tales of love, sobriety, growth… and everything in between

The First Time I Drank Alone

Submitted to Not All Big Girls Drink Wine Anonymously

I remember the first time like it was yesterday. My routine was the same. Rise early, go for a brisk walk around my neighborhood for about an hour. Inhale! Daydream about which house I might live in one day with the family that – in my late 20s – I could still barely conjure as I was out in the world, many hundreds of miles from my hometown, stumbling through the pursuit of my dream to be a writer. I took a warm bath in the claw foot tub of the tiny but adorable studio apartment fashioned from the front of the milk house of what once was a dairy farm. I took a bath because there was no shower. One of the quirks about the place that made it so affordable. Off to work, an entry level gig that paid the few bills I had and afforded me a few “work” friends to pass the time some nights and weekends. I did the step class at my local Bally’s, then passed through the drive-thru of the Jack-in-the-Box near my house and ordered a large diet coke and either the grilled chicken salad or the teriyaki chicken rice bowl. Deciding on one or the other in the moment would pretty much be the excitement of that night or others like it. I don’t remember which I chose. I dragged through my door and closed it behind me. Exhale! I glanced at the answering machine anxiously that night, trying to be nonplussed about doing so, as if anyone else was there watching me, hoping it’s red eye would be winking at me? But, alas, it just stared. I changed into clean, comfy clothes, unfolded my boa futon couch into my bed, flicked on the TV and settled in with the characters in whatever network one-hour drama was on that weekday night who would keep me company until I drifted off to sleep. Then I would do this all again tomorrow. It was a sweet, simple, innocent routine. But there was something different tonight, and last night, and last week. Something that rocked my rhythm and hijacked the heart I had for my home and my work. A break-up. A pretty bad break-up with a pretty decent boyfriend. Worst part was, it had been me who did it. I had a reason, a good one, or so I thought at the time? But it was me. I was very young in the ripples of relationships and the details of how I had derailed this one are not as important as how I felt that night, and the night before, and the week before. Looking back on that relationship these decades later, I believe that, of the ones that got away, he was the one who could have been the one. Maybe should have … been the one. We are still in touch on and off and we’ve had THAT conversation … why you did or said what you did, what you wish you did or said … what you wish you could take back. But you can’t. You don’t get to take stuff back. So that night, like almost any other weeknight, I am at home, in my tiny but adorable studio apartment, the characters from the network one-hour drama de jour, my jack-in-the-box drive thru dinner of chicken with either rice or lettuce and my enormous plastic vat of diet coke. Not long ago, the red eye on my answering machine used to blink instead of stare … his voice waiting for me when I first walked through the door with a corny, sweet message. And I knew that, after my drive-thru dinner and before I drifted off to sleep, I would call him back and we would miss each other out loud … be each other’s “last call of the night.” But this night, but for those characters wonking from the tv, my tiny but adorable studio apartment was not warmed by his voice and then, later, mine. The space felt cool and cavernous, haunted by what was unknown and heavy with my broken heart. Managing to rumble through my daily ritual was likely much less a feat of discipline and more a matter of simply not knowing what else to do. I don’t remember why I had gotten up from my futon bed THAT time, that night. Was it to throw the take-out remnants in the trash? Maybe it was just to tinkle quick during a commercial. It could not have been that I was thirsty, because I NEVER finished that plastic vat of diet coke, yet always chose the largest one they had, and couldn’t tell you why to save my life. But I did get up and I wandered into my tiny but adorable kitchen and, even though I was neither hungry nor thirsty, I opened the apartment-sized fridge. And there it was. Corked and couched in the rack on the door of that fridge. A half full bottle of Chardonnay. I look back on that moment and wish I had seen it as half empty that night. I wish I had seen it as half empty from the last time he was there with me, when he spent his vacation cramped up with me in the tiny but adorable studio apartment. I remember his shock when he learned he could not take a shower and would have to take a bath instead. I remember he took me out to Red Lobster for my birthday. I remember we rented ALADDIN and watched it on the VCR and laughed and laughed at Robin William’s genie. He drank a lot. Too much sometimes, I thought? But he didn’t drink chardonnay. So I’m sure what was left in that bottle was the balance after my two glasses of wine one of those nights he was there with me. I was a social drinker by definition. I only drank wine. I drank with others when they drank. I often ordered spritzers, heavy on the club soda. I rarely ever had a second glass. When I did, I felt it the way one does, that tingle and fuzz that flowed. If I dared to have a third? I slept. So, I was now staring at what was left in the bottle instead of being mad at it for the memory of what was gone. I had a wine rack in the tiny but adorable studio apartment. I bought it at an antique curio shop near my office. I think I believed it was a very grown-up thing to have in one’s house. For several weeks, when I shopped at the grocery store, I would buy one bottle of very cheap wine – every week a different looking bottle – so I could fill the rack and look even more grown up. I remember “selecting” a bottle from it when my mother came to visit and stayed with me, and another when my best friend from college came to visit and stayed with me, and another still when my girlfriend from work would stop in after we had gone to a movie downtown. I would normally try to replace those bottles promptly because I liked for my wine rack to be at least almost full, like a grown-up’s wine rack would be. But I don’t remember noticing the wine rack that night or the uncorked bottles it would surely have supported? It was the half full bottle in the rack on the door of the fridge in my tiny but adorable kitchen that I could not take my eyes off of. That fact makes one thing clear about what was about to happen … that it wasn’t really about the wine at all. The wine was always there. Grown-ups like to drink it, after all. I felt a little devious, sneaky … I am groping for the right word and neither of those is it … but if you’re reading this, you likely get what I mean. I was alone in my tiny but adorable kitchen, yet I felt like someone might be watching me? Older and wiser, one might conclude that a presence does populate moments like these … an angel or a spirit guide, giving you that tug of guilt like a gift, to nudge you in the right direction. I did feel that presence , but I slipped the cool bottle from the rack on the door of the fridge anyway. I knew I was alone, after all. And that was the thing, really? I was alone. I took one of the two wine glasses from my cabinet — because grown-ups have wine glasses in their cabinets – and I poured what looked like as much as a bartender would pour at the pub on a friday evening after work, leaving what would be little more than a sip at the bottom of the bottle. I absolutely know I put the bottle back in the rack on the door of the fridge with just that long sip of wine to spare. I couldn’t pour it all? That would have been too much. On that night, in that moment? That made sense to me. I never went back for it either, that long sip to spare, that night. On nights to come, I would. But not that night. I took my glass of wine back to my futon bed and the network one-hour drama. And I sipped it. I sipped that glass of wine until it was gone. The early sips were perfectly chilled. So funny how you remember a detail like that? The later sips, though, were a little less cool and laced with the aftertaste of something else, for which I still can’t find the right word. The thing was, I was alone. From the first sip to the last of that glass of wine that night that I indulged in on my futon bed after my drive-thru dinner in my tiny but adorable studio apartment, I was drinking alone for the first time in my shy-of-30-by-a-couple-years life. I was no longer “just” a social drinker, as I had ALWAYS been … before that night. Now, I was someone who “drank alone.” What you do not know in those moments just before you cross it and THE moment when you do cross that threshold is that it is a threshold, indeed. You might have an inkling of it in the moments just after, when you find yourself on the other side. I did. It is the evolution. It is no longer just sipping wine or beer with friends for fun, champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve or at weddings, a shot that you barely choke down on St. Paddy’s Day or your boyfriend’s birthday or on a silly dare. Now, you turn to it for comfort. Now, it is an elixir. Now, you seek that sensation you learned laid waiting at the bottom of your second glass of wine. It is no longer a surprise or a second thought. It is an intention. Now, you seek the sleep that awaits you half way through the third glass. Now, you prescribe it for yourself to release a pressure… or to ease a pain… or to forget … for awhile. Despite the daunting detail with which I remember that first time, I don’t remember a thing about the second time I drank alone? I just know that the wine spilled so easily into my ritual … a routine one once so innocent was now as grown-up as my wine rack. Not every day at first, but I began to have a glass wine after dinner, then with it. I graduated to preparing some more grown-up meals, though still on a working girl’s budget, like spaghetti and sauce with some fresh bread. For this, I had to grow up a bit more and graduate to red wine, which paired so well, I thought, with the can of sauce that was on sale at the market on the corner. Of course, one must have a good glass of red with such a supper? My wine rack was far less often almost full. I began to dismiss suggestions to dine at places that didn’t serve alcohol, where when I first began my adventure there, I ordered diet coke religiously at places that did. Before you know it – literally before – drinking is part of your personal culture and your journey with it has begun. Many might return to their memory of their first sip or their first full drink or the first time it got them drunk or made them sick. For me? That was it. Drinking alone for the first time. That was my moment when I crossed that threshold. On the other side, alcohol stopped being collateral and became central to every plan and posit. Not in an obviously debilitating way; I was rarely drunk and not physically dependent. But it tugged and nagged and found it’s way – got it’s way – into almost every aspect of my life. I am grateful for the honesty and personal truth in the posts on this blog. They inspire me to explore my own truth as honestly. In a culture that I find to be very different from my mother’s or her mother’s before her … a culture where wine is described to our children as “mommy’s juice,” where the messages and memes we share on social media with our girlfriends are so often about alcohol … how we need it in a moment we don’t have it, how we can’t wait to get home to it, how we love sipping it together … where when women once clatched over coffee, they now wash their days away together with wine. It is a smile and wink, not a wince, when a soccer mom in her lawn chair at the game reveals a Dunkin’ cup capped of with a nip or two. It has become OK for it to be so central to our personal cultures … as young women, as lovers, as sisters and daughters, as mothers and friends. It has become so OK that it almost summons more courage to reject it than to give in to it. That truth should challenge us all to ask ourselves, how in the world did we get to such a place? And is it a place we want to stay? I say “we” in that context of our society, here and now. Our personal decision about whether to stay in that place is one, again, that does and will require more courage than it should … until “we” decide to abandon it together. I have not sworn off drinking. I have – like many – done it at different times, an exercise in will or a cathartic purge. I do understand and embrace that, for some, all or nothing are the only options. For me, it is a journey back … to a time when drinking was for fun with friends or a good wish at a wedding or a shot on a dare. It is a journey that I take one less third glass of wine on girls night, one less second glass of wine at a restaurant, one less first glass of wine around my child or other people’s children. It is one less drink when I’m alone, one less sip when I’m alone … at a time. This is working for me. It is working in collaboration with the telling of personal truths to myself, sometimes out loud, and with the setting of daily goals, small as they may be, that serve me, heal me, lift me up and make me feel good … feel happy. If you dare, you will find that you remember the moment when you crossed your own threshold, those moments just before in vivid detail, and those moments just after, strange and new. It is not so much a crossing BACK through that same doorway … but moving toward another door that is opening not far in the distance. It is opening because you have chosen the path in its direction and are preparing yourself to walk through it. Those first few moments on the other side will be just as strange and new. Perhaps a memory as vivid of the last drink I ever take alone awaits me on the other side of one of those doors? Perhaps it does not need to. What matters now, where I am, is moving — one more step and one less sip at a time — in the direction that feels right in this moment — where joy and peace are promised by the journey itself. I wish others who are struggling to keep moving that same peace and joy on their journeys. It is that journey itself, not what we see as the destination, where the meaning lies.

~ Anonymous

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