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Drinks in the City

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If you are like me, the former fedora wearer, and many of the other people I have spoken to about their drinking, you may eventually get bored of sobriety and leap off the wagon and back into the night—Geronimo! Because unless you are a real alcoholic, who makes an actual and undisguisable mess out of things when under the influence, it is very hard to convince yourself and everyone around you that the dry life is more fun, more rewarding, more New York, than one more round.

Danielle had been a dedicated drinker her entire adult life. “I drank with abandon for kind of 30 years,” she says. “I’ve been single for a long time, and I’ve always gone out. I was married for a brief period but otherwise going out probably every night of my life for as long as I can remember.” She would drink with friends and colleagues and on dates and with strangers. “I needed to eat dinner, and if I didn’t have a plan, I’d just go sit at a bar and have a few drinks and eat there, and then pretty soon I’d be talking to somebody and have a few more drinks, and before you knew it . . . ”

Danielle is a successful designer, but her own apartment never felt like a place to hang out. “I’ve lived alone in a really small space for a long time. There’s only so much time I can spend in that room, and then I’ve got to go out,” she says. On a moderate evening, she would share a bottle of wine with her dinner companion; on a more liquid night, she’d share two or three and then drink some more at a bar. “It didn’t affect me. I got up and I went to work and I didn’t feel bad. And everybody else was doing the same thing.”

Sometimes you find yourself waking from a liquid night to a world swimming with questions: What did I say? Where is the Alka-Seltzer? Is there something wrong with the way I drink?

She has always been a successful person—smart, efficient, attractive, dry-witted. Danielle never found her life particularly soggy from all the alcohol, and she would take a month off from drinking every year just to be sure. “That was how I let myself know that I was in control.”

But ultimately, she did start to feel herself edging off course. “I read an article somewhere, I think it was Jane Fonda who said something about being an older woman slurring her words, and it just rang; it struck a chord in my head. I thought, I really do not want to be a 50-year-old woman slurring my words at a cocktail party. That is truly unattractive.” So she attended a six-week program at Hazelden, a daily ten-person group therapy that met in the evenings. “It was always in my head that I would quit for a year, and then I would reassess it and decide where I wanted to go,” she says. “Do I want to stay with this life, or do I want to go back to the old life? And that’s kind of what I’m dealing with now. The thing is that it’s hard to replace that drinking time with something else productive. Which is really better for you? Stay home and watch a lot of television or go out and be socializing and talking to people?”

Danielle has been attempting to practice moderation while hanging out with her old drinking crowd. “You really sit and watch the evening take a turn,” she says. “When it starts to go into this other zone, you leave.”

It isn’t easy. “If you get me around a margarita party, watch out,” she says. “When you get the buzz and you just feel like you want to get higher and higher and you just want the party to never end . . . That kind of high is fabulous. I don’t get that anymore.” She laughs in a way that suggests that little about this is actually funny for her. “I miss the lows as much as the highs—that up-and-down, the kick of it. Everything is very predictable now. And my life has never been like that.”

To bolster her vigilance, Danielle attends AA meetings, but obviously, she never reveals that she still drinks. “They would say, ‘You’ve got a problem’ or ‘You’re just in denial.’ I think it’s very short-sighted and narrow-minded. But I guess historically the AA people say that moderation doesn’t work. I am not convinced.”

For me, moderate drinking has been going moderately well. Having a few cocktails has felt sort of like having lunch with an ex—all the things that used to seem so alluring and destructive are somehow neutralized now that we’re not really together anymore.

But in a way, it’s the worst of both worlds. You don’t get that wacky ultralucid superhealth that comes from complete sobriety, nor do you get the blast of madness that comes from unbridled boozing. One of the the things I like about drinking is that it makes people go a little cuckoo. Pour enough liquor on a conversation with a colleague and Shazam! You have a gossipfest. Add margaritas to a sweaty night in July, and suddenly everything is swirling and sultry and you find yourself falling achingly in love with the dirty city that surrounds you. Meanwhile, moderation is just that: moderate.

As my similarly reformed best friend puts it, “You don’t get to wake up and call all your friends and say, ‘What the hell happened?!’ You know what happened. You had a few drinks, you talked to some girl on the way to the bathroom, you shook hands with your comrades, and then you went to bed.”

Fortunately, drinking is a pliant ex. When you’re lonely or revving to go or just bored, you know you can always bring the old times back. You may just see him socially now, but you know he’d take you back anytime. And sometimes you let him.


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