Friday, April 25, 2014 · 1:00 a.m.
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I never pictured myself as an adult drinking the lone nonalcoholic beer featured at Hair of the Dog, yet here's the proof. (Photo: Staff)

Someday, you might find yourself wondering if you're drinking the right way, for the right reasons. You might wonder if you're drinking too much or if it's getting in the way of your life instead of enhancing it. I got to a point recently where I felt like drinking had become automatic for me, instead of intentional. So I decided to take a couple of weeks off the sauce and see how my life would be different if it were dry. It ended up being incredibly enlightening, not only about the reasons why I drink, but also for figuring out what parts of my life are the ones in which I actually want to include alcohol.

When you're living the bachelorette life, a lot of your days go like this: Find package on the doorstep containing cute new dress. Have feminist argument with self. Approach bathtub for shower; find standing water. Text mother. Spend 20 minutes pulling hair-thing out of drain with pliers. Dry heave. Text mother about the dry heaving. Put hair-thing in empty envelope dress came in. Drink bourbon.

In fact, a lot of your evenings involve entertaining only yourself and an openly aggressive cat. Sometimes, you find yourself home alone when your mother emails you an article about Hugh Grant from The Week. In said article, the author describes the opening scene of "Bridget Jones's Diary," in which "the utterly depressed Bridget is watching reruns of 'Frasier' on television while drinking an entire bottle of wine by herself." You look around and realize you are currently on season four of "The Cosby Show" on Hulu, and a mostly depleted bottle of shiraz is sitting on the bedside table. You consider the implications of this while pouring yourself the last glass. You suspect the cat is looking at you with scorn but decide instead that she always looks that judgmental.

There are plenty of excuses. Like, for example, that you are single and busy and live alone (except for said openly aggressive cat) and there's a major shortage of sensual experiences. Add in a lot of stress and being a naturally anxious person, and it's admittedly nice to enjoy something that mellows you out, that can take the edge off. I'll be honest, I love to drink. I love a lot of things about it. It's not the buzz I love as much as the flavor of alcohol, that bitter tang that's unlike anything else, even sharp, sour flavors of other fermented things like vinegar or yogurt. I love the way you can pair it with food and it enlivens all the flavors. I love that I could do nothing but try different kinds of beverages and compare them and still never try every kind or fully understand all the complexities of flavor.

There may not be a lot of sensuality in the single life, but there is in drinking. After a scare when it seemed that bourbon had run away with me, I decided to take two weeks off to reset. 

I'd forgotten how delicate a balance it is between drinking to ease social interaction and drinking so much you become a legitimate embarrassment. Sober at a big welcome home party for a friend, I rediscovered that it can be equally entertaining to watch the antics of your drunk friends as it is to be getting drunk with them. The only moment I wished I were drinking came at Sunday brunch, when I steadfastly ordered the lone nonalcoholic beer on the menu. As I watched my friends down a few buckets of mimosas, I was quaffing something that tasted like a loaf of wet Wonder Bread run through a juicer. One friend looked at me and shook his head. He said, "You are doing way better than I would. I would have caved by now."

During that transition from early 20s to late 20s, I've noticed a lot of folks have gone from enthusiastically playing beer pong and inventing new kinds of shots to musing that their alcohol consumption might need to change or quitting it entirely. Some folks did this simply and naturally as part of other big life changes, like getting married and having kids. Others crashed into rehab. Others just quietly dialed it back, no longer drinking on the weeknights or saving it for special occasions. Still others never had a cause for concern and have gone right on with their merry lives. In my early 20s, losing control was part of the fun; it made everything seem like a pop song. In my late 20s, being out of control is no longer fun.

I work hard every day to exert more control over my life—to be more precise at work, to have a cleaner house, to get up a little earlier, to eat healthier, to write better. I simply have more to do and less time to spend nursing a hangover or fretting about what humiliating thing I might have done last night. I don't have as much room in my life to give over to drinking. When I do it, I want it to be as a celebration, to enhance a fine meal, not because I'm bored or had a bad day. And I certainly never want those good vibes to turn into embarrassment later.

Whether you are seamlessly making room for other priorities or have to get your life back from the grip of alcoholism or, like many people, are bouncing around somewhere in between, you sometimes need to stop and take control over the situation. The important thing is to do what's right for you: to re-evaluate and make whatever changes are necessary. What I learned from my two weeks of prohibition was that it's good to do everything with intention.

I don't want to live an automatic life. It's good to shake up the patterns we live by, whether it's how we drink or how we eat or how we date, how we approach our careers or even do our hair. It was while my drunk friends were singing "Rent" show tunes at a party that I remembered the lines, "We must let go/To know what is right/No other course/No other way/No day but today." I'd rather run my life according to that philosophy. That's why I want to avoid creating a rut in which I could get stuck. Listen to those uneasy feelings. Face pain if you have it, head on. Don't be afraid to make a change. Live life in manual, with intention, even when it's hard.

Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at emmieodea@gmail.com or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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