Today marks the end of two weeks without alcohol. Self-imposed and quite arbitrary. Glad I did it, glad it’s over.

Why did I do it? I’d been thinking about it for a while — wanted to feel healthier, look better, see how hard it would be to abstain. One week was too short a period, one month too long. And Labor Day weekend was an exhausting, almost non-stop party, prompting me to institute Operation Abstinence.

“Are you going to blog about it?” someone asked. “No,” I said. But here I am.

It wasn’t terribly hard. I’m a moderate drinker, mostly drink on weekends with friends. I ended up going to bars and shows with friends like before, and the hardest thing was just resisting the habit of ordering a drink. The first night of the first weekend, I ended up at an open bar sponsored by a gin company. I like gin! A Martini would have been very nice. It was like having a minor itch — I could keep from scratching if I stayed committed, but it still bothered me a bit.

The easiest social situation was a crêpe brunch with mimosas. The other guests drank and got chatty. I just drank coffee, which has a similar tongue-loosening effect, and chatted and sipped happily. Lesson: Give me some drug or other, I apparently don’t care which.

Coffee wasn’t an option in the evenings, though, since if I drink it too late it keeps me up all night. And definitely the worst effect of not drinking when I was out with friends was that I didn’t get that extra unselfconscious lightness that everyone else was developing. I’d worry that I wasn’t funny or interesting, and sometimes I in fact wasn’t. Alcohol also helps me find reserves of energy when I’m feeling run-down, so I fear I was a bit of a dead weight some evenings.

I wonder: if I were ever to quit drinking entirely, would I find different, abstemious friends for day-to-day hanging out? (We’d discuss politics or opera, play Scrabble, and retire early, I imagine.) Or would I figure out how to turn down my social anxieties and self-censoring and readiness to judge and turn up my spontaneity and playfulness? Willie Nelson once said of his band that they were just fine on drugs as long as everyone was on the same drug, and based on my own experience I agree.

Not that my friends weren’t supportive. Even the one who owns a bar didn’t give me too hard a time, although he asked me more than once, “Aren’t you done yet?” In fact, I thought about going home early this past Friday but went to a bar with a friend instead (and drank club soda with lime), figuring if I went home I’d probably just pace around the apartment thinking about making a run to the corner store for a six-pack. Out with friends, I had to live up to my public commitment to drying out.

The dry spell did make me feel better in a few ways. It was nice keeping my wits about me as the evenings wore on. I didn’t stay up quite as late most weekend nights, although I still went to bed late enough that I remained nearly as sleep-deprived as usual. I even left a club while the band was still playing because I was bored; if I’d been drinking, I would have stayed to the bitter end, then gone to another bar for a couple more drinks before dragging myself home. I didn’t spend quite as much money. Of course I had no hangovers, no weird digestion the next day. No bloating. Maybe a tiny reduction in my little beer gut.

I wouldn’t say I felt better in general. Starting a gym habit a few months ago did wonders for my everyday sense of physical well-being; spending two weeks as a teetotaler didn’t. So I get to keep drinking if I keep exercising. Maybe I’ll be a little more judicious about it, although one thing alcohol teaches you is that sometimes being judicious is not what’s called for.

23 responses to “Dry”

  1. MF says:

    “…one thing alcohol teaches you is that sometimes being judicious is not what’s called for.”

    I remember sitting in my therapist’s office one day discussing this very topic. I think he was trying to tell me, in the kindest way possible, that alcohol might be good for my social life.

    Having grown up the daughter of the president of the state board of substance abuse, I participated in countless anti-drug conferences, “alcohol is a drug” seminars, and “abstinence is the key” talks. No relative I knew drank alcohol. Except Uncle Don, in secret.

    I was scared of alcohol.

    Then, one day, I wasn’t. And, oh, how my world changed.

  2. G-Lock says:

    I’ve been sober for just over five years now, Dave, and, although most of my friends continue to be “users” of some substance or another, I found the only friend I lost when I sobered up was someone who, it turns out, is still a hard-core alcoholic. He and I only had getting barn-stormingly drunk in common.

    I support you in whatever decision you make.

  3. Bryan says:

    dave — you probably noticed a difference in your sociability more than any of your friends. i’ve seen you several times in the last 2 weeks and never noticed you weren’t plastered.

  4. Scotty says:

    As someone who missed a fair deal of a (what seemed to be pretty fun) party on Friday night, I envy your decision. Drinking can be extremely fun, but it can be a pretty large bummer as well.

    I’d find you incredibly delightful wet of dry.

  5. Dave says:

    MF — Before I started drinking, I’m sure a competent therapist would have hinted that I should start. It’s interesting, though, that now that I’m quite familiar with how I am with lowered inhibitions, I can sometimes access that part of myself without help from some substance or other. Of course I continue to find alcohol an enjoyably social drug.

    2-4: Thanks, guys.

  6. ks says:

    My personal favorite line from your post: “So I get to keep drinking if I keep exercising.” I keep wondering if in giving up my nightly wine I’d suddely start sleeping better and find the motivation to run more often and for longer in the early a.m. In all honesty though, I doubt I’d actually work out more or longer, and recent experiments have suggested that I actually do not sleep as well on days I have no wine, so I guess I’ll just keep drinking it, knowing that as long as I keep exercising at least some I’ll feel better than if I gave it up altogether. Thanks for enabling me! You rock, Mr. Barber.

  7. Ally says:

    Interesting experiment. I’m currently under a self-imposed, but not entirely arbitrary abstention myself, as I’m 30 wks pregnant. It’s been my longest stretch of sobriety since I was a teenager. I’m aware that if I were living in Europe, I probably would not have bothered giving up wine with dinner, just as if I were living in Japan, I probably would still be eating sushi. But such as it is, I’m looking forward to indulging in a celebratory glass of champagne in about 8-10 weeks. Plus, it’s often fun, not to mention enlightening, to be the only sober person at a dinner party!

  8. jeremy says:

    now it’s time to go on a 2-week binge, barber, to make up for this ill-advised teetotalling.

    also, the best is when you mix exercising and drinking (or being drunk), as SG and i’ve both done recently after nights of drinking and subsequent mornings of still-tipsy basketball…

    i can stop at any time.

  9. Demosthenes says:

    I find it strange that I, as a teenager, have literally no desire to drink alcohol. Partly, I think this is a result of my Mormon upbringing, but I definitely do not think it is the main reason. I think it is mostly because I have spent a decent amount of time around those who drink and/or are drinking and I really can’t see myself doing it because of the way it sometimes makes people act. I decided fairly recently that I would never use alcohol. I remember that night very vividly, and because I made that decision, and because of the way I felt (with my religious upbringing as a supplement) I have no desire to ever even try a drink.

  10. Trixie Honeycups says:

    i would recommend not making too many decisions about how to govern the rest of your life while still a teenager.
    not to advocate alcohol. just in order to stay open to the experiences that life will bring.

  11. ruben mancillas says:

    Dave, I’m happy your two weeks went so well but might it have gone too easy in a way?

    I’m no super Catholic but isn’t part of the point in any abstention that you actually miss it or suffer more for denying yourself?

    Again, I’m probably looking too much toward a model of ritual purging/mortification but can you think of something in your life that would mean more (which is silly and beside the point if a health benefit was the main intent) if you voluntarily gave it up for that same stretch of time?

    And Jeremy is TGW’s Fun Bobby.

  12. Jeremy says:

    11: which is why, ruben, i will never quit drinking…

  13. Stephanie wells says:

    Ruben’s getting all Lenty on us. I’m not for it.

  14. Josh says:

    SW: Actually, there may be something to the whole, hardcore Lent thing. I can imagine that after the requisite 40 days of deprivation, one would have a heightened appreciation for “the finer things in life(tm)”. I think, though, that it is important that the dry spell be self-imposed, rather than an order from on high. I live in a very Muslim neighborhood in as vice-ridden a society as one can imagine (Spain). A significant percentage of my neighbors are currently observing Ramadan, and while they might eventually receive some sort of spiritual benefit from the exercise, right now they just seem grumpy. So, motivation matters.

    More on topic, I once fell onto the wagon for the better part of seven years. The experience started as similar to Dave’s, but I ended up continuing out of some sort of bizarre pride. (I thing it gave me some sort of weird chic — I was always the sober one at any party.) The experiment resulted in a reduced social life, but the reduction was largely chaff anyway. I still hung out with the people who were really worth the bother, and merely cut away interaction with boring, predictably trashed pedants and louts. I think I also developed a lifelong addiction to tonic in the process. Now, however, I’ll throw a splash of vodka into the mix to keep things interesting. And I’ll never have to worry about malaria…

  15. A White Bear says:

    I fear anything that is too habitual. For over a year, I went off coffee and got on tea instead. Eventually, I found tea was a much crueler master and went back to coffee. I spend a month at a time going out several times a week, and then I hole up for ages. I even try not to fall into the habit of only seeing certain friends. My family has all kinds of nasty dependencies in it, so I try to keep one eye open.

    I have problems with food, in that I get addicted to tastiness. It’s not a health or quantity thing; it’s that I am a really good cook and I find my palate getting more and more finicky, if I let it. So I spend a few weeks eating nothing but oatmeal, or rice, just to beat it back a bit. There’s nothing wrong with having an incredibly tasty omelet before going to teach, but, the pickier I get, the longer it takes to prepare, and it’s time I should be using to grade papers. Cereal!

    Dave, I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever seen you drunk. I think you might be one of those folks who drinks and drinks and still makes that graceful and gentlemanly gesture while speaking, tilting your head just so. Being charming while drinking is its own curse, I’m aware.

  16. Dave says:

    Ruben: The part of this story I elided involved my ridiculously abstemious religious upbringing, which included an absolute ban on alcohol and loads of guilt and penitence for things that aren’t wrong at all. In particular, Mormons (not alone among have this whole class of “sins” that involve neither harm to others nor harm to self — things like drinking a cup of coffee or glass of wine, masturbation, consensual sex between unmarried adults, working on the Sabbath, or thinking mean thoughts about Jesus. This turns out to be a really destructive view of right and wrong: you’re always neurotically second-guessing your actions and thoughts based on some arbitrary list of transgressions instead of actually asking whether a course of action is ethical, i.e., figuring out how it would affect other people.

    So this little experiment was explicitly not about mortifying the flesh or suffering or fasting or anything like that. I tried to keep it as secular as possible, so it didn’t mean anything in a religious sense.

  17. Dave says:

    AWB: I think I’ve been around you when drunk, but I mostly pestered people like LizardBreath. I don’t always retain my charm.

  18. LT says:

    Dave, in your honor, I’m going to stop thinking mean thoughts about Jesus. For at least two weeks. Will let you know how it goes.

  19. LizardBreath says:

    AWB: I think I’ve been around you when drunk, but I mostly pestered people like LizardBreath. I don’t always retain my charm.

    Hah. Just before I got to that comment, I was thinking that I’ve several times ended up talking to you while I was a drink or four beyond perfect coherence, and you always seemed perfectly poised. Drunk or sober, your charm remains intact.

  20. A White Bear says:

    Something about the phrase “thinking mean thoughts about Jesus” is cracking me up.

    Jesus, I hope you fall in a hole! Die in a fire! Goddamnit, Jesus! You’re ugly!

    Aw, you know I’m playin’, man.

    ‘Cept your momma, she’s ugly.

  21. Bacon says:


    I’ve conducted your exact experiment a few times in the last 6 months, one time for 6 weeks. And I had an identical reaction. I had less tolerance, less patience, more awareness. I didn’t necessarilly feel “better”. It gave me a more profound appreciation for the joys of drinking, and an awareness of keeping those joys in perspective. I think it’s good for people like you and me to go completely dry once every so often.

  22. J-Man says:

    I love that the consensus here seems to be that drinking moderately is not only a good thing, it’s a better thing than not drinking at all (with obvious exceptions), contrary to the message in the U.S. that “drinking is bad, mkay”.

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