As the internet has doubtless told you, the decade that was January is over at long last — which means those of us crazy enough to spend it sober are finally free to pop bottles.
But as I write this, it’s February 2nd, and I’ve somehow yet to end my self-imposed prohibition.
I’ve been waffling on whether I wanted to publicly admit (and thus commit) to full-on sobriety, especially since I was trying to edge my way toward a focus on wine writing.
I even have a fairly high-ranking WSET certification — a fancy piece of paper I paid way too much for that basically says I know wine. (Spoiler: I know… a little bit about wine. There is a lot to fucking know. Go watch “Somm” if you haven’t.)
But it’s exactly like Emily says in “The Big Sick” when Kumail is taken aback by her casual mention of bouquet and tannin levels. Knowing a lot about wine is a great cover for drinking way, way too much of it.
This is actually a really long story, and it’s not entirely mine to tell. While I don’t want to defame anybody, it’s safe to say the addictive personality runs strongly in my family. My paternal uncle counts his sober time in years, for example; in my parents’ house, 10 a.m. bloodys (… or rum and Cokes, or pint glasses of awful chardonnay) are not just weekend brunch indulgences.
I have my own long, fraught history with booze, but to keep it short, we can skip ahead to grad school — i.e., 2015. It might have been the program, the place, the weather, or all of the above, but most people who know me know I was not happy in Ohio. And more than that, I was unhappy that I wasn’t happy.
Here’s what I mean.
I’d always been pretty certain I wanted at least a master’s degree, and possibly a doctorate. But after five years of undergrad (long story; commitment issues) I decided I needed a year or so before I could dive back into academic writing. I took a couple of brain-in-a-drawer jobs: bookseller, barista, cubicle dweller. This last one really got to me. It was all fluorescent lights, all pick-up-the-phone-then-put-the-phone-back-down-again. And at $13 per hour with benefits and the promise of “upward mobility,” many of my colleagues saw it as the finish line. People around me were getting pregnant on purpose. (And chewing their lunchtime chips with their mouths open, but I digress.)
After spending two weeks in Lisbon at the Disquiet International literary program, doing workshops for the first time ever, I was certain a graduate program in creative writing was the right move for me. So when I found out it wasn’t a fit — or at least, Ohio University in 2015 as 26-year-old Jamie wasn’t — I was massively disillusioned. I hadn’t been able to hold down a “real job” for longer than six months basically ever. The hallowed halls were the promised alternative. You know: those who can, do, and those who can’t, etc.
If academia wasn’t going to work, I wasn’t sure what would.
All this is to say, as gently as possible, that I was drinking a bottle of wine a night, on average, while I was in grad school. And I thought that was totally normal and acceptable. I mean, grad students drink a lot, yes, but a bottle. A bottle of wine a night. As a baseline. And usually alone.
Although my drinking gradually slowed since I left Ohio, even last year Dry January seemed impossible. We discussed it in an editorial meeting at The Penny Hoarder, where someone had pitched it from the money angle: I tried this trendy thing, here’s how much it saved me. Of course, the impending inauguration and the fact that I’d be living with my Trump-supporting family for it didn’t help matters, but my adamant refusal was mostly just an honest aversion to — okay, a fear of — having to go four whole weeks without a buzz. (The talented Kelly Smith was up to the challenge, however, and you can read about her experience here.)
But as I started to focus on my fitness more, as the gym became less a means and more an end in itself, alcohol slowly began to lose its appeal. My breakup last March also plays into this; booze was a huge part of the toxicity of that relationship. I remember many evenings he’d encourage me to get drunker and drunker so as to be more… amenable. I’ll leave it at that. So for most of 2017, I’d have a glass or two of wine a few times a week; about halfway through the year I started actually tracking my drinks in my planner. On a heavy month, it came out to about one drink per night all told, though they were actually drunk in small batches.
By January, cutting it out entirely seemed not just possible, but logical; for months I’d only been drinking when I “had to” for social reasons or for the experience of some specific wine region/bar/what have you while traveling. I was also motivated by waking up on January 1st with cotton mouth and a wicked headache — and a charge, for a figure I will not publicly disclose, to Match.com, which I’d apparently drunkenly signed up for just after midnight on New Year’s Eve after watching literally six couples get either engaged or married in December. (My credit card company even gave me an out by asking if it was fraudulent, but I felt I had to face my own music.)
I didn’t even miss wine until eight days in, and then not again until about halfway. After that, not at all. And now it’s February and the end date pretty much passed me by without notice.
Actually, that’s wrong. I did notice — what an incredibly good mood I’ve been in, for so many days running. Weeks, in fact. Weeks! Of solid good mood! And great sleep! And stellar gym performance!
So the other day, I found myself clicking “not interested” on a wine-related card offered on my Google feed. I stripped the word “wine” from my website’s tagline copy, email signature and social media bios. I think I want to do this. It’s a little scary, both for professional and social reasons, but my health and wellbeing and happiness have to come first.
Besides, I’m pretty early on in my career and I’ve done relatively little wine writing. (In fact, I have some other exciting business news to announce that’s all come about very recently, but that’s another post for another day.) Socially, well, I guess it could be awkward in some situations. But there’s so much stuff I’d rather do with my time and money than spend them in bars: adventuring, exploring, flying away to new places. By choosing the lifestyle I want, I’ll naturally surround myself with people who also want those things. And my existing friends are way too awesome to make me feel pressured or ostracized — especially since they get a default DD in the bargain.
So here it is, in writing, in public. Although I’m not making any lifelong promises, I’m extending my dry spell and waving wine goodbye for a while.
(The accompanying cheese board, however, you’ll have to pry from my cold, dead hands.)