I Quit Drinking and the World Didn’t End

December 15, 2015: (right) There’s a chance that this glass of Champagne is the last drink I’ll ever have. (left) On the iPad, a messy set of notes and little scenes for an essay I am writing about gender. I’m showing you raw copy, which feels like I’m appearing before you naked while confessing every bad thing I’ve ever done.

One night when I was drinking less, but before I had my final drink, I went to a dinner party where when I arrived the other guests had already polished off three bottles of red wine. Everyone started giving me a hard time about whether I’d seen a doctor about my visible skin condition, as if I was not trying to get better or too stupid to seek out expert advice. Their version of concern seemed like they didn’t believe I was able to make the best decisions for my own body. As the evening progressed, I had an uncomfortable feeling that I was at a meal with extended family right before a narcissistic uncle starts belittling his scapegoat son, but I pushed through because maybe I was drawing a false comparison. Perhaps I was just being sensitive and crazy because I was sober. I should have trusted my gut though.

As I was leaving, one person said to me, “Let’s meet when you’re drinking again.” I felt a searing rage tear through me and I wanted to say, well, bitch, I’m probably never drinking again, so I guess we’ll meet never. I went home and texted a friend who had stopped drinking for seven months to ask him how he dealt with this kind of thing. His advice was along the lines of they can just fuck off. (I should start a line of products inscribed with “They Can Just Fuck Off”, my version of the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets.)

A few weeks later, on December 15, I had my last drink on a flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. I’d been dry for a few weeks, but a flight attendant gave me Champagne to thank me for photographing her with one of her friends. I decided to accept to see how the alcohol affected me. Because science, right? Shortly after I drained the glass, body ached and my kidneys were like wtf is wrong with you? I knew it was time to stop. I don’t have a harrowing rock bottom story to tell. There are no epic tales of shitting the bed, dropping a baby down a well while drunk, or ugly crying while kicking an unconscious kitten. I made it through the holiday season on hot water, tea, long naps, and the desire to be well.

Though I’d always preferred french fries to chocolate, my sober self wanted to eat candy all the time. I started craving cake, which I don’t even like that much; I’d rather have a bacon burger slathered with ketchup and topped with mushrooms. Every day at three o’clock, I went in search of a sweets fix. I drenched everything in maple syrup. While watching Deadpool, I ate a family-sized bag of gummy candies, which ripped through my intestines. Even then, I wasn’t ready to make another change. I felt like garbage, but the vampire voice in my head begging me to feed was so loud. Finally, when my new doctor told me I had to quit sugar I followed her instructions and read a stack of books about nutrition and healing. The detox process was painful — I’ll write about this in detail in the future — but I began to feel better.

Fast forward seven months: the same person who hadn’t wanted to hang out unless I was drinking waited until I left a dinner to tell a group of people “Doretta looks like shit.” The skin on my face was red and peeling from a severe allergic attack after accidentally eating something that had nutritional yeast in it. I had nearly passed out on the street during this episode. When I heard that she had said this, I felt white hot anger tingle from the top of my head down to my toes. My hands were so cold I couldn’t move them. When I stopped for a moment to ask myself why I was having this strong, borderline unreasonable reaction, I realized that I wasn’t angry at her. I was pissed at myself for dragging out a friendship that quashed my spirit, that did nothing to make me thrive as a human being. I decided I no longer had to be her friend, even if this hurt her feelings. My emotions mattered too, and I was tired of putting her well being before my own.

There was no need for drama. I had nothing to say to this person that would improve either of our lives. I blocked her on my phone, e-mail, and all social media. I took a deep breath in, and as I breathed out, I sent out a wish that her suffering ends and she finds happiness. Every platitude? I felt it right then. I was a full-out greeting card aisle at that moment. Peak earnest! Her friendship had taught me something, but now it was clutter that needed to excised from my life. (I love me some Marie Kondo.) This action to release her into the world was not callous, just like donating a book I’ve read and no longer need to the library isn’t a cruel act. It is wasteful to hold onto something that serves no purpose. Then I sat down to make a gratitude list, thanking all the people who have swaddled me with love and support as I thrash through each day. Right after this I felt an incredible lightness, the most intense, pure joy I’ve ever felt. For the first time in my life, I’d chosen myself.