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    Eat & Swig

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    Photo by Michelle Eigenheer

    The champagne flute hovers just under my nose, and I smell citrus from the orange twist floating in my bourbon-and-champagne cocktail, called a Charleston Sparkler. The rim stops just short of my lips. Would anyone know if I took a sip? I lower the glass. I would know.

    “Actually, I’m not drinking right now,” I tell my companions. They’re marketing folks from Brown-Forman and the Frazier History Museum. Alcohol is built into our workdays. We’re in the Frazier’s speakeasy, filming a cocktail tutorial video I’m producing. I can almost see the bright marquee of thoughts going through their brains. Maybe she’s on a cleanse. Maybe she’s pregnant. Maybe she has a drinking problem. 

    “I’m working on a story about what it’s like not to drink alcohol for a month in Louisville,” I explain.

    “Oh!” one says as she takes a sip of my rejected drink. “That’s hard in a city like this.”

     

    In a city like this, a place where the bourbons rule and the bars stay open longer than virtually anywhere else, a culture of drinking has emerged. It can be hard to separate a fun night out and a work night out. My work has taken me on distillery tours, to exclusive tastings, into the back of dusty dive bars. 

    It’s easier to use an article as my excuse than to explain to strangers that drinking is ruining my life. It’s not that I’m an alcoholic. I’ve never battled addiction and consider myself a casual drinker. I imposed sobriety on myself because drinking had crept into too many parts of my life, like kudzu choking out all of the good things I was trying to grow. Like my savings account. My chest always tightens when I close my bar tab and think about all the money I have just guzzled. A tank of gas? More? Was tonight the difference between paying my credit card bill on time and suffering the $7 late fee? And I was trying to lose weight, trying to better manage my time, trying to stop texting exes late at night. 

    Thirty days. The first week is easy. Seven days without drinking? I’ve done that on accident. I barely think about it.

    On day nine I get an invitation to an event. Good Folks Coffee and Cardinal Spirits are launching a coffee liqueur together. I’m excited to go before I remember that I can’t try it, so what’s the point? At two weeks, it becomes a chore. But it’s then that I see progress. Fourteen days. My skin is more elastic, my body tighter, my face slimmer. I look like I’ve lost 15 pounds, kept off long enough for my body to start to bounce back. But it’s really just eight pounds, and none of it feels permanent. Saturday night comes and I’m full of energy, ready to go out. But what do you do at 10 p.m. on the weekend that doesn’t take place at a bar? I have no answer for that and I stay home.

    Day 30 is a co-worker’s last day before moving on to another job. We go out for drinks. I tell the bartender, “I can’t drink alcohol.”

    “A ginger beer?” he suggests.

    “I hate ginger.”

    “Oh, so do you just want a soda?”

    Pregnant women throughout the world, you have my sympathies. Options for non-alcoholic drinks are limited, most too sweet. The bartender offers me a mocktail. Fruity, with a dry aftertaste. It’s fine, but I miss the burn of bourbon and the herbaceous gin.

     

    Thirty days is not long enough for a lifestyle change. I expected that cleansing my body for a few weeks would somehow cleanse my mind, rid my personality of its shortcomings and make me a better, more responsible adult. I’m sad to realize that this is not how human bodies work. Thirty days was enough time to provide a glimpse into who I could be, not a way to uncover or improve who I am. 

    On day 31 I have a drink. Bourbon and Diet Coke, practical and what I have on hand. Made with Very Old Barton, the best cheap bourbon on the market. It only takes one drink for Drunk Michelle to emerge. The next day friends come over to my place to catch up, a regular wine-and-whine night. I drop $93 at Lucky’s Market on liquor, wine and food. We cook chicken that we don’t eat. We set off the smoke alarm. As I drink my second blueberry-and-basil gimlet under the shade of a gazebo, I text an ex. 

    In 32 days, I am back where I started.

    This originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Michelle Eigenheer's picture

    About Michelle Eigenheer

    A Louisville transplant beginning to appreciate all the city's small things.

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