This blog was publsihed on the HuffPost on July 26, 2016.
For thirty-two years, unless I visit Miami, I never drink. Except for a few isolated incidents of adolescent experimentation, I waited to consume alcohol until I went to college. At the end of my freshman year, I realized two things: whenever I drank, I got so smashed I became weak in the knees, and regardless of how much I drank, I never had a hangover. I’d heard these were both early signs of alcoholism. While always drinking to excess might have been an indication of bad things to come, there is no scientific data that proves a lack of hangovers is anything but a genetic quirk. But at nineteen it concerned me enough to make me give up partying. Afterward my drinking consisted of a glass of wine with dinner a few times a year.
There was one notable exception. When I was twenty-three, alone after a bad break-up, I drank about one-third of a bottle of alcohol, a brown substance given to me by someone who didn’t know me very well. When I casually mentioned this to my mother, she excoriated me both for drowning my sorrow in booze and for drinking alone. She firmly instructed me never to do either again, and I haven’t.
After five years of drinking only an occasional glass of wine and that one night of post break-up drunkenness, I indulged in two-thirds of a bottle of cheap champagne with a man I was dating. The next day I wondered why I’d bothered and decided to keep my drinking to a sip or two for toasts on special occasions. That remained my consistent pattern for the next twenty-eight years. I kept wine for guests but never had any desire to drink it myself.
My choice to not drink was easy. Sometimes after a rough day at work, I’d long for a soothing cocktail. The desire itself seemed like a good reason not to follow through, so I never did. Dating sober was sometimes an issue. Occasionally dates inquired why I wasn’t drinking. They didn’t always understand my choice in the absence of a previous problem with alcohol or prohibitive religious convictions. “I just don’t like to drink” didn’t consistently satisfy curious minds. I’ve had more than one man express surprise that I was “fun” even though I wasn’t drinking. This always seems strange to me. Of course I’m fun, I think to myself.
I decided to revisit my youthful decision when I turned fifty-two. I wanted to explore its soundness, and I waited for a safe drinking opportunity. It came when I visited Miami for a bar mitzvah that fall. During the three days of religious services and celebration, I hung out with several casual friends. At midnight on the first night, four of us hung out poolside at my hotel. Relaxing with my pals on a balmy, 100-degree night seemed like the perfect atmosphere for my first drink after three decades. I chose a thirty-two dollar pear martini, and I got so drunk I had trouble walking. My friends made sure I got to my hotel room safely. The four of us sat by the pool the next day along with a deposed prince I’d met in the elevator and his boyfriend. We shared a “bucket of booze”—literally a bucket-sized margarita. My three pals and I were careful to drink moderately since we were heading to the bar mitzvah later that afternoon. One of them was keen to be my drinking guide. For six hours after the service, he presented me with a different drink every hour, along with a glass of water he insisted I drink as well. The post–bar mitzvah party involved voluminous amounts of alcohol, great food, and constant dancing. I had the time of my life. I didn’t get drunk that night or have a hangover the next morning, probably because of all the water I drank.
Back at home two days later, I faced a couple of startling realities. I’d gained an alarming amount of weight—I hadn’t known alcohol was so fattening. Distressed and appalled, I decided that the partying had not been worth the weight gain. Worse yet, I craved alcohol for a week. I didn’t understand the cravings, but I found them disturbing. I had no regrets about my boozy weekend, but it seemed wise, except for an occasional toast, to remain alcohol free. I’d learned what I needed to—my youthful decision to avoid alcohol had been a smart one.
For the next four years, I told anyone who asked that I only drink when I’m in Miami. Recently I attended the bar mitzvah of the second child of the same family. I hung out with my three friends again, and the night before the bar mitzvah I indulged in another midnight cocktail, a cosmopolitan. But I refrained from drinking for the rest of the weekend. I didn’t crave alcohol or find I’d increased a dress size once I returned home.
The third child of that family will celebrate her bat mitzvah in a couple of years. I won’t have a drink until then. The decision I made thirty-two years ago was a good one. I don’t miss alcohol or see any reason to start drinking now. And my craving four years ago spooked me. But I do plan to have a midnight cocktail with my friends in two years because, as I like to say, I drink in Miami.