Last year, I wrote this 8,100-word essay about the thoughts, feelings, and events surrounding my body, starting on my 32nd birthday and ending on my 33rd. I worked on this essay for months and then pitched it to anywhere that accepted such long essays. It was not picked up, so I decided to post the essay here in five parts, and I will eventually post the entire piece in one spot. My only request is that if you like this piece, if it speaks to you, please share it. You can email it to a friend, post it on a twitter, whatever. Thank you.
I am 32 today, and age is already marking my still developing body. My back aches from no specific cause. Wrinkles burst from my eye creases and wave along my forehead. Hangovers and colds can keep me in bed for days. Yet, 32 is closer to 35 and my mind is not ready give into the years. I’m still young-ish.
The first day of my new year is spent with my boyfriend, taking a boat ride along the river, and in a vegan café with a dear friend. It’s a good day, but not without want. The Chicago Marathon was yesterday, and because I ran it the year prior, I had hoped to spend my birthday basking in the smug glory of running 26.2 miles and indulging on whatever fried and sugary foods I wanted. Due to a pestering knee pain, I did not make it to the start line.
Overcorrecting, I make big goals for the year ahead. My knees are magically better, I declare that I will run a marathon at 32, and to help me get in my best shape yet, I will go the entire year without alcohol.
The idea to give up drinking for so long came about a month before, when at a friend’s birthday party, I drank three 6.4 ABV beers in 45 minutes and then continued to pound drinks throughout dinner. It was unnecessary for me to get that drunk, and yet I did.
I could stand to quit drinking for a while, I thought to myself. Maybe a month? Two? How about a year? In a 30-second conversation with myself, I decided to abandon all beer, wine, and spirits until my next birthday.
This is cause of celebration, though, because my body won’t be the same going out of this year as it was coming in.
I want a damn drink.
Work today was bullshit. My entire weekend, planned out by the hour with errands and social obligations, is bullshit. All these voices in my head, telling me that I have so many problems because I fall short in everything I do, are bullshit.
Giving up drinking for a year is bullshit.
I am walking home on a Friday evening and my first real urge for a drink slams into me like a car meeting an object in the middle of an intersection while running a red light.
The first week and a half of sobriety was a breeze.I convinced friends to meet up for tea instead of wine and there were no fall-flavored beers in my fridge to tempt me into a nightcap. But, 11 days in, and my anxiety and low self-esteem are raging and all I can think about is that, without alcohol, I do not have armor in this fight.
Why am I doing this?
The main reasons are to lose weight and save money. After the bender weekend with the birthday party, I was humiliated the next day assessing how much I spent on those drinks and what snacks I scarfed down when I got home. My head hurt, my stomach bloated, and my bank account diminished. Sobriety could fix that, though.
All of my major life choices are based on two specific goals: feel comfortable with the numbers on the scale and in my bank account. Hopes of achieving the ultimate thin-rich combo underscores all big moves in my life. Moving to Africa to be a Peace Corps volunteer didn’t do it. Graduating college and relocating out of state didn’t do it. Ditching small towns and settling into a major city was also unsuccessful. But, a year with our beer could. Think about it. Sustaining from happy hours and nightly glasses of wine would remove those $30 bar tabs from my credit card statements, and I would skip the drunken junk food binges that give me the most next-day shame. Not drinking for a year seems pretty easy, even if a bit awkward at first when I have to explain it to friends (I prepare myself for a year of saying, “No, I am not pregnant’), but a thinner waist and thicker wallet are worthy rewards.
Plus, being sober is hip now. I’ve read books, essays, and Instagram accounts about how sobriety can change a person’s life, and I want my life changed. Across every fitness, spiritual, and millennial website glamorous profiles of women who decided to abandon their fake party girl personality for one who wears bohemian bracelets, turmeric kale smoothies, and practices yoga on beaches and mountains. These women seem to easily abstain from alcohol and will tell you that they are better for it. I’ve gone searching for that ease and assurance in diets, morning rituals, and clothing only to find the same broken me at the center. Ditching alcohol feels like the right path to the better version of me.
A smaller voice, one that I am trying to hear without specifically acknowledging, tells me a break from alcohol is probably a good idea for more reasons than losing weight and saving money. It reminds me about the night a few months ago when my boyfriend was away and I drank an entire six pack by myself, my feet dizzyingly moving to the fridge for another. Or, how I consumed nearly half a bottle of wine while nervously waiting for guests to arrive at my housewarming party. Sometimes I think that if my boyfriend were to leave tomorrow or I lost my job, I could outlive the heartache with alcohol’s aide. I wouldn’t need to restrict myself to just one bottle of wine, rather I would be given a pass to drink endlessly. Part of me wishes for devastation just to have that much freedom in a liquor store and know that no one would blame me. It’s not considered abuse of alcohol when you can justify it with matters of the heart.
But none of those reasons seem very good in the midst of a craving. I want a drink to soothe my anger from terse emails with coworkers and calm my nerves for the party I have to attend tomorrow. I need a drink to help me drown out all the insults I am throwing out myself. I have to have a drink because it’s the only way I know how to work myself out of this funk.
My legs pick up speed until I am at home. All I can do at this point is try to outlast it, so I sit at the computer and write down strands of thoughts that are buzzing through my head. I pound on the keys for an hour, writing words I have thought but were too afraid to bring into the world. I keep going until I am physically exhausted.
When I do stop, the craving is gone. I outlasted it.
On Thanksgiving morning, I am back in my hometown to spend the holiday there for the first time in seven years. This is my favorite celebration, and I have high hopes of recreating the Thanksgiving from my memories. However, too much has changed. The annual parade of lights is now during the week, after I’ve already returned home, and the family friends we’ve spent this day with for years have splintered off and now have their own traditions. It’s also my first sober holiday, and my family is unsure what to make of me not drinking. I am often the one slugging back wine on Christmas morning or climbing onto a roof to watch fireworks after three or four beers.
The only thing I can tug from the holidays I remember is a causal turkey trot. My brother and I both decide to run it, and we show up early with the suggested donation of canned goods for the local domestic abuse shelter. We start off fast, despite other runners laughing and chatting throughout the fun run. This is the second “light” race we’ve run together this year, and neither started with an appropriate casual 5K pace. My brother is less experienced in running than I am, having run two marathons, but I am not particularly fast so I turn up the gears more than I should to be a step ahead of him. We pull back and forth for the first mile, and I am only slightly ahead of my brother at the turnaround. By the second mile, my legs settle into the quick pace and I pull away. I keep pounding hard as if something more than a cookie awaits me at the finish line. A few young men pass me, but that’s it. I finish ahead of my brother and the majority of the other runners, which makes me feel proud and then foolish for feeling so proud.
The next day, I go for a casual run, and I feel a sharp pain in my right hip. This might not be good. Maybe it’s nothing. I finish my run and try to ignore the pain for the next two days.
A week later, I receive an email announcing that my name was selected in the lottery and I’ve been accepted into the Chicago Marathon.
Photo found here.