Getting Sober: Redefining My Longest Relationship


I’d call it time traveling. Most of the time I didn’t know I was doing it until I was already in too deep. It didn’t matter the day of the week or the time, or who I was with. I was just as capable of bending time alone, as I was with a handful of friends.

There was no such thing as one or two or three drinks. Just like a two headed giraffe didn’t exist, neither did grabbing a couple of drinks. It’s that simple. I really can’t explain it any other way. My average was a drink every fifteen minutes. I never thought about that. I didn’t brag about it or work towards it or talk about it, my rhythm just happened. The drink was in my hand and I drank it. I didn’t think of slowing down or having an empty hand.

I’d start somewhere- at an apartment or at dinner or a happy hour or on a date and I’d arm myself with whatever I was in the mood for. There were the regular players: Jack Daniels and diet coke, chardonnay, Redbull and vodka, Blue Moon and those few years in my early 20s where I thought the only two drinks on the planet was a Sex On The Beach and Cosmo. Drink menus were for amateurs.

Never red wine though. It stained my teeth and lips, I’d explain when asked, and respond with my quirky ‘I only drink it alone and in the dark’ answer. They’d always laugh.

For a long time the only shot I tossed back was Patron XO. Lemon drops and Kamikazes were too collegiate for me. I was smart enough to know that I always got sick after Whiskey. That was my kryptonite. It didn’t stop me from drinking it again (and again), just in case getting sick was a one time thing. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

So that was me, always, from the first time I got drunk during a party at 16 years old to my four day New Years Eve bender at age 30. But let’s not call it a bender, or else my parents will worry. It was celebrating a new year with friends. It was a vacation and a belated birthday. It was me letting present, “in the moment Diana” take the wheel for a few days.

By the time YOLO was on T-shirts I had carpe diem booze down to a science.

It was all so normal and always OK: competing with friends how many guys we can make out with in one night (one of my favorite games), bouncing around speakeasy’s in the East Village, sneaking into the high end member only clubs in the Meatpacking District, 4am pancakes at a diner then going home with the cutest guy there, leaving without paying your tab, putting your drinks on a stranger’s tab, hooking up with your friend’s crush, sleeping with a guy who has a girlfriend (what, he had an accent, ok?), telling work you have a doctor’s appointment when you need an extra hour of sleep, telling work you’re sick when you’re too hungover to get out of bed, napping in the bathroom stall at work when you realize you went to work still drunk.

There’s wasn’t a problem with any of this. I could go to six bars in a night and only remember two of them (see…time traveling). Others had different, less poetic names for it- like graying out or even more ominous, going black out. But let’s not talk about that. Those words are scary.

It all just made so much sense to me. I had a desperate thirst for life, for new experiences and stories that were only mine and drinking was my very own special key to open that door. I don’t remember being trained but I knew this truth: that I needed to drink- to have fun, to meet a guy, to de-stress, to celebrate, after a bad day, after a good day, when it’s more than 50 degrees out, when it’s under 15 degrees, because it’s Monday.

It’s dramatic sounding, I know, but when I was drinking, like really in the middle of a good run, I was untouchable. My thoughts evened out and worries were left at the coat check. I was charming and funny. I was weightless and sexy. Nothing could ground me.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what was happening. There wasn’t a river in Egypt. The biggest part was the after, when Morning Diana gradually and reluctantly pixelated back into place ready to droop down into the exorcist-like hangover.

When I was in college my hangover cure was strawberries and chocolate milk. After I received my diploma I graduated to well-done bacon, coffee, Mimosas. Water never entered the equation.

Sometime in my mid-twenties while I was gripping on to my spinning couch, I googled hangover and depression and was so relieved when I read the phrase ‘emotional hangover’. I immediately felt better seeing the feeling I felt printed on my screen. It was a relief: I wasn’t alone in this feeling and it had a name. Urban Dictionary knows about it so it must be OK. I’ll finish my bacon and chocolate milkshake and be just ducky.

The recovery time was always different- sometimes I could slide out of bed and be partially human the next day and other times I needed a day alone to stew in a mental playback of the night before. During those days the biggest challenge was the trek from my bedroom to couch. No matter how I recouped I never thought it was bad. I thought my friends were doing it too.

Country songs and Van Wilder confirmed for me that getting drunk and hangovers were a part of life. I never raised my hand to question it. So, about the men. I bet you thought it was hard to find a man with all this time zig zagging and space jumping but it wasn’t. Let’s go back ten years again and I’ll tell you about all the threesomes I had. It was me, the guy, and alcohol.

It was how I flirted, played, connected, and bonded with men, always. If the boyfriend had a bad day we’d start downing drinks in the hopes that he’d open up and talk to me. To flirt with the new cute coworker I’d suggest we ‘play beer’ after work. He’d find it charming and cute and we’d drunkenly made out in the corner of the bar after swapping 1st pet names and office gossip. I had a fling with a British banker off and on for 3 years and when we’d meet late night he’d pour us shots of tequila first. It was our thing. Our inside joke with Don Julio.We didn’t know each other’s last names but we shared an appreciation for top shelf tequila at 3am before having sex. I’m a romantic, I know.

My favorite three words when I was with a guy were ‘Want another round?’

During each encounter, each date, I wouldn’t feel satisfied until I heard those words. He could shout it or whisper it in my ear, either way I wanted those words. It meant: he liked me, he’s having a good time, and he wanted to keep spending time with me. He didn’t want the night to end. It meant intimacy, it meant hand holding and flirty eyes and of course, sex.

I could count the number of times I had sober sex on one hand. I didn’t enjoy it. To avoid it, I’d explain that I simply didn’t like morning sex. Most of the time I’d be too hungover to move from a fetal position so it wasn’t pursued for long on his end anyway. Hooking up drunk was sexy and fun. We could let our inhibitions go and really connect. Fun was had by all. I wasn’t worried about any of it.

There’s unfortunately worse parts. I’m not going to tell them to you though. Mostly because my mother may read this. But also because I was once told that you don’t need to go all the way to the bottom floor in order to get off the elevator. So let’s baby step off the lift, shall we?

I was in one of my first sessions with my new therapist when she told me I repeated the word ‘untouchable’ a lot and made me explain why I thought that was a good word. (See all of the above for my response). Valentine’s Day was two weeks away and I was mentally preparing to be single again during my least favorite holiday of the year.

I wasn’t too worried though because I’d participate in my friend’s annual BOVD- Black Out Valentine’s Day. The year before included colorful fish bowls and sushi till 2am. Problem solved. I was talking but realizing more and more how much she looked like Lily Tomlin when she put a piece paper down in front of me. It was a wordy contract with bullet points in the middle and a blank line next to my name at the bottom.

I was supposed to go a week without drinking. That’s a lie. I could drink. But only three glasses of beer or wine, two different nights. If I broke the contract I had to give $100 to her. Lily was crazy. How was this legal? I couldn’t do this. Fact. I shouldn’t have even been there. I wanted to deal with this but apparently not by actually dealing with it. I argued with her and left the session with the unsigned document squished to the bottom of my purse. That night I didn’t sleep and express ordered Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Control Alcohol. Problem solved. I went out drinking all week. And I drank like no one was watching.

Then I signed the contract. And then when week one ended, I signed the next contract. Was it easy? Fuck no. Did I have to write some checks to my therapist? Yes. Did I cry? Did I rant? Did my hands and mind twitch and turn during dinners with friends as I stared at my 1 drink for the night? Hell to the yes. Most nights all I could think about was my hand stammering under the table and how much I wanted and needed another drink.

I thought of the contract and Lily’s annoying face staring down at me. I thought of how I felt when I was hungover. I thought of the fuzzy nights. I thought of the fuzzy years. I cried a lot. I stayed in and watched Netflix even more. I watched Vampire Diaries starting at season 1, many times. In therapy I compared my drunk self to being a vampire with no soul. There are many different points of view on vampire rule and regulations but most of them agree that the creatures of the night have no soul. Stick with me here. In Vampire Diaries the rule of thumb is that vampires can turn this soul switch off and on. When it’s on they feel everything, when it’s off they feel nothing and become untouchable. Follow me now? The easy way to live is to keep the switch off. I did that, over and over again. I was tired of it and wanted to be in the world of the living again. I didn’t decide this overnight. It took months, a lot more episodes of Vampire Diaries and most of 2015. Something weird happened around the same time I switched to watching new episodes of Arrow that would’ve really pissed off my 23 year old Cosmo drinking self- I stopped enjoying drinking.

By November I was completely sober and joined a boxing ring. I could get up in the morning and exercise. I didn’t need to sign a contract anymore. I sober dated. I sober celebrated friend’s birthdays. I sober had a fun Thursday night. I went to AA meetings sometimes and spent most of the meeting listening and nodding my head. I was funny and smart and friendly during the day and I was funny and smart and friendly at night. I added to my own life and stopped letting drinking take away from it. I started a social group. I started a book club. I started.

Sometime between the last crippling snow storm of last year and planning my 31st birthday, I stopped wanting to go to Edit Undo. I re-entered my own life. I went through those years and they’re a part of me for worse or worser. I went through it before knowing there was another side. I hit my rock bottoms (yes, there was more than one). I’m still learning how to talk about it- what I want to say about it and to who. But the further I get from the person I was then, the more I like who I’m turning into now. But letting go of her seemed like an impossible ask that the tiny tired voice deep inside me was begging for.

If I stopped drinking I’d lose all of me, not just a part. I was terrified as if I was going to lose a limb or my hearing. My life would be filled with…what? I’d have no buoy or security blanket or man behind the curtain. I’d be dry, unfilled, just curved edges and rims. The thought paralyzed me.

Now, I’m at this other side. I’m still learning what this other side is like and who I am in it. But I do know this- I’m more now than I was before. I’m more me and more strong and more present. I feel more and I listen to me more.

Days are now broken up between feeling this raw, strength of life and connection to people and namastes and really fantastic ‘I’m part of the universe and not from’ vibes to a total, giant uncertainty and instability, and anger and exhaustion. I never knew I could get tired of feelings. We’ve moved in together, you see. We wake up together and go to bed together and they insist on forming an invisible fanny pack around my waist during the day. Hello intimacy, party of two. They’re normally the big spoon. My thoughts continue from one moment to the next and connect without taking breaks. I had years and years of turning myself on and off and more off and now I just want to be on.

I wish I could say that when I wake up sober now, I’m not depressed anymore or lonely, my friends became better friends, I became the perfect best friend, sister and daughter, and my love life came together Prince Charming Cinderella style. But becoming more sober didn’t mean everything clicked into place, it just means I see the pieces more clearly and I don’t hide from the messy parts.

So now what…do I become resentful and guilty and depressed thinking about the years I spent avoiding intimacy and feelings and honesty and fuck, concrete memories? Do I think those years don’t count? Do I blame my bad habits on the constant excess of New York City? Do I blame the alcoholic-like attributes that run in my blood line? Do I blame my friends? Or the work hard play hard Don Draper industry I work in? Do I blame shitty men boys?

Yes, to all of the above. I point the finger at all of them and then back at me, and then at them and back at me. Lily says hi.

I’ve had men yell at me, not being able to grasp the idea of my moderated drinking habits, insisting that I’m just pretending I don’t drink because I wanted them to buy me drinks. I don’t get it either. No means no guys.
My friendships have changed, my god have my friendships changed. One friend who pre-games with a bottle of wine (a standard respectable approach I once followed), on multiple occasions, dumped her wine into my water when she realized I wasn’t drunk like she was. Yeah, I don’t spend time with her anymore.

I went sixty days without drinking before I decided to drink again. For me it was like breaking up with a boyfriend and then meeting up again two months later. Never a good idea. You’ll never want to be just friends who catch every up every now and then. I drank Vueve Clicquot and it didn’t make the night better but it didn’t make it worse. I didn’t gray out. I didn’t break down. That night isn’t fuzzy. I could wake up in the morning.

There’s been other times when I drank recently and couldn’t move far from the couch. Those times are a quick, slap in the face of what not to do. But old feelings and doubts still come flooding back in. Will I always want another drink? Why can’t I just stay sober? Why does everyone make it look so easy? Is my therapist actually Lily Tomlin?

Deep down I know the majority of my problems start and stop with alcohol. Drinking will always be a part of my life whether I’m drinking or not. It’d be easier to figure out if I wasn’t both the variable and constant in this little conundrum of mine.

Today, I stare all the feels in the face, and make sure they know the last sixteen years matter but the last thirteen months matter even more. I’m not her anymore, I’m a different, more me now.

I’m not 100% sober and I don’t know if I ever will be. One day, maybe sooner rather than later, I could decide to sign up for a sober lifestyle again. But right now, I can’t imagine midnight on New Year’s Eve without a champagne toast. I can do without five toasts but one still feels OK to me. So yeah…my relationship with drinking? We file it under ‘It’s complicated’.

The good news is, I’ve learned how to unwind on a Friday night without the trifecta of a bottle of wine, pizza and Netflix. My secret is just pizza and Netflix.