloated I felt. I don’t think I actually lost any weight, but I did feel lighter considering I was no longer weighed down by a cask’s worth of fermented grapes. My usually devastating acid reflux all but vanished.
But I was surprised to find myself really, really irritable, and borderline hermitic. I barely wanted to leave the house except to go to work or get something to eat—most social occasions didn’t appeal to me because it meant I’d be surrounded by people who, unlike me, were having a good, loose time. There were a few incidents in which my boyfriend would suggest we get out of the house and “do something,” and I replied in outrage that there was “nothing to do.” I was not happy. I effectively replaced alcohol with sugar for my mood-altering fix, doing absurd things like baking a massive banana cake with cream cheese frosting and eating the entire thing over the course of three or four days (with help, I must add).
Most of all, I was really fucking bored. I was restless, and spent a great deal of time reading, coloring, and complaining about how much I hated not drinking. I didn’t make any new friends in bar bathrooms, nor did I cuddle up to my boyfriend’s ex after too many drinks at karaoke (probably a good thing). I realized how much I’d begun to rely on alcohol to make me a little friendlier, a little more talkative—I tend to be a bit closed off and reluctant to engage beyond a hi, how are you? with anyone I don’t know very well, which can make me seem standoffish and stuck up when really I’m just feeling kind of awkward and shy. With alcohol, I’m the effortlessly charming life of the party; without it, I’m clinging to the few people who make me feel comfortable, standing by pretending to be doing something on my phone while they conduct conversations like normal human beings.
This became very, very clear to me during my month of sobriety, and it made me realize that depending on drinking to make friends is not healthy. Even if my drinking habits aren’t those of an alcoholic, I had without a doubt become alcohol dependent—and staying sober pushed me to be better than that, even though I was bored out of my skull.
I made it 29 days without a drink, but not without saying, “Honestly, I might just give up and drink tonight,” minimum five times. Sure, it wasn’t the entire month of January, but today, February 1st, is a Monday and we had some parties to go to over the weekend that helped justify our decision to cut it short. We broke it with too much tequila and vodka tonics, and I had a throbbing headache and ate cheese fries for breakfast the next day. That was something I really hadn’t missed, and my drinking hiatus allowed me to see that, no, feeling like you got hit by a truck on a Sunday morning is not normal. I won’t be quitting alcohol entirely any time soon, but I’m way more conscious of moderation and drinking to get a little buzzed and have a good time without getting hammered.
Now that I’m no longer abstaining and can look back on my 29 days with some perspective, I will say that I’m happy I did it, and I can see why some people come away from their alcohol-free month feeling like it’s the best thing they’ve ever done for themselves. It’s true: You find a certain clarity without the mind-numbing distraction of drinking. I will not, however, be doing it again—honestly, it’s just not for me. Once was enough, and besides, when I eventually decide to get pregnant I’m tied to a guaranteed nine-plus months without alcohol. That’s the equivalent of nine Sober Januarys right there.