Here’s an audio version of this post, read by yours truly:
I had my last drink sometime in early March of 2002, claiming my sobriety date as March 15th. My actual sobriety date is earlier in the month, but I honestly don’t know exactly when. So I picked the Ides of March for the obvious Shakespearian flourish.
Since then, when the subject of drinking or “What are you having?” is in the air, the idea that I don’t drink alcohol is met with a range of reactions rarely expressed without some blip or hiccup of incredulity, like we’ve just experienced a glitch in the Matrix.
The story of why I stopped drinking is a long, complicated one that I won’t get into now, but it can be summed up in one simple sentence: I am an alcoholic. When I drank, things tended to get weird… and progressed into even weirder and more dangerous territory over time. I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but whenever I got into trouble, alcohol was involved. On a good night, I could be funny, uninhibited, and mildly inappropriate. On bad nights, I found myself in strange apartments, in dangerous situations with people I didn’t know, or, on one occasion I truly don’t remember, in jail. (I blacked out often.)
The world is genuinely safer without me drinking. I’m one less shitfaced asshole being loud, obnoxious, inappropriate, belligerent, causing trouble, ruining someone’s night, making people worry, driving… I’m one less problem. You don’t need to worry about me. My sobriety is a public service, and you’re welcome.
When the topic of my not drinking comes up, one of the questions I get a lot is if I miss it. I might have missed it in the early days, like in the first few weeks or months of being sober. But my interest in drinking dissolved pretty quickly, which is a miracle in itself since I identified so proudly as a drinker. I was done and very ready for something different. Occasionally, when I’d see Daniel Craig sipping a vodka martini (my favorite) as James Bond or come across a post on Instagram that made a cocktail look really good, I could get caught up in the romance of it for a nanosecond. In those early days of sobriety, I had the gift of understanding that – as an active drinker – I was a pain in the ass, wreaking havoc on my life and the lives of people around me.
I was still bartending when I got sober, working every night in front of shelves of free liquor. But I somehow had the wherewithal to understand that I was no less tedious than the ones overindulging in front of me, getting louder, getting more obnoxious, repeating themselves… As I poured more drinks for them and watched them drink, I witnessed so many characteristics, tones, and behaviors that I exhibited when I was under the influence – traits I wanted no part in anymore. I knew that I was no different or any less annoying when I drank. Not everyone at the bar was like this, and I harbor no judgment of anyone but myself. In fact, most customers were a pleasure, really. To this day, I marvel at those who can casually enjoy their first cocktail and then lose interest halfway through the second one. I’m not wired like that. Once I start, I can’t stop. So, no, I really don’t miss it at all.
Another question people often ask when I’m out with them is whether or not I mind if they drink. Of course I don’t. Have a blast. Just remember the tricky part: don’t fuck up.
When I do go out to meet friends for dinner or to attend an event, I have my stock mocktail: a Shirley Temple. And not the “Dirty Shirley” with vodka. The O.G., with a good ginger ale and the right splash of grenadine. And that cherry? So bad for you and yet so delicious. I recently went to a restaurant that made its own grenadine, which made my “stocktail” extra special. Also, there’s the fun part of being a middle aged man in a tailored suit asking for a Shirley Temple: it invariably gets an “Are you serious?” double-take and a laugh.
My friend Michael sent me an article in Vice from September called “How Drinking Lost Its Cool,” proposing that drinking has lost it’s cred in pop culture. I’m not sure I’d go that far. Perhaps its allure among the younger set has diminished, but I don’t think drinking is going anywhere in the short or long term. I have, however, noticed a spike in glamorously bottled non-alcoholic spirits lately, many of which look rather chic and taste quite good in a grown-up, sophisticated way. I’ve had a few and enjoyed them very much (but nothing will ever come between me and my Shirleys).
So that’s a little bit about the not drinking thing. If you’re questioning your own drinking, look into it. Maybe it’s just a rough patch, or maybe it’s a more serious problem. That’s for you to figure out. Just don’t bullshit yourself. Be rigorously honest. Being rigorously honest with myself, I know that I’ll never be able to drink safely, no matter how many sober years pass. While I’m not drinking, my alcoholism is out in the hallway doing pushups, waiting to be invited in. One day at a time, I choose not to chance it.
As a non-drinker navigating life in a world full of drinkers, I can say that it’s quite doable. It’s a life in Dolby 5.1 surround sound, glorious IMAX 3D, and Smell-O-Rama. It’s fabulous, even when life gets really hard. That means life is happening, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
A little favor…
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Thanks so much for your thoughts on life as a non-drinker. I’m considering my own curtailment because as I age (now 63) I’m sending I am suffering from impaired sleep and a number of less glamorous irritations I attribute to drinking in excess. I’m also disturbed by my hesitance to not drink socially for fear of judgy acquaintances – truly a pathetic excuse, and fortunately further motivation for me. Ultimately the lurking fear of a drinking problem is driving me, dramatized by addiction in my family (all are recovering, thankfully). You reinforced the positives well in your piece for which I am grateful – onward!
I stopped alcohol twelve years ago just because I felt there was no point to it, left a terrible taste in the mouth, put on weight, cost too much, alcohol is not great as you age and I began to think that it was a bad example to younger members of my family.
Have never thought twice. Didn’t drink heavily or regularly. There are now remarkably good non alcoholic boutique beers and wines here in Australia.
I don’t even drink them but so many people are leaving the drinking scene that they are doing brilliant business.
Life is so clear and socialising is so enjoyable without feeling a slow loss of control hanging in the air.
I am not a crusader about drinking alcohol but it doesn’t take much for me to advocate to friends and acquaintances that they would be far better off with a soda water with a squeeze of lemon than a glass of wine as beautiful as it usually looks.
Australia produces fantastic wines but the industry cannot rely on me for an increase in profits.
Good to read your views George.. Am a fan. Fer Mee it is the best way I know to keep in touch with real US. The US I have known for many decades and the US I have been very fond of. My very warmest wishes to you.
Thank you, Dorothy!
In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with an extremely rare liver tumor (benign, but not without issues). I was (and still am) under strict orders to avoid alcohol. I didn’t miss it because I never really began drinking. But the questions… every party, dinner, social event. “Oh, why aren’t you drinking?” “Omg are you pregnant?” Not wishing to divulge my medical history, it was awkward to try and explain. I’ve now grown comfortable with just saying that I’m not much of a drinker. And OMG. My go-to drink is also a Shirley Temple!!! I hope one day we can enjoy one together! I’ve been a long time follower, and also Patreon subscriber. Oh and you did a birthday Cameo for me!! Keep being awesome xx
Thanks so much for this wonderful piece, Mr. Hahn. Virtually everything you’ve written here (so eloquently) really resonated with me. I especially love the last paragraph — that’s so true & so beautifully said.
Thanks so much!
Great post, George, and you are a good advertisement for a sober life not being a no-fun sentence. April 1985 for me, and also the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Part of my denouement included a very drunken teenage sojurn in your hometown by the lake, where I ended up going to a party in a pilfered Arkansas Razorback “Hog Hat” and making a total *sshat of myself (or so I’ve been told). Thank God for others who got sober before me and all those that have followed. Has made for a better, richer life for me.
So great. And agreed! Clarity, not having to remember what you might have done or might have said, being honest with yourself, enjoying little things…so many benefits. It’s just better, for me, on every level. Thanks so much for sharing.
I fell on your Editorial on Twitter, can’t remember who did sent the link. I am just starting the sobering process and still struggling a bit but still determined. We just had our Thanksgiving weekend (Canada) and had all the family at home, first time I was sober in one of those gathering. The way you describe your sober life as a bartender is exactly how I was looking at it last weekend. You see how people act under alcool and it is a bit funny (or sad) to think not that long ago you were doing the same x5. Humbling lesson. Thank You.
While I’ve never had a problem with alcohol, and never been a huge drinker to begin with, more and more I just don’t get the point of it. It’s empty copies, disturbs my sleep, makes me feel like garbage the next day and I am a GREAT time without it… have been just ‘not drinking right now’ but considering taking it a step further and just not drinking at all. Lucky for me, I’m already known as opinionated amd eccentric so friends and family never question these types of decisions.
Very good post!!
Thank you George! I too am a member of “the band”. No more shakes and sweats. No more waking in the middle of the night when the low cycle wears off. No more waking up with a headache, with foul breath and a dry mouth. No more wondering the following day if I insulted someone or ruined a gathering. What did I say? What did I do? Thank you for stating your message so eloquently. I will look back frequently.
Thank you for your message about alcohol. You have helped me a lot.