It's 4:15 pm on a Friday afternoon. It's the peak of summer, and I've just arrived at the bar.
Happy hour has started, and as everyone takes their seats I can't help but observe the wet, cold beads of condensation crawling down a glass of IPA at the table next to us.
Fuck, I want a beer.
My mesmerized silence is interrupted when the waitress comes around. “What can I get for you?” she asks. I look at her, then back at the IPA, which is now taunting me. I take a deep breath and answer her.
“I'll just have water, please.”
This is the third time in the past year that I've decided to take a break from drinking. The first time, I lasted three weeks. The second time, only two weeks.
The main reason I decided to quit was because I realized at age 27, the longest I'd ever gone without a sip of alcohol in the last 10 years was maybe five days. I don't know about you, but I think that's kind of messed up.
The other reasons? Well, let's just say these “reasons” are more like head-hanging tales of utter embarrassment and shame. The bottom line was I wanted to prove to myself I could live without booze. That I didn't need it or feel pressured to have it. “This should be easy,” I told myself with smug confidence.
Clearly, it wasn't.
I actually made up a word for that feeling you get on a Friday night, right when you're about to hit the sauce. You know that feeling, right? When you've planned a night out with your friends, and know that soon enough your worries will dissipate, anxiety will become a ghost and you'll no longer care about tomorrow.
I've come to call this feeling “frill," a play on the words "Friday" and "thrill." I use it to depict the uncanny excitement felt every Friday afternoon, when you know you're about to fuck shit up. It's kind of like a mini vacation from your issues.
The problem is, if you've ever gotten to the point I'm at now, you realize if you go far enough, this is the type of vacation you don't come back from.
There have definitely been times I've resisted my frill successfully. I'll go out, have a few beers, indulge my buzz and remember everything about my walk home. I'll make a pizza pocket, pass out and wake up to a sense of relief and elation.
But most of the time, I wake up with a wicked headache and the same question pounding in my head: What the fuck happened?
One time I woke up alone to a smoke-filled apartment. Head spinning, I searched the house for evidence, opened the oven and found a Deluxe Delissio pizza, still burning from the night before.
One time I got so drunk I almost tumbled into the fire. My friend pulled me back and instead of thanking her, I laughed and yelled at her. Classy.
Whatever the story was, it all led me to the same inevitable lesson. After you've made enough alcohol-related mistakes, you get to a point where you're sick of saying sorry. The word has lost all meaning to me now.
I'm sorry you had to pick up the bill last night. I'm sorry I raised my voice at the bar. I'm sorry I made out with your ex-boyfriend. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
One pitiful apology after another, a sky-high stack of shameless confessions, all for things I'd never consciously dreamt of doing. I felt like I was a publicist in constant crisis communications mode – covering the back of some damaged person that couldn't stop making mistakes.
When I finally got sober, I realized how easy life actually is. Mornings could actually be pleasant. The beginning of every day didn't have to feel like death. And problems that used to seem insurmountable now seem like minor obstacles.
For so many years, I was bogged down with the aftereffects of booze. I spent my days trudging reluctantly through work, managing to do the bare minimum until the day would end. Then I could have my next drink and everything would feel easy again.
It was like I was plodding through quicksand and the only way to move forward was to dilute the sand with more booze. My arms and legs moved quicker but inevitably, the sand would dry, and I would always need more alcohol to feel free again.
But what I'm realizing now is the cycle is a trap. It's a temporary solution to a problem that never ends.
I've done a lot of researching, both through reading and conversations with friends, and I've come to conclude a lot of people our age are in the same boat right now. It seems like we've all been riding this wild wave of recklessness that we started to surf while playing drinking games in university, but the wave is finally crashing.
Gone are the days of tequila shots prior to every social event. Red cups, cinnamon-flavored whiskey and 2 am McDonald's runs have been effectively replaced by pinot noir tastings, house-warming parties and mini quiches.
We're growing up guys, and as our relationships change, our relationship with alcohol has to change too.
I do think it's possible to become this person. To become the person who can have a few glasses of wine, laugh and chat eloquently with strangers, then take a cab home at midnight.
But like anything, it's going to take some practice. For me, it's going to take a lot of practice. But the point is: This is the fork in the road.
When you enter your late twenties, if the blackouts seem to happen more frequently and you're unhappier than ever, you have to ask yourself what road you want to take. Do you want to become the responsible adult? Or do you want to be the last partier standing?
The choice is inevitably up to us as individuals, but I think we should really talk about it more. This is a pinnacle time in adulthood; our brains are developing differently, our tolerances levels are lower, our parents are getting older and our problems are bigger than mid-term papers and social hearsay.
When it comes to alcohol, I think there should be an open dialogue about how we move forward, how we prevent ourselves from falling between the cracks.
It's the perfect time to fall victim to our frill. So let's talk about drinking, look out for each other and make sure we don't.