On July 12, 2010, I had my last drink. It was a glass of cheap pinot grigio. I was alone in the room I was renting in a Chelsea, Manhattan apartment, hiding from my roommates and the world, blearily wishing I were somewhere else and someone else.
OK, it wasn’t a glass. It was a bottle. Well, darling, a bottle of wine is only four glasses. If I’m 100% truthful, it was a magnum bottle (still only eight glasses), and I don’t remember whether I finished it or not. Blackouts are murder on the memory.
Cheap white wine is not a poetic choice for a last drink. Had I known it was going to be the final one, I would have chosen something more elegant or symbolic: two fingers of 25-year-old Macallan Sherry Oak single malt scotch, maybe, or a flute of fabulous French Veuve Clicquot champagne; perhaps a shot of really cheap, gritty Mexican tequila with the worm to chew on. My last gulp of booze is only remarkable because it was the last.
Drinking was something that helped me a lot. My whole life, I felt different and apart from other people. I could have used a cocktail in kindergarten. I stayed away from drinking and drugs through grade and high school but started dabbling when I moved to New York at 19 to attend a performing arts conservatory. I was terribly insecure, and drinking helped numb the feelings and thoughts that I wasn’t good enough, good-looking enough, talented enough. Alcohol lubricated my social awkwardness as I began navigating men. I was a nervous, gawky, and bungling doofus, but put a couple margaritas in me, and I was sexy and movie-star charming. When I had romantic heartbreaks, gin was a great consolation. When my dreams of an acting career were disappointingly dashed, cheap beer and tequila helped soothe my sadness and self-pity.
I was diagnosed with AIDS in 2003, and drinking helped me deal with that, too. After living through a prolonged hospital stay, indulging in spirits helped me feel like I was still me, HIV status be damned. I could still party with my friends, I could still make them laugh. My through-the-roof viral load and paltry T-cell count couldn’t change that.
By the time I’d gotten to that last glass of pinot G, I’d had a nagging inkling for quite some time that my alcohol consumption was out of control. The last few years of drinking, I would sometimes wake up in strange places that I didn’t remember going to with men I didn’t remember meeting. Or mysteriously have a beat-up face, body covered in scratches and bruises, and bloody clothes, not remembering if I’d been beaten up or fallen down a flight of stairs. I’d sometimes wake to find I’d lost my glasses, phone, wallet, or housekeys. I was also throwing up my guts almost every morning.
The final convincer to stop drinking happened on July Fourth weekend. I was at the Rawhide (a homosexual establishment where day or night, it was always midnight inside) for happy hour with my friend Spike. After a drink or five, we got into a cab to go to another bar. The next thing I know, it’s the next day. I woke up alone in my apartment. I had my phone, wallet, glasses, and keys, so whatever had happened, I was cool. Then I got a surprise phone call from my uber-handsome therapist, Matt, asking if I was OK. Turns out, he’d found me the night before, drunkenly passed out on 9th Avenue in midtown Manhattan, sprawled out with spilled sesame chicken staining my chin and T-shirt. Matt had just happened to be strutting by, recognized me, and kindly ushered me home. The Universe knows I like a little drama—and this real-life scene was a soap-operatic miracle.
Being found passed out on the street made my alcohol problem undeniable. Despite the vivid story of my drunken humiliation, I continued to chug-a-lug for over a week more.
I was scared. I couldn’t fathom what life would be like without booze. Giving it up was like breaking up with a super-hot bad boyfriend: You know you should just make a clean split, but the craving to go back for one last taste is impossible to resist.
I begrudgingly sought out a program for recovering problem drinkers, one that gave me support, suggestions, and tools on how to stay sober one day, one hour, sometimes one minute at a time. That first year without alcohol was a rollercoaster. Sometimes I felt giddy as a teenage cheerleader doing split jumps, and sometimes I was brooding like a moody goth kid smoking Marlboro Reds. Finding a group of drunks-who-don’t-drink gave me a community of people who think just as crazily as I do, who taught me how to handle feelings, and who found and continue to find solutions to problems big and small without looking in a booze bottle.
One benefit I never expected with quitting drinking was discovering spirituality. As a kid growing up Catholic and born-again-evangelical adjacent, I learned that God thought I was an abomination because I’m queer and that I was going to spend eternity in hell. That’s a rough thing for a kid to grow up believing. Since I quit drinking, I’ve learned that if God sends me to hell, it’s only to help redecorate. But seriously, the Higher Power in my life now is much less rigidly defined than the one I grew up with. I consider that Something Else to be much more a verb than a noun, with much more comfy, huggy love than stern and harsh judgement. And my Higher Power is crazy about me.
Ten years after the last lushy gulp, my life is leaps and bounds better. I have my own apartment in Queens, I have true and honest relationships, and I am sober and healthy. But life is far from perfect, and so am I. In the past few months, between the new coronavirus (and the fear, loneliness, and isolation it’s fostered), the cockamamie kook running the U.S. government, and the racism, homophobia, and transphobia that pervade our country, I’ve been tempted to act out and make foolish decisions. I’ve been short-tempered with friends and family. I’ve stuffed my face with more frosted caloric carbohydrate treats since March than in the entire year before. I even walked by a liquor store recently and instinctively, romantically stared at the display window before I realized what I was doing, took a deep breath, and walked away.
It’s nice to have a milestone to celebrate, so I’ll raise a glass of seltzer to the round number 10, my soberversary. Another thing I’ve learned is that we all only have today. Today, because I no longer rely on alcohol as the answer to my problems, I have choices. Today, I no longer wish to be somewhere or someone else. Today, I’m content to be sober, aware, in the moment, and right where my sweetly pedicured feet are meant to be. ¡Salud!