Most of my memories of being a drunk are of the bad times. Tales of my woefully embarrassing public (and private) alcohol-fueled crap-shows are burned into my brain on a pre-recorded loop, one that I push play on and verbally spit out whenever my wasted past comes up in conversation. I talk about being a drunk a lot -- I find that it helps me stay on track with sobriety and gives others the comfort and space to share their own stories.
As I reflect upon my ninth Thanksgiving as a sober person, I remember that it is this time of year that actually makes me miss drinking. It doesn’t make me miss being a drunk -- just a blurry snapshot of my terror includes but is not limited to: kicking my best friend out of my apartment and waking up having no recollection of doing it; waking up midday after a bender to find dried blood stuck to a gash on my arm with no knowledge of the origins of the injury; and while seemingly quite humorous on paper but mortifying in real life, I was once kicked out of Coyote Ugly for refusing to put my shoes back on. At 2 p.m. on a Sunday.
But for every “I was a terrible person” drunk story I have, there is an equally awesome, super fun-time drunk story to go along with it. Especially during the holiday season, when I pine for those great times booze and I had. I mean, I didn’t start out a miserable drunk -- I ended up one. It was fun ride to the bottom -- I lived the life of the partying, unabashed crown-wearing drama royalty, self-destructing jerk. But even the bottom was fun momentarily, because when you have given up all attempts at being a tactful human, you can ride addiction like a slip n’ slide, skidding out of control while being so wasted you can’t even be embarrassed for yourself.
I live in the city I grew up in, so Thanksgiving for me used to mean heading out to the bar after all of the family stuff went down, meeting up with my old friends and visiting and mingling with the people I was currently partying with so we could continue partying. It was like a high school or college reunion, but populated by people I went out with, played in bands with, and saw out at shows. We would get drunk at our favorite bar, walk to our next favorite bar, fall into another favorite bar, and usually end up at someone’s house for an after-party of more drinking and then an after-after party of even more drinking -- or drugs, if you were a member of that sort of exclusive clique.
(I never joined the local cocaine club because, even as an alcoholic, I knew myself well enough to know that I would do that stuff until it killed me. And while I may have been interested in drinking myself into a farcical, self-imposed oblivion, I surely wasn’t going to die snorting something off the back of a toilet. I held my alcoholism in high esteem -- not only was I a drunk, I was a judgmental one.)
These holiday drinking times were some of my all-time favorite drinking times -- an old pal from Chicago would inevitably show up and take us all to the strip club. Or our favorite local band might be playing a basement show somewhere and we would all rally in someone’s backyard, huddling together to take advantage of the imaginary heat from our cigarettes, talking and catching up on all the things we were doing during the rest of our non-holiday twenty-something lives.
When you give up drinking as a social butterfly alcoholic, one of the things you may not think about is the realization that you also have to give up chasing the party high. I’m not talking about the drink or drug itself -- I’m talking about that itch to find the next spot to drink and commiserate and have late night post-bar dance parties in someone’s living room. Chasing the party always seemed extra fun when it was a holiday -- new and old faces made it into the mix and maybe you would have the opportunity for a hook-up or hours-long conversation with someone new. Sometimes a friend would be housesitting and we’d get to party inside a stranger’s bourgie home that we could never afford to set foot in otherwise.
Even just being at the bar together was great entertainment -- if you’ve ever been a regular at a bar, then you know the members-only atmosphere that’s created when you and your friends stake your claim on a place. We had many “home bars” that treated us too well -- bartenders that would let us drink all night and then hand over a tab at 2 a.m. that simply read “$10.00.” A $50.00 tip would be the answer and we would keep drinking as they scrubbed pint glasses and restocked liquor bottles. We had ownership of the jukebox and corner booths reserved for us. We had unofficial drink specials and megaphone-like announcements made when another old friend would walk into our clubhouse.
Now that I don’t drink -- and I haven’t for a long time -- this time of year isn’t quite so special. That’s not to say that celebration and reconnection only happens when you’ve got a beer in one hand and a shot in the other. But after a nice time with my family and a hearty but stressful meal has been prepared, shared, packed up in Tupperware, and sent home with the relatives, there is nothing quite like unwinding on a makeshift dance floor with old friends.
But a little part of me misses that Purple Hooter shot and pint glass full of equal parts Absolute Mandarin and soda waiting for me on a bar top somewhere on Broadway. I even miss waking up feeling like poop the next day, because leftover Thanksgiving always tastes better when you’re hung-over. (Besides, you’ll need the fuel to make it through another night of drinking with old friends who don’t come to town that often anymore.)
Yes, sobriety affords all of these same kinds of opportunities -- no one is locked out of a social circle just because they can’t do a shot with you anymore. But now when all the turkey day festivities come to a close, I usually just go to bed. Most of the time, it feels okay.