Leap Day is the last day of the Before Times I remember vividly. I drove to the mall to pick up something at Sephora. A huge crowd of families had gathered for an athletic demonstration by former American Ninja Warrior contestants. In Nordstrom, I inhaled a lemon and mint-scented candle that was supposed to remind me of the Amalfi coast. I browsed leather wallets, touching the oversized zippers and snapping the coin pockets closed.
On the way home, I thought, for the thousandth time, I should really cut back on drinking. I thought this even as I pulled into the liquor store parking lot and went inside to buy a bottle of white, a bottle of red, and a bottle of peppermint Schnapps (novelty!).
I drank two glasses of white wine on Saturday night and called my fiancé, who was working a convention in Chicago.
“Is attendance down?” I asked. I’d been following news of a virus in suburban Seattle.
“It’s actually the highest attendance we’ve ever had,” he said.
This seemed vaguely disturbing, so I made hot chocolate with a shot of Schnapps.
I should really cut back, I thought again. My drinking always seemed like a problem for Future Me to solve. Just thinking about dealing with it was stressful enough to justify a little treat for Present Me.
Be Here Now.
Be Here Now with Your Wine.
I have never been a binge drinker. I don’t get hangovers. I won’t regale you with wild drunken tales because I don’t have any. My habit is two glasses of wine a night. I have tried to be a one-glass-of-wine-with-dinner person, but I like to have a glass while I cook, and then one becomes a setup for the punchline of two. Occasionally, two is enough to shut up my inner disciplinarian and I can say what the hell, and have a third, which puts me right to sleep, and then I get to enjoy being awake from 2 to 4am, scrolling Twitter and hating myself, swearing this will never happen again, this time I will learn. You might call this “a pattern.” Or the definition of stupidity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.
During this period I read dozens of addiction memoirs. I underlined sentences that made me feel seen, but also superior: I wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t drinking my breakfast; I wasn’t drinking secretly; I wasn’t blacking out. I read stories of other writers’ rock bottoms to prove to myself I didn’t have a problem, or at least no problem I couldn’t solve by harnessing more discipline and willpower. I resisted sobriety in the same way I politely declined pamphlets from Jehovah’s Witnesses in the subway. The believers had their religion—I had mine.
I believed I had two choices: go to AA (which I’d read a lot about in my alcoholism memoirs) or keep drinking to cover up the stress of wishing I could drink less. I was afraid of getting sober. I know sober people—they are fun and fascinating and creative, my beloved friends. They are also sober for life. It was the level of commitment that freaked me out. I was also freaked out by the idea of admitting I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. I don’t like to admit I’m powerless over anything. And my life was just fine, thank you (except for the, uh, secret shame that showed up at 4am).
Then I heard about Annie Grace, a writer offering a 30-day “alcohol-free challenge to interrupt your habits and help you take control.” When I read this, it was like an arrow aimed straight at my anxiety and my excuses: just 30 days, I could do that! A “challenge”? As an overachiever, I love challenges! My habits definitely needed an interruption. I would try any program that offered a path to regain control.
On Sunday, March 1st, I finished the bottle of white. On Monday, I began my 30 days.
Grace’s method is based around resolving the conflict between our unconscious beliefs (such as alcohol relieves stress) and our desires (I want to drink less). When I started following her exercises, I realized that drinking actually added more stress to my life, because I was constantly calculating how much I would have, setting rules around my drinking, and then beating myself up when my willpower failed.
“If alcohol truly relaxed us,” Grace writes, “wouldn’t we need less of it over time?”
As soon as I stopped drinking wine, I started sleeping better. When I got enough sleep, I noticed I didn’t crave so much carbs and cheese (my two favorite food groups). My mood improved; I wasn’t compulsively replaying things I’d said or written in an email, berating myself for stupid questions or awkward comments. I could stay up later to watch movies with my partner because I was no longer nodding off on the couch from the alcohol.
Day 11 is when the miracle happened: I wrote a poem for the first time in nearly a decade. Reading and writing poetry had been my creative outlet since I was a teenager, but somewhere in my twenties I lost it. I thought I had just grown out of that phase, or maybe my life had stabilized so much (no more dating drama) that I no longer had any material for poems. The gift of poetry on my 11th day of sobriety felt like a chandelier turned on in a haunted ballroom in my brain that no one had danced in in years.
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A week later, the governor of my state, Connecticut, issued a stay at home order. By April, the entirety of my social life was unfolding on Twitter. My alcohol-free experiment coincided with drinking becoming one of the few fun things you could do inside your own home.
“Remember how everyone was gonna stop drinking?” one woman tweeted. Ha ha! “It seems wine o’clock might need to be moved to 9am,” another said. The “quarantini” was born and a grandma in New Jersey went viral on TikTok for giving it a shake shake shake! On my daily walk around the cul de sac, I listened to a podcast that recommended I relax by watching a video of Ina Garten make a pitcher of Cosmos and then pour it into a single-serve martini glass the size of her head. If I’ve been saving a bottle of wine or champagne for a special occasion, the hosts suggested I drink it now—why wait?
Time for a quarantiniii🍸😷
@AviationGin @vancityreynolds pic.twitter.com/l11ZWavFfg
— marilyn starkloff (@MStarkloff) March 12, 2020
By this point, I had become very sensitive to the kind of messages our culture sends about alcohol, especially to women: you’ve had a long day, you deserve it! It’s not drinking alone if the kids are home! Wine is good for you!
I’d spent the past three years researching and writing my novel Self Care, which satirizes the wellness industry. I see “wellness” as diet culture re-branded. Among my millennial feminist peers, it’s taboo to talk about dieting: how much weight you want to lose, how much weight you have lost, how many calories are in a cup of grapes. Every body is a bikini body—just put a bikini on it! But there is no taboo against talking about drinking, or joking about overdoing it. If your tolerance is so high you can keep up with the boys, yasssss queen!
How could I judge people for drinking more during the pandemic? Let’s be real: if I hadn’t committed to my experiment before the stay at home order, I likely would have graduated from white wine to bourbon cocktails.
Oh, did I mention that the main character of Self Care has a drinking problem? (My book editor didn’t think her drinking problem was obvious enough—it was based on my own drinking—so I ramped it up in my next draft.)
I made it to Day 30 and decided to try for another 30 and then another. Ultimately, I went 104 days without drinking alcohol. I wrote 34 poems.
Ironically, I started drinking wine again for the same reason I had avoided abstaining in the first place: because I felt pressured to commit for life. I didn’t want “sober” to become my identity. After 104 days, I felt proud of myself for committing to the experiment and for closely examining, and shifting, my relationship with alcohol. If you had asked me on January 1st if I could go 100 days without drinking a glass of wine, I would have told you the odds were about as likely as me swimming across the English Channel.
After a few weeks of falling back on old habits during the busy time of my novel launch, I am now in a place where I have wine on weekends, and pineapple kombucha on school nights.
I know many women who are committed to a life without alcohol, and on Instagram I cheer on their sobriety milestones. On Instagram, you’ll also find a lot of brands (and influencers) selling programs and products to cleanse, detoxify, and purify your diet/skin/workout/scalp/gut/sleep/life. Underlying all this marketing is the uncomfortable truth that many of us feel bad on a daily basis. We feel toxic. Our bodies and brains are overwhelmed by the stress of the pandemic, financial precarity, racial injustice, political inaction, frustrations over schooling this fall, and uncertainty about the future.
I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t drink right now to manage your stress. I don’t have a program to sell you or a fancy elixir with adaptogens (though I do believe any beverage can be elevated by adding maraschino cherries). I’ve lived online long enough to become jaded and cynical about influencer culture and the rarefied echelons of the wellness industry that sell expensive lifestyle upgrades to the class of Americans that is privileged enough to afford the basics.
I decided to run an experiment to better understand my dependence on alcohol only after I reached the limit of cognitive dissonance I could tolerate. I was tired of thinking one thing and doing another. I was tired of feeling out of control and like I was failing my best intentions. Only you know what cobwebs decorate the dark, echoing ballroom of your mind. No influencer can tell you why you’ve been avoiding that lonely room. Only you can hear the song your body plays when it’s trying to tell you what it needs.
Images: Estrada Anton / Shutterstock.com; leighstein / Instagram; @MStarkloff / Twitter
While I’ve absolutely loved this season of Vanderpump Rules so far,I’ve loved the off-camera drama even more. AKA James Kennedy’s multiple meltdowns between aired episodes, as his life slowly unravels on screen. The latest in this series? An Instagram statement from James Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Georgiou. Before I tear this woman to shreds begin, I’d like to acknowledge her struggle with alcoholism, and put forth my sympathies for how it has affected both her life and the lives of her children. THAT BEING SAID: James Kennedy’s mother has had more than enough time to thoughtfully respond to his behavior, and the fact that this is what she comes up with is halfway between hysterically funny and rage blackout-inducing. Let’s dive in, shall we?
In case you haven’t been avidly watching, here’s a quick recap of James Kennedy this season. He rapped about Jax sleeping with Faith while Brittany was working at SUR, then got drunk and body-shamed Katie at Pride. Lisa promptly fired him from SUR for both his alcohol problem and his treatment of the women who work there. (If you’re on board with the logic of that sentence, congratulations. You’re already miles beyond Kennedy’s mother’s understanding.) In last week’s episode, Lisa Vanderpump met with James’ mother, Jacqueline. We learned that Jacqueline is nine months sober (very sincere congrats!), and struggling to justify her past failures as a mother (also congrats, important step).
On the not-so-great side, she also said James was entitled to his behavior because he was “provoked.” She also told Lisa she “can’t give up on James” because he considers Lisa a “mother figure.” To which Lisa responded, as gently as possible for such an obvious burn: “no, you are his mother figure.”
Next, James doubled down on all his crazy by talking sh*t about the recent deaths of Lala and Jax’s fathers. (A risky move! Do not recommend!) Lala, not to be outdone, screenshotted the VPR scene with James’ mom and posted an Instagram story, captioned like this. “Is this for real? Did this woman actually raise someone?” It’s unclear whether this was the final straw for Jacqueline, but we now have her response.
I’m too lazy to re-type the whole thing You’ve waited long enough, so I’ll put the statement in full here for you to peruse.
Done? Still breathing? Excellent. Many, many comments off the bat from me! In a baffling first move, she begins with the phrase “to whom it may concern.” I understand this is (to an extent) celebrity Notes app protocol, but it’s also a phrase that feels overly formal when used in a cover letter, let alone an Instagrammed picture of a note handwritten on a piece of looseleaf. Also, someone should inform Jacqueline that Notes app exists, because the handwritten aspect makes it that much more upsetting.
Next! It is shocking to me how little anyone even peripherally involved with VPR understands what “feminism” means. And they use the word all the god*mn time! In this instance, Jacqueline accuses Katie of “claim to be a feminist then play victim.” While “playing victim” is generally a bad move, I kind of fail to see what it has to do with “claiming” to be a feminist. Maybe Jacqueline is one of those feminists who believes women showing any kind of weakness detracts from the whole movement, but I think more likely she doesn’t care about feminism or anything really other than continuing her moment of fame. Which will very, very swiftly end if James is not reinstated at SUR.
On this particular incident, she also defends James by saying he “never used the word ‘fat’” (low bar there, Jackie), “nor did he speak to Katie first.” Ok but Jackie!!! Inappropriate comments do not have to come out of a void to be inappropriate. And the fact that you can’t condone, even a little bit, what he did say to Katie makes it impossible to take anything else you might say seriously. Sorry!
On the Kristen/Hope situation, she has a similar take (TL;DR James is blameless, hire him back). Yes, Kristen has a serious problem when it comes to finding people’s past hookups and bringing them to their workplace, but Jacqueline manages to void her criticism on this point too. She refers to it as “harassment (single white female style),” at which point I became incapable of thinking about anything Kristen has done wrong and could only focus on how truly insane this woman is. Also, if all else fails I hope James releases a single titled “harassment (single white female style)”.
The note wraps up with a few more baffling moments, like the mention that “Ms. Doute repeatedly beat the shit out of my son on previous episodes.” (Was it repeatedly? Not that once is okay—just trying to gauge how mentally sound this letter writer is). There’s also “Mother figure…anyone with ½ a brain should know what I meant.” (Lisa did know what you meant! She just wasn’t down for you to offload your maternal responsibility!) She finishes off with a note to “all you judges and jurors,” who she warns “before you speak and give your opinion,” “unless you are living your best ‘Oprah Life’ then SYMFM.” I cannot find backup for this on the internet, strangely, but I can only assume that stands for “shut your mother f*cking mouth.” What “your best ‘Oprah Life’” means, I can’t begin to guess at.
Finally, Jacqueline signs the note like this: “Jacqueline Georgiou/Mother.” Because honestly, after reading through that, you may have been tempted to forget that she’s an adult woman, let alone a mother. I can’t f*cking wait to see James’ response to this, and I can only hope it’s half as savage as me tearing my mother apart in middle school for calling my teacher when I got in trouble. Until the next tweet storm, have a great weekend!
Images: Giphy (3); @jacquelinegeorgiou / Instagram
For the past few weeks, one question has started to haunt me as I watch Vanderpump Rules. No, not “why am I still watching this drivel” (though that’s a close second). Instead, I’m increasingly concerned about Tom Schwartz and his drinking. Don’t get me wrong—I understand that this cast is pretty much contractually obligated to get shitfaced on camera. And I also know that drunken live footage is universally unflattering, and that’s why I don’t let my friends post Insta stories anymore. But even so, Schwartz has been toeing the line between occasionally sloppy party boy and straight-up hard to watch. I did a little digging to see how worried we should be about Schwartz’s drinking.
Part 1: A Brief History of Schwartz’s Drinking
TBH my memories of early Schwartz are as follows: dry spell, panic attack, afraid of commitment. So let’s skip ahead to last season, for which Schwartz was problematically drunk roughly 90% of the time. Notable drunk moments include Schwartz screaming at Katie and calling her a bitch on their pre-wedding Vegas trip, vowing not to go through with the wedding, and then waking up as though everything was completely fine. Also, let’s not forget how so many of these drunken pre-wedding fights began. Schwartz cheated on Katie with a girl in Vegas (a VPR rite of passage, I guess). You can take a guess as to whether alcohol was involved there too. Overall, Schwartz came into season 6 with a definite reputation as a heavy drinker. But for obvious reasons, the viewer’s focus was less on his drinking and more on why TF the wedding wasn’t cancelled.
Part 2: Tom “I Have No Recollection Of That” Schwartz
From episode 2 of this season, we were seeing a whole new side to drunk Schwartz. Namely, we see Schwartz doing what you do every Friday night and calling up his bestie Jax and sobbing about how he has no idea what he’s doing in life. Relatable? Yes. But also a conversation that makes you hope Schwartz is getting a redemption arc this season, starting by sobering up. We get the opposite.
Starting in episode 4, drunk Schwartz drama starts to really heat up. Lala shares with the group that (married) Schwartz made out with her friend a few weeks ago. Schwartz doesn’t remember this, but doesn’t really claim it didn’t happen, either. He seems to find this a sufficient explanation to his wife. Even more troublingly, when Katie responds to the incident with reasonable rules like “stop taking shots” and “this is the last time you’re using ‘I have no recollection’ as an excuse,” he acts like she’s putting him on house arrest. Uh, no. Even if you weren’t making out with random girls when you got blackout, that’s still a perfectly reasonable request. In true Schwartz form, FYI, he chases with conversation with a round of absinthe shots.
Part 3: Less Cheating, More Drinking
I’ll spare you the details of every time we see too-drunk Schwartz fucking up, but here are the highlights. Katie continues to plead with him about his drinking. Schwartz continues to tell her to fuck off and refer to their marriage as a prison sentence. Gradually, the marriage dynamic improves, but the drinking doesn’t. One night, he gets so wasted he can’t make it home. Another, he’s drinking straight from the bottle at 3am the night before an important TomTom meeting. (He of course shows up late and reeking of alcohol and possibly tweaked out on coke.) In Mexico, Schwartz reaches the height of sad-drunk aesthetic. He’s mainlining tequila, he wanders into a different resort, he nearly pukes in a golf cart, and he tries to get Kristen and James to ride bikes with him at 7am. If that isn’t the saddest lost-drunk-boy thing you’ve ever heard, IDK what is.
*rare footage of Scheana making a good point*
Part 4: Comments From The ‘VPR’ Cast
The couple spoke to US Weekly back in January, when Lala first aired the rumors of Schwartz’s post-marriage makeout. When asked directly whether he has a drinking problem, Schwartz vehemently denied it. (The direct quote here is “I don’t have a drinking problem, I’m not in denial or anything.” Which like…no one had asked whether you were in denial, but now that you mention it…)
He goes on to admit that he has “a tendency to push to the extreme” and that he’s “got to chill with the shots.” Katie, while standing 100% behind her husband in a way that’s somewhere between heartwarming and enabling, chimes in with her very real concerns here too. “I don’t want to have to worry about his safety,” she says, adding that it’s “really serious if you’re black-out drunk and know what has happened.”
Admittedly, most of my weekends could be classified as “really serious” by that measure. But Katie, in pointing out her genuine fear for his safety, is pointing to something a little darker. In Mexico, Schwartz slurs reassurance over and over that he’s fine. Katie no longer even tries to make him a presentable companion, or bothers getting annoyed. “You didn’t know where you were,” she tells him. “That’s not fine.” And when you’re speaking to your 35-year-old husband, that’s absolutely correct.
*Schwartz, nodding thoughtfully*
Before I wrap this up, I do want to mention that I think Katie’s been an absolute angel this season. And if Schwartz is struggling with his drinking as much as it appears, I’m truly sorry for them both. Ever since Schwartz was weeping in the corner of Jeremy’s birthday party, I’ve had a nagging fear that seems to keep coming true every episode. Even though Schwartz seems at the point with his drinking where he can tell that it’s making him unhappy, and even actively tries to stop (like in Vegas), he doesn’t seem to be able to. I hope he’s faring better in his off-camera time, and I hope that Lisa maybe stations him somewhere other than the bar for his work at TomTom.
Images: Giphy (4)