After work the other night I rushed to meet my friends at a trendy Vietnamese restaurant on the other side of town. It was a Wednesday, and my work day had been very bearable with no major meltdowns or series of vacant stares out the window praying for freedom (usually these feelings were reserved for Mondays and Fridays. Now those were the days you really wanted to drink/leave all your possessions, catch a train in no particular direction and never come back). The day went so smoothly in fact that I ended up arriving early to the restaurant, something I’m not sure has ever happened to me before. ‘So this is what it feels like to wait’ I thought to myself as I looked around the room at people kissing each other hello, and nattering away. I could now see how I had been impositioning my friends for years. I really couldn’t believe they continued to be my friends. I’m obviously really annoying and rude. To hit that fact home, the friends I was meeting, who assumed I would be late after years and years of this treatment, buzzed through messages THEY would be late. Touché my dear ones, I guess the world doesn’t revolve around me.
In the past when I had been alone in a restaurant I would’ve always ordered a glass of wine or a beer. On occasion I have been late to meet people for dinner because I thought I was early, and had stopped off for a quick drink at another bar on my way. Who in the actual fuck needs a ‘quick drink’ before meeting friends for dinner, like it’s some unpleasant task that must be completed? Well, we all know the answer to that one. However, booze-free me perused the menu thoughtfully, ordered a cumquat lemonade (?), and considered whether I could fit in a small entrée before my friends arrived. Whilst deliberating how fast I could eat a steamed vegetable bun my cohorts arrived within minutes of one another. After the kissing and hugging had subsided we sat down to peruse the menu together like a flock of hungry seagulls.
The three of us together use to be the booziest people around, and would often polish off a few bottles of wine over dinner, and then top off the evening with a sneaky nightcap or three at another bar. On weekends the group had been known to stay out until the wee hours of the morning, often only going home when bars stopped serving alcohol. I remember on one particularly boozy Friday night I had meant to be getting up at 5am to go rowing the next day, and I kept doing the ‘just one more’, until finally, as we sat in a darkened smoking area drinking beer, solving the world’s problems, I said, ‘that’s it, I really have to go home. I need to get to rowing tomorrow’. As I exited the club, I squinted as the sun hit my eyes. I looked at my phone, and realised it was already 5am. There would be no rowing. We even had a Facebook chat group called ‘the booze hags’. However, the group has slowly been taken down one by one: first me around four months ago, then another one two months ago, which only left the last woman standing, and even though she’s doing her part to keep that fine name upstanding, we had to change the group chat label to ‘the less-boozy hags’.
The last woman standing is not overly impressed with our newly sober status, and though she keeps most of these thoughts to herself, you can tell she doesn’t approve of this lack of alcohol consumption. I understand. I’d been there. At times in my life I have been confused why people didn’t drink. I’ve wondered if these non-drinking humans were in fact normal. In general you tend to socialise with people who share the same interests, and to the booze hag group drinking counted as a pastime so when you took that element out of the equation it confused things a little, changed the dynamics. It wasn’t anything big enough to see the group dissolve but there was a bit of adjusting to do. There would be no more dinner turning into after-dinner-drinks, turning into an all night session, and followed up with commiserating messages the following day. Next day text messages would look a little more like this now:
Friend A: How are you guys holding up after last night?
Friend B: Pretty good thanks
Friend C: Yeah pretty good. Bit of a headache from all that loud music at the restaurant though
Friend B: Yes, I had to partake in a calming cup of camomile to soothe myself after all that ruckus.
Friend C: Wise choice. I had a cup of peppermint to help aid with the digestion. Didn’t want to go to bed with a full tummy.
Okay, this is a little bit of an exaggeration, two of us quit drinking, we didn’t have a hysterectomy, purchase several cats, and become mad cross-stitchers.
However, things had definitely changed. My friend who had quit two months ago looked up from the menu and said ‘I’ve been thinking how much I would love a wine all day’.
‘That’s funny’, I replied, ‘as I’ve been thinking how much I would love a cumquat lemonade all day’.
‘Really?’, she looked at me with a look of pleasant surprise.
‘Ummm no’, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of having a real hankering for a cumquat lemonade. My non-drinking friend was a bit newer to the world of sobriety. She was finding the transition a little hard. Even though I actually hadn’t been craving a cumquat lemonade, I hadn’t been craving a wine either. I do get urges to drink every so often, mostly when I’m walking home from work and that feeling of hopelessness at everything creeps in. I seem to feel less inclined to want a drink when I’m around my friends as I’m usually having a fun time. When I do get an urge it has become a sequence of automatic emotions: want drink, drinking is good, but you can’t have just one drink, you will drink all the drink, this will lead to a dark abyss of self, oh yeah I forgot about that. And then, in my mind, it goes from a pleasant lusted after scene of one crisp glass of cold rosé on my balcony to polishing off all the wine in existence, and waking up with that heavy lead in the stomach feel, which I believe is my soul corroding in on itself.
The last woman standing, who had abstained from wine the first round of drinks, finally cracked it and ordered a glass of wine. The thing is, the LWS (her new acronym) isn’t like me. Yes, she does binge drink, but she can control herself. For her, one drink doesn’t always tumble into annihilation. She’s a different breed of boozer. One I will never be, and I know for sure because I’ve definitely tried. She has her wine, and my other friend and I get a tea. However, the group has not descended into the realms of an overly polite and cultured literary society, we still got excitable, and raucous, and laughed so hard that other diners would probably have thought we were massive arseholes. Fun was still had, it just didn’t go on all night and end with a 2am cab ride home. As the saying goes: it’s better to leave wanting more than have had too much. I use to always have too much, of everything.
After we left the restaurant my other sober amigo was giving me a lift home, and she said ‘I feel like I was being boring. It would have been good to have a drink to loosen up after work. A glass of wine always makes me more chatty’. After reassuring her she was definitely not being boring I did wonder about how you could alleviate this feeling. I do still get moments when I feel like I’m being boring for saying no to a drink, and sometimes it feels like people make you feel boring for saying no. I think that’s a legitimate thing in our boozy culture, I don’t think it’s all in my head. However, I guess that is up to me to change my response to people’s reaction. Perhaps pre-plan a few witty throw away comments, or let it wash over me like crystal clear running river or whatever the calming meditation aps say, and move on, or, if the person is a real jerk, fuck them off. But tell them they are a jerk first, so they know.
Regardless, I can officially guarantee you that a booze-free dinner out with my girlfriends is still fun. It wasn’t the booze that kept us coming back for more, it was only a component of it. I guess if you get sober and start to find your evenings out with friends not so enjoyable, you might want to look at getting yourself some new friends. All I know is, long live the less-boozy hags and refreshing cumquat lemonade!
For more Ex-Boozer Chronicles click here