Sober Curious: One Month In

I use the app Habitica to help me with my to-do lists. I have habits I track (like how often I workout, meditate, or spend time outdoors). I have daily tasks to complete (like taking my vitamins or checking work emails). And I have singular to-dos (like single project submissions or things like “mail birthday card“).

On April 23, 2023, on the Dailies list, I added “No Booze.” Every day, I check the little box next to it and it keeps an ongoing tally for me of how many days I’ve kept the streak going. As of today, I am 30 days sober (sober curious? sober sober? Read my recent post to understand the conundrum).

That’s me at midnight on my 21st birthday.

Now as absolutely adorable as I look sweetly sipping that cosmopolitan (it was 2004, okay?!), that was absolutely not my first alcoholic drink. No, my first drink happened when I was 18 years old and living in the dorms at college. That, as Ruby Warrington talks about in her book, was really the start of my “boozestory.

The first alcoholic drink I had was orange juice and Bacardi Limon (go ahead and take a moment to viscerally react to that; I know I just did). Yes, while many people I know first imbibed with cheap beer or wine coolers, I went straight for the hard stuff. That particular day is crystalized in a weird sort of non-memory for me too. I don’t know how much of this story actually happened exactly this way or how much has just become legend as we’ve retold it over the years, but here’s the lore:

I lived in a suite with seven other young women when I was in college. One night, one of my closest girlfriends in my suite was out on a date with her boyfriend while a small group of us hung out in our suite’s common living room area.

I don’t remember how or why the Bacardi Limon came out. I don’t remember how or why it was decided orange juice would be the mixer of choice. I do remember the absolute pit of anxiety that settled in my stomach before taking the first sip (I clearly had been a strict rule-follower up until this point…). I do remember thinking it tasted disgusting.

Here’s the lore/legend part that I feel like I sort of remember but also really don’t. I drank the whole cup of Bacardi Limon and orange juice (yup, gonna keep saying it so your stomach can churn right alongside mine), and then my friend came home from her date. I jumped up from the couch in our common living room and tried to run down the hall to meet her…only to collapse about halfway down the hall. She stepped over me and proceeded into the living room, where she started yelling at whoever was still in there for letting me get drunk. I, curled up in a ball but still giggling uncontrollably, kept calling for her to come back down the hallway. She finally did, got me a bottle of water, and put me to bed.

(That friend was a bridesmaid in my wedding seven and a half years later and has – since the day I met her – remained one of my favorite people on Earth. Moments like that one are why.)

So, my first encounter with booze wasn’t a good or a bad one, necessarily. It had highs and lows, and it has fact and fantasy combined, as I’m sure most people will attest to being true for most of their drinking stories. After all “when exposed to alcohol, the brain receptors that create memories in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that’s also responsible for emotional responses) shut down(Warrington, 89).

Or, you know, as Brad Paisley sings in his song aptly titled “Alcohol,” “You had some of the best time you’ll never remember with me…”

So while I don’t know if the Barcadi Limon and orange juice (last time I’ll mention it, I promise) night happened EXACTLY like that, what I do know is I was 18 when it happened, and I was 39 when I decided to quit drinking. If you’ve been around here a while, you know that numbers tend to fascinate me — dates, anniversaries, amount of time passed, etc. I look for interesting things that line up in the mix. Like, for example, the fact that I spent 21 years of my life drinking when 21 is the legal drinking age in the United States. Hence, my choice of picture for today.

I didn’t actually choose to do that (quit at 21 years of the habit) on purpose; I’d even thought about waiting until my 40th birthday so I could throw one final huge blowout party and then stop drinking alcohol, but I also realized that once I finally hit the “no, really, this should be it” moment (which happened on April 22 when two beers left me feeling insanely ill), there wasn’t any good reason to extend it beyond that. Besides, I started to ask myself – even before I read this in her book – “Is it the occasion or the drinks that are special?(Warrington, 181).

I know I still have a lot to unpack (my therapist would be so proud!) about my relationship with drinking and the choices I made about alcohol consumption over the past 21 years. After all, as Warrington says, “The whole point of getting Sober Curious is to come to your own conclusions about the true effects of booze and to then apply this heightened awareness to making conscious and informed choices about the role it plays in your life(199). What I will highlight now, though, are things I’ve noticed for myself over the past 30 days:

  • Ritual. I don’t miss the ritual of having a glass of wine to “unwind” at night because that was easily replaced with my new favorite “sleepytime mocktail” (1 oz. tart cherry juice + 6 oz. lime sparkling water). Also, while I’ve had some fun making/experimenting with mocktails, I’m not feeling as strong of a pull or need to have them as I thought I might.
  • Socialization. In the past 30 days, I’ve had at least six social engagements where, previously, I would have ordered/drunk alcohol. In all six, it was easy for me to pick something else to drink or do (e.g., one friend asked if I wanted to meet for a glass of wine, and I asked if we could do boba insteadshe happily agreed!). In fact, in a conversation with two other friends, one suggested we do a “wine night” and the other pointed out I was no longer drinking booze; the first friend quickly replied “You can still come! We’ll just get you something else to drink.”
  • Health. I recently switched insurance providers, which means I have a new doctor. We did a lipid panel on me and my cholesterol was extremely high. The somewhat good news? I’d already made my sober decision, and she (and my dietician who I am also working with on this) both said I should start to see positive results in that area just from removing alcohol within the next couple of months.
  • Sober Firsts. We did have to go pick up our final wine club shipment since I’d made my sober curious decision too close to the cancellation cut-off date. I expected to feel sad or uncomfortable or moody or [insert any other negative emotion] being at the winery and not drinking, but those feelings didn’t come. That’s not to say they won’t. I still have a lot of anxiety around potential FOMA (fear of missing alcohol) moments that might still arise, but it was nice to get through that first one.
  • Lingering Questions. At dinner on Sunday, a friend asked me if I thought I’d ever go back to drinking alcohol again. I guess part of why I’m still comfortable with the “Sober Curious” (instead of Sober/”Sober Sober”) label at this point is because I honestly don’t know. The past 30 days have been easier than I thought, and looking forward I don’t really see a need or reason to work alcohol back into my life, but I also know how problematic black-and-white/all-or-nothing thinking can be. So I guess I can just say, “I’m not planning on it right now,” and just live in that murky gray area for a bit. Similarly, I am not sure if/how I plan to work “Non-Alcoholic” beverages (wines and beers primarily that have 0.5% ABV, spirits that have 0.1-0.5% ABV unless diluted in mocktails — similar to the natural alcohol content in kombucha or really ripe bananas or citrus juices) into my Sober-ish/Sober Curious lifestyle. At this point, I think I’m open to having those, but I also will watch and see if they give me the lingering yucky after-effects that full-fledged booze does.

So that’s where I’m at after one month of sobriety. It still feels good. It feels easy. It feels like the pros significantly outweigh the cons. It feels like there are going to be hard moments ahead, but it also feels like I’m doing a pretty good job processing and unpacking things now so I’ll be ready for them when they arise.

I guess my question for you now is: What questions do you have for me about my story/choice/journey? (and if it’s none, that’s cool! But if you have questions, know that I’m open to answering them!)

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