I’m staring at my five-year-old child, amazed at how long it takes to get dressed into pajamas for bedtime.
Or really, how well he stalls at the activity.
“Ms. Allie said that we don’t have to go to school tomorrow, that we can fake being sick if we want to,” is the response I receive after instructing him to go get his toothbrush.
“She did, huh?” my husband responds. The next night, after the kid went to a full day of school, I learn the boys have schemed for us to watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day off,” the 1980s classic movie that features an extremely charismatic teenage boy skipping school, fooling the mean principal Mr. Rooney, and gallivanting around the city of Chicago with his best friend and girlfriend.
A sucker for movies that comfort me, and this surely was one of them, I was all in. We put the toddler down to bed after he demanded half of his brother’s ice cream sandwich, and watched Ferris, Cameron, and Sloan rule the windy city.
This January, I participated in the trendy “Dry January” that began in the United Kingdom a number of years back. Abstaining completely from alcohol. A reboot after the holidays. A mental cleanse. Relearning how to alleviate stress and work without one’s preferred glass of booze.
Removing the wine or beer from my diet has not been physically difficult. I would consider myself to be a somewhat “normal” drinker, although, I have been drinking more to relieve stress during the holidays and to relieve…motherhood…than I think I should. I enjoyed drinking socially. That was the most uncomfortable part of this journey for me: learning to be comfortable around other people drinking without a drink in my hand.
Because I know it makes people who are drinking uncomfortable. Because I know they immediately start reflecting on their own drinking when someone else says they are doing Dry January. Because I know I am less likely to receive invites to social events that include drinking. Because are we even fun if we don’t drink? Because they surely know that I am expecting baby number three because I’m not drinking. Because they are wondering if I had a secret big drinking problem before, and because what exactly makes it a drinking problem and do they have a secret big drinking problem themselves?
Because, all the things.
I really enjoyed Dry January and that’s been refreshing. I visited my best friend of 25 years in Phoenix and experienced laughing fits and inappropriate phrases and dancing hip rocking to retrieve balloons from ceilings all while being as sober and carefree as a hyper pre-schooler. I’ve been in more patient moods with my husband and kids. I’ve attended dinners and birthday parties (where drinks are always involved) and had genuinely good times. I’ve had some really good sex. I’ve had some really good sleep. I’ve ventured out to a neighboring city with both my young kids to have lunch with a new friend who I had kept promising I would come see. I willingly took my two young boys out to lunch. By myself.
I had a super deep conversation and tearful conversation with someone extremely important to me. I’ve lost a few pounds and have better skin and eyeballs. I do keep finding grey hairs but that is beyond my control. I let my hairdresser take the wheel on that one.
Completely abstaining has created an awareness of noticing alcohol and its permeation everywhere. In a large volume of Insta-stories. In the aisle bookend of Target in aluminum cans labeled “Day-drinking Lager.” In commercials with two young dudes, cracking Saturday morning beers and the brewery asking the viewer to make them their “Saturday Morning Beer.” I wasn’t aware we needed to choose a Saturday morning beer?
I also take more notice of everything around me, not just alcohol. People’s intolerance of one another in traffic, on social media. A general feeling of sadness, or despair as we go through the daily repetitions of our lives. A sensation that something is missing, something really important, something we can all feel but can’t quite pin down.
So there we are, cuddled together on our old couch, watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He grasps every adventure possible. He wills his stubborn and sick best friend out of bed, pours himself iced tea in a fancy poolside pineapple glass, sneaks his girlfriend out of school, dines as Abe Froman at a fancy French joint sipping iced water from a wine glass, attends a Cubs game, chants “hey bata-bata-bata sawing batter,” catches a fly ball, stars in a parade, recovers Cameron from a catatonic state while eating Oreos and drinking a Pepsi (not the healthiest choices but also not booze), witnesses his best friend breaking down emotionally over the state of his relationship with his father, allows the pain to come out, observes as the friend releases his anger on his father’s perfectly restored Ferrari, and races through back yards to beat his parents back to his room.
My point in this recap is the man-child did all of this one hundred percent completely sober. Sure, it’s a dramatization of what a day off of school (or work) can look like. Sure, it took a lot of creative writers and talented actors to make it happen. But the point is, the movie was a smashing success because of the purity of the human spirit depicted in every scene without the need for the addictive substance being always within arm’s reach, like a child’s teddy bear they cannot do without.
What I have come to slowly realize over the course of the last six weeks is this: I was under the illusion that alcohol was helping me when it was hurting the good in me. It’s fooling me into believing it must be present—at all times—to have fun and to feel alive. To feel safe and comfortable. To feel courageous and brave. Why is it that we’re afraid to learn that without it?
So, when Dry January ended and we entered into the following month, I have dubbed it Merry February. Perhaps the next month will be Mocktail March. Let us continue taking life as it reveals itself and trusting the visceral feeling of freedom that comes with learning to be our full selves again. Maybe we will come to realize it’s okay to do things differently than we used to and these decisions allow us to catch the shooting stars hidden behind the clouds of a dark night.
It is also one hell of a reason to re-examine Ferris’ sentiment:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
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