John Cheese the Great and Powerful wrote a pretty legendary column a few years back about his experiences with sobriety. I read it while hungover a few months ago and thought, “Hey, maybe I should stop drinking for 30 days and see what all the fuss is about.” By 7 p.m. on the day I started, I was gripping the walls, looking around with giant pupils, and clutching my chest, wondering how the hell I was going to get through one night. It occurred to me that perhaps I was a good candidate for never drinking again. Since then, here’s the weird shit I’ve learned.
#6. The Days Feel Insanely Long
Look, we all know for a fact that there’s nothing more fun than drinking, or smoking pot, or, I don’t know, eating molly? (How does molly happen?) When you’re abusing alcohol, you don’t have to make too many decisions on how to spend your time. It’s gonna involve a bar, or a purse beer, or cocktails in your house, and anything past that is fucking gravy. You don’t need to plan anything — that’s your Fun Aunt Booze’s job!
“Hey kids, get in the car! We’re going to McDonald’s!”
Addicts tend to be people who can’t be okay unless they’re having fun. And number one in fun is your drug of choice! Fun fun fun. Even those old Temperance Movement etchings make the slow descent into irreversible alcohol-fueled failure look … how do we say this … fun?
Even Groucho Marx likes to let loose sometimes.
Like, what is so bad about that? It’s a fairly gradual gradient; he’s not going to die. The only thing he’s in danger of is having a good-ass time. Plenty of people float down a river while drunk. It’s called tubing.
The lines are brutal for Devil’s Toboggan Slide, so definitely spring for the FastPass!
In a way, these panicked cartoons have a point. Alcoholism usually gets progressively worse, and as it does, it’s harder to cut back. It’s more common for a normal person to become a problem drinker than for a glassy-eyed nightmare to effortlessly evolve into someone who has a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with dinner. Because of that, you start to calcify your routines around alcohol, and you lose track of what’s fun besides drinking. It makes you give less of a shit about what you’re doing, who you’re doing it with, and whether any of it is healthy or safe. It also blurs your perception of time, and can even cause blackouts, where you’re conscious but have no memory of what’s happening.
When you stop problem-drinking, you suddenly get a third-ish of your day back. That’s because your days don’t fizzle out at 6 p.m. like they used to. Instead of floating through your weekends and evenings in a dreamy fog, you’re there for all of it. Good or bad, you’re present and participating and not hitting the eject button. There’s nothing altering your state of mind and experience of the situation.
Unless you get creative.
It’s not just cool or good — it’s fucking weird.
I felt high my first week sober. Like, bad high. Everything felt like it was taking forever, and everything felt thisclose to my face, and I felt like every moment was hanging precariously in the air, paranoid that someone would come over and say, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” It’s really goddamn bizarre to be back in the driver’s seat, and it’s even more bizarre to realize the extent to which you were napping in the back. It’s Neo taking the red pill and realizing, “Oh shit, I need to stop taking so many pills from strangers.”
Again, to alcoholics, drinking is obviously the funnest and only fun thing you can do. But tough shit, you have to approximate that chemical high with legitimately good experiences. You can’t just be like, “Fuck a whiffle ball picnic with my closest friends on the most beautiful day of the year! I can have fun right here with this Coors Light in my bed.” You have to do dumb shit, like making lasting memories with people who love you.
Sorry, bud. But listen: It gets worse …
#5. It’s The Worst Breakup You’ve Ever Had
For people with a drinking problem, alcohol can be like a loving, supportive partner with a major dealbreaker. It’s there with you every step of the way. It goes with you to parties, celebrates your victories, comforts you during heartaches, and also sometimes poops in the shower.
Having a problem with alcohol doesn’t have to mean you’re throwing plates at your cowering wife; it can manifest as just really, really, really loving alcohol, to the point where you’re not quite sure how you’d get on without it. That’s how it was for me. I didn’t want to be one of those weird sober people. I was so afraid of being “single” that I stayed in a shitty “relationship.” And honestly, it could have gotten much worse for me. And who knows, it could still get worse. We could get back together. But I didn’t want to get married.
Mazel tov, you two!
I found ways to incorporate it into the parts on my life I already liked: hanging out with friends, doing shows, going to the movies, having writer’s meetings, writing at home by myself, peeing at work, walking somewhere, sitting, breathing, living. There really needs to be an out-of-office canned response that says, “I’m currently away from my desk until whenever I figure out how to be a person without four Narragansetts each night at minimum.”
The main thing you realize when you swear off alcohol is that alcohol is fucking everywhere. It’s in your pasta sauce. It’s in your salad dressing. It’s on the label of the soap in your parents’ guest bathroom. And it wants you back.
HA HA HA, THIS SOAP IS ADDICTIVE! JUST LIKE WINE!
It’s like an ex that can’t take a hint and keeps showing up wherever you go. It’s John Cusack standing on your front lawn, holding a stereo blasting “Margaritaville.” Won’t you just give it another chance? Couldn’t you make it work if you only tried? Don’t you believe in love?
Goddammit, Bath and Body Works. Why are you doing this?
It’s not like you’ll get drunk from a candle that’s (inexplicably) scented like “wine country.” But that’s not the point. All those traces of booze serve as a reminder that you’re on the outside of mainstream culture now, looking in on people who can drink just one glass of rose (which, while we’re on the subject, is a feat of psychosomatic agility on par with those gurus who can slow their heart rate down to like 4 bpm). They’re little notes from your college boyfriend or girlfriend — the one who’s super religious now and lives in a hut somewhere with their athletic spouse, helping kids learn how to teach orangutans to do sign language or whatever it is that they’re doing. It could never work, but it still hurts to know they’re gone. Even if they were shitty or abusive, there’s still a part of you that’s hung up and wishes there was a way to make it work.
No, come back. :’-(
It’s normal to feel actual heartache, sob for hours, order yourself takeout twice in one day, and eat ice cream while watching garbage rom-coms. It’s just hard to explain to people that you’re going to be useless for a few weeks because you have actual love for gin. But it’s not all bad …
#4. Your Skin Transforms
Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb: If someone looks like they’re at least 10 years younger than they are, chances are good that they’re a teetotaler.
I met a woman after a show who looked to be about my age (a hard 28). She mentioned that she was still dealing with weird dating apps at 42. I immediately knew she was sober. She later mentioned that she hadn’t had a drink in almost a decade. Am I a mentalist? Yes, but also, it’s usually the case that fresh faces are sober faces.
There’s no mystery about whether or not drinking is good for your skin. It dilates your blood vessels, making you look like a red-faced cartoon drunk. It saps moisture, causing wrinkles and loss of elasticity. It bloats you (seriously, all those Mad Men guys were way too fresh-faced for how much brown liquor they drank before noon). It’s a carcinogen and can make you more sensitive to sunlight, so you’d better get those moles checked. Plus, if you’re flopping into bed trashed most nights, chances are you’re not washing your face.
Vomit isn’t a great moisturizer.
After just two weeks off the sauce (the alcohol sauce!), I noticed that my skin looked way brighter. Even the whites of my eyes were whiter. Part of this was because three weeks back, I had thrown up so badly that I burst blood vessels all over my face and in both eyes, making me look like a jaundiced, bloody-eyed hellbeast for my cousin’s wedding, and it was starting to finally clear up. This was a part of my not-Hollywood rock bottom: having to explain why my eyeballs were bloody to every member of my family in a house of worship. And goddammit, Uber charges you an $80 cleaning fee even if you throw up out of the car.
“M’lady, you need to get the fuck out of m’car.”
People do tell you that quitting drinking makes you look more fresh-faced, but it goes much further than that. A boosted immune system means your bruises and cuts heal much faster. And they’re not total mysteries, either. One of the weirdest parts of my first week sober was seeing a bruise on my leg and remembering where I got it. Who was I, Monk? Was I an OCD detective? Well, was I?