“You do not need to be inebriated to have the time of your life. ” – Hallie Bateman
During my young adulthood, I never believed this to be true. I was enamored with this illusion of letting loose and escaping my nerdiness for just a little bit. I wanted to become a much cooler, confident, and adventurous version of myself. I wanted to become the life of the party.
I used to be Jenny V. She stood up on elevated surfaces at frat parties and crowd surfed at away swim meet parties without blinking an eye. I credit my roommate in Scott Hall Mackensie for making up the nickname in 2014.
I felt like my drunken stupor was a second shot at popularity, belonging, and being fun. After being voted most memorable in high school, I wanted to continue surfing that wave.
When did I first ever try it? That gross sip I had at the Heineken factory in Amsterdam as a wee one. I was disgusted and went straight back to the Orangina. “Never again,” I told myself. I was still curious though. This was until I discovered my Mike’s Hard Lemonade in the basements of my friends at sleepovers. Then came along looking up to my cool older brother and his friends. The culture of drunken sailors looked so fun. It wasn’t until later when I was sixteen that I had the ‘aha’ and the mystery was over.
It was a Monday night in northern Michigan after my Dad and brother sailed the J-120 sailboat “Nauti Boys” into the harbor of Mackinac Island. The harbor was overflowing with boats, sailors, and booze everywhere. My friend Kat and I ‘smuggled’ booze up to the island. I was so excited.
The moment of what it meant to actually be ‘drunk’. I had a Captain Morgan and Coke concoction in a plastic cup in my hand. Nauti Boys was rocking more than usual. It was chilly, though I felt like a space heater of warmth radiating out of me. The song Levels by Avicii was blasting on the speaker, and I never wanted it to stop. This was until the fun was over and my mom found me ‘blotto’ on the boat and walked me home to our hotel room.
I was ready to have one hell of a time through the rite of passage. I woke up with bonus land effects the next day, still drunk. That salty bacon was the best tasting pig my taste buds ever touched.
I grew up anticipating this voyage. My parents both were a part of Greek life at Michigan and Michigan State University. They both had so many fun stories with their “brothers and sisters”. My dad graduated with a degree in chemistry that he put to good use by making vodka still while he was a broke dental student who surfed the water fountains for change. Some of my friends concocted moonshine. Heck, I accidentally fermented apple cider in my dorm’s mini-fridge in college.
My parents met each other when they were 25 years old at a bar where I grew up. I always figured that’s how I’d meet my partner. But what if I don’t even enjoy drinking anymore?
For the past four years, I have experimented with dry January. It is to intentionally remind myself, especially after the usual drinking that comes along with the holidays, that I do not need that crutch. I felt like I was relying on drinking to overcome my own insecurities. Last fall, my friend Kyle, told me to try dating without drinking. Without drinking I’ve noticed that I leaned on it as a crutch for confidence.
I understand now why I know I relied on it. I didn’t know who I was. I figured who I was wasn’t cool and knew Jenny V was likable. I sought after a desire to belong to any group. I feared loneliness. Drinking has been like the lubricant that started my social wheel to start spinning.
What’s my relationship with alcohol nowadays?
It’s a work in progress. I’ve abstained from taking shots for a year or so now. Have you ever woken up thinking “I’m so glad I tossed back all those tequila shots last night!” Ya, I didn’t think so.
I’ve mostly given up hard liquor. I’d be lying if I said I won’t be drinking a tropical pina colada on the beach. I still love a cold beer after a sailboat regatta race or a glass of red wine on a chilly winter game night.
I’ll enjoy one or two drinks occasionally in social settings. I don’t feel the need or desire to ever overindulge. I like my sober, present self. No more shots. I want to appreciate the smell and experience rather than the five o’clock vodka stench of rubbing alcohol in high school.
I now know through experience that Hallie Bateman was right– I can belong, be adventurous, and have the time of my life without being inebriated.
This piece was not written alone. Shoutout to Michell Clark, Paul Millerd, and Hannah for their support in ideating and editing this piece. Also to Charlotte Grysol, Cams Campbell, David Vargas, and Kyle Bowe for challenging my view of alcohol over the years and in recent months.