One Year of the Dry Life
It's 6:18am on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. I'm sitting here at my kitchen island with my laptop and my cold brew (current obsession). The cats are circling my feet, but the house is otherwise quiet because my guy and my girls are still asleep. But I'm up. And I'm overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in the best possible way. Overwhelmed because it has been a YEAR since I've had a drink.
I had my last drink(s) last July 25th. I didn't get drunk. Nothing memorably bad happened. But I did wake up the following morning and two words lit neon in my mind: No more. I was ready to be done. This one thing had dogged me enough. I had wrestled with it. I had overthought the living daylights out of it. I'd experimented like a champ, giving it up for a full calendar year in 2012, dancing for years between moderation and abstinence. I'd written hundreds of blog posts on the topic, posts that ranged from vulnerable to defiant, honest to self-justifying. I was, quite simply, over it.
And so on a random hot day in July, I began walking this new path, living this new life. Because that's what it has been, what it has felt like. A new life. That sounds dramatic and it is in many ways because, you see, this one thing touched all other things for me and removing it has made every single thing in my life better. Every. Single. Thing. I do not exaggerate. If that's not an advertisement for the Dry Life, I'm not sure what is.
But. Hold up. That doesn't mean that all is Pinterest perfect, that life is sunshine and rainbows all the time. No way. In fact, life has been really, heartbreakingly hard at times. Brutally hard. Because this is what life is. We get older, we become adults, and the shitaake just hits that big old proverbial existential fan. People die and get sick. Marriages disintegrate. Friends abandon. People we love struggle. A sinister loop of news threatens our sanity day in and day out.
None of it is easy. None of it is meant to be easy. And taking away alcohol doesn't make it easy. Not for a minute.
But what it does, what taking away booze has done for me (I can only speak of my experience) is that it has made me stronger, more resilient. And resilience is a buzz word, yes, but I think for good reason. We cannot control many things that happen in life, but we can perhaps control how well-poised we are to handle them, to react to them. We can perhaps shore ourselves up and prepare for the waves that will buffet us. Because they will buffet us. Again: life.
So, I feel stronger, steadier, more settled in my life. There's more clarity. Details pop from my days with my girls and in this city I love. I see more clearly what I want in life and what I don't, what truly matters and what just doesn't. I also see the crap. The stuff that's happening around me and the stuff I'm doing that needs work, editing. Self-awareness is at an all time, perhaps precarious, high. The lens I have on self and world is clear, sometimes too clear. I know this.
In the past year, I've felt peace. Moments of deep peace. This has been both magical and other. I'm a frenetic creature, a born New Yorker with a fast pace and it takes a lot to slow me down, but there have been stretches of slowness, of serenity, of calm. I hope for more of these. I will work for more of these.
And there's this guy. My husband. I think of his role in all of this and tears gloss my eyes. He has been here every step of the way. He has been by my side through the toughest stuff - our miscarriage, the death of my dad, my mom's diagnosis (she's doing very well now). He has been by my side through the worst of my drinking, when I would chug to numbness and bolt upright in bed at 4am absolutely hating myself. In these moments, he would hold me and listen and believe that I would get there, here, that I would find it in me to figure this out, to put myself first, to change. And I have.
Last night, we went on a date to a beautiful restaurant downtown. We shared yummy food and I noticed that when our waitress came, he didn't order a drink. He doesn't drink much, my guy, but he does usually have a glass or two when we are out, but not last night. "You don't want a drink?" I asked, surprised. And he shook his head no. "Not tonight," he said. And that was that. We settled in and we talked. It was not pure, sparkly celebration; we had a real conversation. About how busy life has been, how stressful, how we missed each other, how we need to put a little fence around ourselves sometimes and keep the big world out. He told me sometimes I disappear from him, into a book or into my phone, and I know it was hard for him to say this, but he said it and it stung because I knew it to be true. I looked at him and I apologized, vowed to work on this. And I will. I told him that sometimes when I'm having a hard time and I need to unload, I just need for him to abide me and listen before chiming in. He nodded, understood. We sat there, a married couple at a city restaurant, still madly in love, and we told each other what we need. Not sexy, not sunshine and rainbows bullshit, but beautiful and real. I love this guy more than words can say. I am lucky. I know that.
And then we came home and our pajama-clad girls ran to greet us at the front door with tales of their days at camp. The TV was on; they were watching America's Got Talent. We joined them on the couch and all snuggled and swooned at the talent and laughed together and came down from the day. Before bedtime, I scooped my exhausted six-year-old baby into my arms and wrapped her in the blue quilt she loves, the one her great grammy made her when she was born, and we slow-danced for a few minutes. It was perfect.
And this is all for them, but it is more for me. I do not drink because, quite simply, I am a better Me without it. I am happier. I am more free. I am clearer. More present. Without the sheen of booze, I see more and celebrate more and beat myself up less. Joy fills the cracks of my days instead of confusion and chaos. I know now what I didn't know ten years ago, what I wasn't in a position to know: Alcohol has no place in the kind of life I want.
But I do look at them. My trio. They are getting so big. And I want so badly for them to grow up and face things and feel things. I also know I can only control so much. They will do what they do and figure it out on their own just as I have, but my goodness, I want to show them that a beautiful, full life can be had and held without liquid escape. I can only do what I can do. I can show them. I can talk to them. That's all, but that's something. And I want to be here for them, in these precious, fleeting years before they march into the world, into their own lives. I want these moments with them when they want me and need me and want us and need us, when it makes them so happy that we are all simply snuggled up on the big green couch after a long summer day.
There was a time when I wished. I wished that I could have a simpler relationship with alcohol. That I could just have a glass here or there and not worry too much about it. But I no longer wish for that. This right here is the life I wish for now, the life I will continue to build and protect and celebrate. This life of saying no to the thing that once hurt me and to saying yes to so much more. This life.
And there continue to be hard parts. There are some people who don't understand, who think I'm being perfectionistic and overly abstemious. There are some people who think I'm being judgmental and preachy. There are people who no longer want to be around me because I'm now the girl who doesn't drink, who loves not drinking.
But there are many many more people who are happy for me, and who are curious. They want to know what it's like to do life this way. What it's like to live in a world that's soaked in booze and say: no thank you. What it's like to go to a 40th birthday party and be dry. What it's like to go on vacation. What it's like to go to a wedding. What it's like to weather crippling sadness without an edge-taker-offer. And these, I'm seeing, are my people. The people who support me in all different ways, who know that I am doing this because it is right for ME, because I am looking to feel good and to be happy and to face the tough stuff that is the stuff of life. The people who appreciate that what I am doing is not necessarily a referendum on what anyone else is doing.
So, this is a big day and a small day. Milestones are meaningful, but they are also just days. And today will be another day. I will pack camp lunches and walk my girls to camp. I will motor around this city and do things, things I must do and things I want to do. I will swill coffee and eat food and text friends and call sisters and my mom. But through it all, two words will beat brightly in every cell of my body: Thank you.
I'm proud of myself, but more than that, I'm hopeful. Not just for me, but for all of us. We all struggle, guys. We all suffer. But we also have the power to learn. Those things that hurt, instruct. Benjamin Franklin said this. Yes. The pain is not wasted.
And so here I go. Into new territory. I've done a dry year before, but I've never done more than that. What will I feel like at 13 months? At 18 months? At 2 years? At 3? I will find out. I will let you know.
To the family and friends in real life who have been my cheerleaders: thank you.
To my family and friends in the ether: thank you.
To my fellow Drybees: thank you.
To our EDIT Podcast listeners (4 new episodes up today!): thank you.
One year, baby. Raising a cold brew cheers to many more.