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By Timaree Schmit

My name is Timaree, and sometimes I wonder if I’m an alcoholic. Not in the sense that my life has become unmanageable or that I’m powerless in the face of a shot of vodka—but, due to the nature of the crowds with which I run, it’s become customary to have at least one drink almost every day. As an experiment, I’m going cold turkey for a month, just to see what happens.

Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, given how much effort I devote to fitness, that I would imbibe in sugary poison so regularly. But hardcore gym folks are often also hardcore partiers. I have a handful of friends whom I only see in two contexts: lifting obscene amounts of weight or throwing back obscene amounts of booze. Consider how many running clubs are created on the premise that the best way to cap off a long run is beer. Some of us just go hard all the time, I guess.

I also spend a lot of my time around performers: burlesque folks, comedians, drag queens, other creatures of the night. If you’re not drinking in this crowd, it’s because you’re on the wagon now, after having spent plenty of time the other way. We work in venues that exist to sell alcohol and, on many occasions, drink tickets are part of the pay. Who turns down part of their compensation? For some, a nip calms the pre-show jitters or celebrates a stellar performance—or dulls the ache of an act that tanked. Sometimes, nothing feels better than telling the cerebral cortex to shut up.

Alcoholism and drug abuse have always been problems in the LGBT community as well. Marginalized people often seek temporarily soothing but self-destructive coping strategies to deal with harassment, ostracism and systematic oppression. And the queer scene is organized around events where alcohol consumption is a central activity. If you want to find other gay people in a strange city, your best bet is to find the gay bar. And soon, it becomes an association we have with people themselves, a Pavlovian response to seeing friends. There are a number of people whom I’ve known for years and sincerely adore but we’ve never been in each other’s presence without one of us drinking. Given where I spent my time, it seemed completely normal to booze five nights a week. It was part of every hobby I had, and it was what everyone else was doing.

Back in grad school, I took two years off from drinking, just to see what would happen. It didn’t feel like I had a problem, and I certainly wouldn’t have listened to any suggestion that I needed to slow down. My bosses were happy with my work, school papers were on point, I was competently managing a whole litany of other responsibilities.  But when I announced that I was quitting, my roommate sighed with relief. Evidently she’d been trying to tell me that I needed to do this for some time. I was so in denial that I hadn’t even heard her.

And it wasn’t until I was sober for a while that it was apparent to me what I had been missing. I never noticed how fucking annoying drunk people are, for one. Or the way booze had become a crutch when I was anxious in a crowd or wanted to dance on an otherwise empty dance floor. It was something to do before my friends showed up to a party (before smartphones were a thing). Alcohol was an invisible shield of armor, a way to protect myself without letting on that I had fear. After going dry, I had to learn how to be a person without it. How would I go dancing by myself without a drink? How would I chill after a poopy day? It was leveling up difficulty-wise in the video game of life. Eventually I got a hang of it, and it was the most liberating skillset ever.

Alcohol consumption is normalized in our culture—much like caffeine, but starkly in contrast to marijuana—a part of every rite of passage, a cornerstone of every social event. Philadelphians have lost their minds at the suggestion the pop-up beer gardens might go away, stirring up more political activism in the last few weeks than education budgets, prison reform, corruption and gun violence put together. Our schools might collapse, but bitch, do NOT even think about taking away our freedom to drink beer in what used to be a parking lot.

As an experiment, I’m going to alcohol-free again. Just like last time I quit, one might not see why that’s necessary. I’m killing it at work, juggling a whole slew of responsibilities. But I’m not looking for rock bottom. I’m curious if there’s another level up.

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