Sunday, March 31, 2013

Last Call

I've been around alcohol my whole life. There are few memories from childhood that don't include my father holding a glass of whiskey on the rocks. I was 16 when I had my first drink. I'll never forget it; I was in Poland for the summer and hanging out with my 18 yr old cousin and his friends. They had just finished high school and were looking to celebrate. They bought a bottle of vodka, and we sat down in a park overlooking the opera. It was about 85 degrees outside. One of my cousin's friends, a super hot bassist in his band, took out a stack of four metal stacked shot glasses that were bound by a leather strap. He handed one to each of us, and under the scorching sun, I sat and drank the whole bottle with them. With no chaser. Did I mention I was the only girl? Like most of our peers, my other friends and I became quite good at deceiving our parents. A sleepover at a friend's house was typically a party at an older guy's house where we all got quite good at chugging strawberry Boone's Farm and 40's. High school dances became much more entertaining when you had limos stocked with beer. Although I lived at home during college, I spent the majority of my time visiting friends who were studying in different cities. Oh, what a life that was. Edward 40hands? Flip cup? Beer pong? Playing them (and winning) was pretty much a rite of passage. With graduation came a big change; moving out on my own for the first time and to Chicago. Although I felt like a small fish in a big sea at first, I connected instantly with my newfound freedom. I made friends and my desire to be social was quickly gratified. My tastes changed. I traded in light beer for Red Bull vodkas, Prosecco, and white wine on ice. I became a huge fan of taking shots. Bartenders lined them up, and we threw them back. In a way, alcohol has been my companion. It's been with me when I've bonded with friends, been consoled by them, or offered my consolation. It's been with me when I've been forgiven by them, or when I offered forgiveness. I'ts been with me when I've caught up with old friends who I haven't seen in years, and when I've celebrated milestones. It's been with me when I've gotten good news. It's been with me when I've wanted to relax after a long day. It's been with me when I've needed a little bit (or a lot) of courage. But in other ways, it has also been my enemy. It's been my enemy every time I got behind the wheel or walked home by myself at night. It's been my enemy when I woke up the next morning not remembering how I got home, what I said, or what I did. It's been my enemy when I've woken up naked next to complete strangers. It's been my enemy when I've wasted hours hunched over the toilet throwing up bile; head aching, chest pounding, and every fiber of my being screaming for me to stop poisoning my body. It's been my enemy when I've turned into an entirely different person and lashed out at people who care about me for no good reason. It's been my enemy when I've lied to my parents about whether or not I was drunk. It's been my enemy when I've drank to deal with my problems. It's been my enemy when days had to go by before I was finally free from the anxiety and self deprecating thoughts it left me with. As with human relationships, sometimes you need a break from people. I decided I needed a break from drinking. I had always wanted to give up drinking for Lent, but I didn't want to try because I knew how hard it would be. This year, I was determined. I forced myself into social interaction to really challenge myself. I went to a concert where I was surrounded by younger teens who were three sheets to the wind, pushing and spilling everywhere. My girlfriends had a few drinks themselves, and I drank Red Bull. Typically I've drank to enhance a musical experience, but here I was left to take it in completely sober. I will say that I have never heard music like I did that night. It was so clear. So powerful. I organized a girl's night one night and almost cancelled. I was actually quite nervous to go out to the bars, especially on a weekend. We went to one place, and they were playing some fantastic hip hop. My friends ordered a drink, and I again ordered Red Bull. We sat down at a table, and it happened. I got up and danced up a fucking storm. To be honest, this was possibly the fear all along; that I couldn't let go and truly be myself without the help of alcohol. The most recent event was Saint Patrick's Day. Technically Catholics get a reprieve on March 17th, so I could have drank at midnight on that Saturday we went out, but I decided to go all the way. Plus, I was curious to see how such a hugely alcohol driven holiday could be enjoyed without it. That night was tough. As everyone knows, people are out since early in the morning and by the time my friend and I went out people were inebriated. Thankfully we spent it in a more quiet location, but seeing people order Irish coffees (one of my favorite drinks) almost put me over the edge. It was really the first time I had craved it. We moved on to another location and I moved on to another Red Bull. They also played music at this place, and by this point I felt good enough to break into dancing almost immediately. I'm writing this on Easter Sunday, which is of course the end of Lent and I have officially made it through without a drop of alcohol. To say that it's been one of the most liberating and interesting experiences of my life is an understatement. I am astounded by my level of mental clarity it has given me. I went through some emotional turmoil during this period, and being able to deal with a problem head on without having something to help me numb or forget the pain has given me a new perspective on how I want to deal with things in the future. I have a new appreciation for spending time with people really listening to what they have to say versus pounding drinks together. Physically, I feel amazing. Waking up without a hangover is the best feeling in the world. Being able to recollect everything that happened the night before is even better. Most importantly, I have a renewed confidence in myself. If you ask me if I want to have a drink now, I say no. If you ask me if I'm going to drink in the future, I say I don't know. If you ask me if I can have fun without alcohol, I say hell yes. Cheers...to life!!!

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