30 Days of Sobriety: The Good, The Bad, and Remembering The Ugly

rocky horror picture show party eric barry

After they brought the wine out at my grandpa’s wake.

It’s been 30 days since I last consumed alcohol. During these 30 days my body and mind have gone through a number of transformations, and I’m still unsure of what to do with it all.

I’ve been waking up on a Saturday mornings, my body consumed with an unrelenting foreign feeling. “Ughhhh. Ahhh. Man. WHY AM I SO REFRESHED??? I need to like, go for a hike or something. Jesus, it’s 6:29 a.m.”

When I told myself it was time for a break, it was really time for a break. A significant relationship of mine had been sent into a tailspin, in part because of the people we became when we drank. My checking account was fast approaching zero, with no means to buy food or pay for rent. Despite a pretty strict workout regimen, I was tipping the scales at 225 lbs. I needed to refocus my priorities, and it’s hard to focus on anything when you’re drunk.

But in San Francisco, it’s very hard to cut alcohol out of your diet. Drinking is encouraged at every social gathering, and in most cases centers around it. Wanna run a 12k? Great, wrap this fish around your junk and grab a 40.

Every opportunity to not drink became an exceptional opportunity to drink. “But how many times a year is it _____’s birthday? But how many times a year is it the 4th of July? But how many times a year will so-and-so be in town? But how many times a year is it Sunday?”

But my relationship was important to me, and as it was crumbling before me I thought that taking some drastic action could perhaps salvage it. In the final days of our relationship, I never told her that I wasn’t drinking. I didn’t want the success of our relationship to hinge on whether or not one of us might have an issue with alcohol, nor did I want the success of my sobriety to hinge on the success of our relationship. In the end, it seemed the wiser choice.

Three nights sober and my roommates and I decide to meet another potential roommate out at a bar to get to know him better. After ordering water all night, two of my roommates comment on how they’re “shocked” that I didn’t order any alcohol. It’s a Wednesday night and it’s been three days since I’ve drunk, and that was their reaction. Jesus.

Four nights sober, and I had a migraine headache that would not quit. Granted, this was the same night as my breakup, but I became convinced I was going through booze withdrawal. I cannot remember the last time I had a headache that wasn’t the direct result of the prior night’s drinking, and this one was pretty excruciating.

The first weekend sober is always the hardest. The first weekend is when you’re faced with whether you want to really commit to this, or let it all go now, which is certainly the easier, more fun choice. Dancing, karaoke, talking to women – everything  immediately becomes harder in the absence of booze.

It’s not because the booze makes me care less. It’s that alcohol has become part of a routine for me. Dancing feels incredibly naked when one of my hands isn’t occupied by a red plastic cup, carefully adjusting my moves as not to spill. I know what it’s like to approach a bar under the guise of ordering a drink, making conversation with the girl next to me before offering to buy her one as well. Belting out some Human League without turning bright red on the other hand, that is entirely the work of alcohol.

Dating, however, has undoubtedly been the hardest part. Going out to bars, I almost immediately feel defensive, even ashamed when I tell women I’m not drinking. It seems there’s always a wary “Oh… why?” on their part, as if they automatically think I’m either a) an alcoholic, or b) that creepy sober guy who’s going around hitting on drunk women. And when they find out I’m both I’m no better off.

The actual discrepancy in drinks hasn’t even mattered. It’s seemed as though my dates would prefer a scenario where they had six drinks and I had two (making her presumably much more drunk than me), over one where she had two drinks and I had none at all. It’s as if there’s something in the potential for mutual loss of control that’s appealing in the dating scene.

One of the most frustrating things, particularly given my current dire financial straits, has been the awkward moment when it’s come to paying for drinks on the date. The inequity in paying for drinks has been an ongoing frustration of mine, but it’s been magnified in my sobriety. Splitting things 50/50 has always seemed like the right thing to do, but when I’m not drinking it feels particularly strange to keep pulling out my wallet on behalf of the other person. I’ve had three separate dates who sat in the bar for hours after they finished their first drink (which I paid for), as if they were unsure of how to order their second. Meanwhile I kept ordering soda waters for myself, and each time I would return with nothing for them they looked disappointed.

But something positive has happened in my dating life this month, and it’s something I haven’t experienced since I was 19. I had sex with someone for the first time sober. That is to say, that the first time that individual and I had sex, I was sober. It’s been years. And as I expected, it was weird. Not the sex – but the process of “getting there”. She was drunk, and my ability to perceive what wavelength she was on seemed off. Despite the fact that we found ourselves at my place – in my bed watching a movie – I couldn’t tell if she thought we were just friends, or if she was throwing out cues that were imperceptible to me in my sober state.

Naturally because I have no ability to do otherwise, I started talking about how I was feeling. “I like you and I think you’re attractive, but I’m having a really hard time telling how you feel about me.” And it actually worked. There was even an “I don’t want to do anything you don’t want to” and a “Don’t worry, ALL of this is consensual” exchange, which felt like something I had only read about in my Berkeley Feminist Studies course.

Even my corner store guy seems to have noticed my change in drinking habits. He gave me a free bottle of whiskey (okay, Fireball), as if to say, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD BUSINESS HAS COME TO A HALT, PLEASE FALL OFF THAT WAGON!” I keep imagining that I’m going to stop by one day, only to see him boarding up the windows with a “FOR SALE” sign. “My friend, zees beezness cannot sairvive on cohcohnut water ahlone.”

I am an all-around naturally compulsive person. Waiters at restaurants frequently become irritated at just how much water I’ll drink provided they keep filling up the glass. I will easily eat $10 worth of Jack-in-the-Box in under 10 minutes. In my sobriety, Crystal Geyser Sparkling Mineral Water has become my new beer; the carbonation forces me to pace myself when looking for something to imbibe at parties.

Crystal Geyser Mixed Berry Eric Barry Drinking

My Sober Singles profile pic.

Bars on the other hand have made me begun to loathe their policies on ordering soda. The Page, where I’ve been a regular for six years, will still charge me $3.50 for a soda off the gun. We’re talking about carbonated water with a lime in it. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tip on that, but it makes me appreciate how expensive it actually is to be a designated driver or somebody in recovery. If I owned a bar and I knew someone sober was coming in with a date or a group of their friends (all of whom were ordering alcohol), I’d think it’d make sense to forgo the five cents of water + air costs to ensure that the entire group didn’t leave, but I’m no economist.

30 days seems like an awfully long time. But it’s almost nothing when you consider my regular drinking habits during the year. I will generally consume some sort of alcohol six nights a week – be it a couple beers with friends at dinner, or getting full on wasted at a party. Not drinking for a month is really just the equivalent of looking back at the last year and saying I got drunk 2.5 less days per month of that year, which doesn’t seem like all that much.

And that’s probably the most challenging part. Feeling like despite all of this, despite the positivity that I have seen in these 30 days, that it’s still not enough. I’m now down to 204 lbs, but I still have a gut – as my friend said, I still look “chubby”. I’ve been saving an assload of money – but I still don’t have an income; for all the money saved on booze I still had to pay rent on a credit card. I’ve had to process all of my breakup with sober introspection, but a pain still shoots through my heart every time my thoughts wander to it.

It makes me wonder if it’ll ever be enough. Will there be “enough” not drinking. I’m most certainly planning on drinking again, and hey – guess whose birthday is coming up! But should I ever land that dream job, six-pack abs, and the world’s perfect girlfriend, will that all go away the second I take a sip of a beer?

Every time I go out with friends – who are still incredulous that anyone in San Francisco could go 30 days without drinking – they keep congratulating me, as though not drinking is something to feel really good about. As though I’ve earned some AA chip without ever having been nor particularly wanting to go. But does that mean it was a problem when I was drinking alcohol, and if so, how can it feel good to be faced with correcting a problem that others don’t have? It’s like saying “I feel really good about removing this tumor”, when really, you wish you never had the tumor in the first place.

Blugh. Someone get me a diet Fanta. Also, someone please spot me $3.50.
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This week’s podcast: A great conversation about sex with Jacky Joy & Sexy News

About Eric Barry

Eric Barry is a Chicago comedian, writer, and creator of Full Disclosure, voted "Best Sex-Positive" podcast by the Chicago Reader. He holds a B.A. in Theater & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley, and his work has been featured on Huffington Post, Cosmo, SF Chronicle, and more. He is currently working on developing a pilot based off his time in the sex work industry.

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