About two and a half years ago when Jon first moved into my tiny apartment in LA we began consuming alcohol and coffee in very large quantities on a very daily basis. I don’t think either of us had been very big alcohol or coffee drinkers up until that point — I hadn’t so much as sipped either until well after my 22nd birthday — but there was something about the giddiness we felt when we were around each other that brought out the naughty juvenile in both of us. We have in common a rather stringent Mormon upbringing which forbid us the enjoyment of alcohol or any hot, caffeinated beverage, and I think we went about drinking both together like bandits, relishing with flagrant naï¿½vete the sinful buzz brought on by liquids that will drown the soul to hell.
I’d be terrified to see an x-ray of my liver because when I say that we began drinking on a very daily basis, I mean very daily, more daily that just your normal, average daily. We drank alcohol every day, multiple times during the day, multiple drinks multiple times during the day. And we never consumed beer or cider or anything that would require more than one refill in order to get a stinking buzz. We drank bourbon on the rocks or straight shots of tequila or double vodka martinis. We drank on empty stomachs, before sundown, often after vigorous workouts before re-hydrating with water. I’m quite certain that during those workouts anyone standing next to us could smell the bourbon seeping out of our pores.
Drinking as much as we drank wasn’t necessarily the smartest or healthiest way of living, although it did make watching the first installment of “American Idol” a deeply spiritual, highly interactive experience. Life was really complicated at the time — there was job loss, there was depression, there was divorce; there were friends who weren’t supportive, friends ending unwanted pregnancies, and friends overdosing on drugs; there was marriage and moving and more job loss. There was drinking out of styrofoam cups in my mom’s basement to hide the sin and drown the depression. More than anything else there were hangovers — aching, screaming, gut-eating hangovers — that lasted weeks, even months at a time. I don’t think we were necessarily using the drinking to escape from the complications; it served as more of a diversion, like watching TV or listening to music, and it was something we really enjoyed doing together. Rarely ever did we drink alone.
All of our drinking including most of the excessive coffee consumption abruptly ended last May when we found out I was pregnant. Jon showed his solidarity by joining me in abstinence, although he really had no choice if he wanted to sleep in our bed. If he even so much as hung out with someone who was drinking a beer I was able to smell it in his hair and would dry heave for the next several hours. Alcohol was surprisingly one of the easiest habits I’ve ever had to give up, much easier than kicking a nasty Diet Dr. Pepper addiction I had my senior year in college when I would refill a 64-oz mug three-four times a day. I think there should be a scientific study on the effectiveness of first trimester nausea on alcoholism rehabilitation, because the three-month hangover of early pregnancy hormones completely rid me of the desire to risk waking up in that condition ever again. And by that condition I mean the one in which I wake up hunched over the toilet with my toes sticking out my nose, the room spinning diagonally to the rhythmic beat of acid inching up my esophagus. I’d be willing to go through that mess again to bring a life into this world, and it seems utterly pointless to go through it otherwise.
Once I was well into my second trimester and able to smell soap or air without experiencing painful face contortion, I encouraged Jon to begin having the occasional cocktail. I figured that there was no reason he couldn’t come home from a hard day at work and relax with a delicate gin and tonic. I’ve had an occasional glass of wine, and we’ve both shared sips of Baileys Irish Cream with the dog, but I honestly experience no yearning for the way we used to drink. In fact, I find it much harder to resist grabbing entire facefuls of Nacho Cheese Doritos than I do a bourbon on the rocks with lime, my most favorite drink in the whole wide world. An open package of Crispy M&M’s poses a much larger threat to my baby than a bottle of tequila on the countertop.
A few weeks ago we went to a nearby liquor store to restock our vodka and gin so that Jon could have that occasional after-work cocktail. We hadn’t been to a liquor store in nearly six months, a marked change from the schedule we kept last winter when we would go to the liquor store every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And for the first time in six months we experienced an alcohol-induced headache when the cashier refused to sell my husband alcohol because HIS PREGNANT WIFE WASN’T CARRYING AN ID. Only after I pointed out that in the check-out line next to ours a man was purchasing whiskey while in the company of his seven year old daughter, who obviously WASN’T CARRYING AN ID, and flashing my blindingly white belly in his face did he relent and let Jon purchase a bottle of vodka.
After that experience and the past several months of waking up feeling like a human being I can honestly say that being sober certainly does have its advantages, the most prominent of which is being sober. Memories are more vivid; arguments are no longer arguments but a level-headed working through of things; the dog is no longer tormented by the loud, slurred Southern accent. Perhaps the best side-effect of this sobriety, however, is the possibility of a humiliation-free New Year’s Eve, one which won’t be spent puking on the beach or puking in the bed or puking out the window of the car in the middle of the freeway. For the first time in six years I will have enough of my wits about me to celebrate the holiday in its true spirit, hopeful for the year ahead, excited about the life inside of me that has taught me more about empathy and responsibility and love and forgiveness than any empty bottle ever could.