I’m not a New Year’s resolution kind of girl. Rather than goal-setting myself up to fail, I prefer to cut out the middleman and jump straight to not doing things.
But four years ago, I came up with a resolution I could actually keep. It had everything an achievable goal should have: It was specific ― not vague or lofty, like “lose weight” or “be healthier.” It was small, a daily task with measurable results. And it was intrinsically motivated — I was doing this for me and me alone.
My resolution: drink more alcohol. And I did it. I’m still doing it today. Matter of fact, I’m doing it right now.
For about 14 years, I didn’t drink. Not much, anyway. I actually stopped drinking before I was even legally able to buy alcohol. I had a fake ID by 17, which I used to order mudslides and Long Island iced teas, shots of Cuervo and other things that make me retch a little to think about now, though back then, I somehow never got sick or out of control. I dabbled in other substances, too, mostly dime bags of pot I smoked in the park.
At the end of a particularly party-heavy summer, before my sophomore year in college, I realized I’d been casually self-medicating my blossoming depression with drugs. Shockingly, it wasn’t working. I wised up, found a therapist, and was quickly given a prescription for Prozac. I figured it didn’t make sense to take depressants if I was going to go on antidepressants, so I cut out drugs and alcohol. I even stopped smoking cigarettes while I was at it, because why not.
I returned to college a pseudo straight-edge version of myself, gave away the contents of the stash bag under my twin extra-long, and laid off the Natty Light and cheap vodka that fueled campus life. I went off meds after a year and a half, but I didn’t miss drinking or drugs, so I just... didn’t start again. I’d have a beer now and then, or a cocktail that sounded tasty, but my tolerance was shot. I’d get sleepy halfway through a drink and never finish it. It was easier to suck down Diet Coke all night, relying on the caffeine to help me keep up with the drunken fools I hung out with. Being sober often made it significantly harder to tolerate said fools’ rowdy antics at the townie bars outside Boston, but it also meant I could drive, so I didn’t have to ride the lousy 96 bus home from Somerville when the the lights came on at 2 a.m.
After college, I tried to drink at happy hours with colleagues, mainly because people tend to get uncomfortable around someone who doesn’t drink. But I was still pretty bad at it, so I mostly nursed a DC with lime and tried not to call attention to myself. I often wanted to enjoy a drink like a big girl, but most of the time it didn’t feel worth the effort (or the money). I would explain, “I don’t really drink,” which left room for those nights when I might and didn’t inadvertently imply that I was in recovery. By the time I hit my thirties I had no idea how much alcohol even cost anymore, or what I liked.
“I often wanted to enjoy a drink like a big girl, but most of the time it didn’t feel worth the effort (or the money)... By the time I hit my thirties I had no idea how much alcohol even cost anymore, or what I liked.”
So I really appreciated it when my friend, upon inviting me to a dinner party on Christmas Eve a few years ago, gave me explicit instructions on what to bring: a bottle or two of Austrian or Alsatian white wine. I’m good at following directions and procured one of each.
At the time, I was about two months into a fast-paced new job that had me in a state of near-constant anxiety. I was working from 8:30 a.m. to after 7 p.m. most days, and stress dreams woke me up a dozen times a night. I was scheduled to work Christmas Day, but in the spirit of the season — and to try the exotic-sounding whites the salesperson had helped me pick out — I asked my host to pour me a glass of the Grüner Veltliner I’d schlepped uptown. And it was lovely. Smooth and crisp, refreshing and relaxing at the same time. I didn’t just sip it, I savored it, attending to its flavors and giving way to its gentle buzz.
At the table, my friend decanted a bottle of red and insisted I try it. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a second glass, but I wanted to be a gracious guest and joined him for a toast. I surprised myself by finishing it and accepting a refill.
That night, all snug in my bed, there were no visions of work stress filling my head. I slept through to my alarm for the first time in months and woke up refreshed and alert. It was fucking glorious.
Restful sleep? No anxious dreaming? How had I missed this magic elixir that had been right before my eyes? I wanted this all the time.
Now, as someone who pays the bills as a health editor, I feel it’s imperative to stop here and say that although alcohol can, indeed, make you fall asleep (read: pass out) easier, it is actually quite bad for sleep quality. But in an act of defiant hypocrisy, I threw the research out the proverbial window and held tightly to my tiny sample size of anecdotal evidence. I drank wine. I slept well. Therefore, if I continued to drink wine, I’d continue to sleep well. QED. Sound reasoning? Of course not. But I didn’t care. I wanted an easy answer, damn it, and I was going to run with it. And while I’m on the subject of do as I say, not as I do, it’s also important to note that moderate alcohol use (up to one drink a day for women, two for men), though potentially cardioprotective, increases the risk of some cancers. Especially breast cancer in women. Which, since I brought it up, I was diagnosed with in 2017. Mine (lucky me!) was caused by a BRCA-1 gene mutation, so I negotiated with my oncologist to let me keep drinking for the sake of stress reduction. Priorities.
Thoroughly rested and veritably humming with optimism, I convinced myself it was time to start drinking again. For real this time. Maybe the science wasn’t on my side, but I’d found the prescription for me. Too excited to wait till the new year, I made a resolution immediately: one glass of wine, every night, before bed.
“Eventually, the habit stuck and it became not a chore, but a calming ritual. My swimmy brain let go the angst of the day, and the routine signaled to my body that it was safe to surrender to night.”
As easy as this resolution may sound to the average booze enthusiast, I had to approach it with discipline and rigor, knowing, as I did, that I usually couldn’t get through an entire adult beverage. So, I made a plan. I bought several bottles of Grüner Veltliner. Each night, I poured myself exactly 5 ounces — a proper serving — and drank it with dinner or while watching TV or reading. Sometimes, I’d get up to go to bed and realize I failed to finish my glass; determined, I’d toss back the remainder like a dose of cough syrup.
Eventually, the habit stuck and it became not a chore, but a calming ritual. My swimmy brain let go of the angst of the day, and the routine signaled to my body that it was safe to surrender to night.
What’s more, I started to like drinking again. What I’d been treating as mama’s special medicine became what it was meant to be: soothing tonic, joyful indulgence. I branched out, discovering a love of Rieslings and Sancerre, and exploring cocktail menus at restaurants.
And I got better at it. I could finally go in on a bottle at dinner, or drink at professional functions without immediately forgetting everyone’s name. I’ve savored white Burgundy in France and the plumbed the fizzy depths of Lambrusco in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. I even did a shot on New Year’s Eve this year.
Four years after that dubious declaration, I continue to drink my one glass a day with gusto — and pride. I’ve never stuck with a resolution for four whole years. (Actually, I’ve hardly stuck with anything for four whole years. College, my husband, wine... yeah, that’s it.)
I still can’t drink as much as most regular grownups, nor do I care to. I don’t have the memory to become a genuine oenophile, but I’ve learned enough to pick out at least one thing I sort of recognize on a given wine list. I have flashes of guilt about what I might be doing to my body by drinking, but, as I lobbied to my doctor at Mount Sinai, the psychological benefits outweigh the risks. Plus: I just like it. I like coming home after a shitty day and relaxing with a glass of Grüner. I like being a social drinker instead of a self-effacing teetotaler. I like being able to appreciate wines from different parts of the world. I love that cider is so in right now.
And as someone dragging a trail of lapsed gym memberships and good habits abandoned, it’s nice to finally see the bottom of a promise fulfilled. And, yes, refilled.
Amanda Schupak is a health, science, and technology journalist in New York City. She currently works as an Enterprise Health Editor at HuffPost.