When I was growing up, if an intoxicant was offered, I just said yes. I took my first toke at a rock concert in Central Park. Jefferson Airplane (that’s Airplane, not Starship). I was 12 years old. It required a few more hits on a few more occasions for me to actually feel something, but once I did—a slowly stealing smirk for the body and the mind—I knew this was for me. Likewise, liquor. As a kid, there was always a pilfered potable being passed around and I tried it all, except for heroin, which fortunately scared the hell out of me. Come on, it was the ’70s . . . and the ’80s . . . and the ’90s . . . and the ’00s . . .
I’m very, very lucky that I never became a slave to my poisons, and I think that’s because I respected them—I knew drugs were dangerous.
I didn’t use substances to escape my problems; I handled these with my typical drama queen-y mini-tantrum before dealing with whatever head-on. It was never about peer pressure or trying to be cool. Although I did consider it cool, during two-plus decades as a music journalist, when an amiable publicist would haul me into the bathroom of a club and shove cocaine up my nose. Or when a pal appeared with a baggie full of magic mushrooms and a cry of “Road trip to Joshua Tree! Woo-hoo!”
I’m very, very lucky that I never became a slave to my poisons, and I think that’s because I respected them—I knew drugs were dangerous. I knew (and loved) addicts and alcoholics, and I didn’t want to join their ranks. There was a time and place for clear-headed sobriety and a time and place for its opposite. I lived by the adage “A real writer doesn’t take a drink before 8 p.m. and doesn’t refuse one after.” Except not just drink.
In other words, I liked to party.
Getting Sober: Listening to the Signs
Notice the past tense there? Mm-hmmm. Well, I thought I’d indulge to my dying day. As it turned out, 2017 was the year of quitting cold turkey. Everything.
Coke, ‘shrooms, and other “hard stuff” had already fallen by the wayside naturally; I no longer knew people who did that. But I still smoked and drank daily until last year, when I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Weed started making me paranoid and anxious rather than fun and funny. I’d get high, feel great for 20 minutes, then eat whatever I could get my hands on. After that, it would occur to me that the last mint Milano®—the one sort of turned sideways in the bag—that, clearly, was the one laced with anthrax.
That was the end of my cannabis avocation—before, alas, achieving my dream of smoking up with Willie Nelson.
So I curbed my habit, deciding to partake only on special occasions. Then came a particularly “special” dinner with friends. A spliff went around between courses and I had my turns, until suddenly I got this pain in my side. It was your basic bout of gas, but I was convinced it was cancer. I excused myself and curled up in bed, leaving my husband to manage the guests. That was the end of my cannabis avocation—before, alas, achieving my dream of smoking up with Willie Nelson.
More recently, my nightly cocktails or half-bottles of wine were skipping the buzz phase and taking me straight to cranky headache. I gazed into my glass like it was the Oracle of Stoli® and ultimately found the answer I’d been searching for: Lose the booze, babe.
Clean and Sober: No Howling at the Moon
Technically, the physical part of getting sober was easy. No withdrawal symptoms, no tearing at my hair or howling at the moon. A tall, cold seltzer with a squeeze of lime but sans three fingers of vodka was fizzy and thirst quenching and didn’t have me reaching for acetaminophen an hour later. While it’s a little scary, realizing that I got clean and sober because my constitution told me to (um, hello, mortality), I suppose I am “healthier” now.
I miss the the rituals of stirring a gimlet and rolling a joint. I miss my reward for an honest day’s work.
Emotionally, however, I’m grappling. I miss the the rituals of stirring a gimlet and rolling a joint. I miss my reward for an honest day’s work. When it comes to largely legal (or decriminalized) marijuana, I think it’s ironic that now everybody really is doing it—except me! And because my husband is part of “everybody,” there are times when he’ll crack up over something I see no humor in at all. (Oddly, Seth Rogen is still a riot when you’re straight, and I am among the gazillions pining for Pineapple Express 2.)
Mostly I struggle with this: Drink and drugs were part of my identity; without them, who am I? Still me, I guess: My creativity, concentration, and energy level haven’t changed one bit with self-imposed sobriety.
After Quitting Cold Turkey: Appreciating the Ordinary
When it occurred to me that maybe I should write about this, I reached out to C., who’d been my best drug buddy when I lived in L.A. She’s still a pothead, and now that there’s a dispensary right down the street, she’s become way more sophisticated. She plies a vaporizer, can discern the nuances between Indica and Sativa, and eagerly filled me in on the benefits of cannabidiol hemp oil (CBD to the initiated), which “doesn’t get you high exactly but is really good for you.”
If there were something I could consume with no ill effects—a giggly little gift that kicked the ordinary up a notch—I probably would.
Perhaps, but I’m not interested. If there were something I could consume with no ill effects—a giggly little gift that kicked the ordinary up a notch—I probably would. After all, 2017 was a rough year: I lost a decent full-time job in print publishing and began contending with the protracted illness of someone I dearly love. Not to mention the political environment and the hate crimes of the ongoing war on women. It would be nice if there was something I could take to “feel better.” There isn’t, so I’m learning to appreciate the ordinary for how extraordinary it is. The cats are incredibly soft and cuddly, the sunset is glorious, and my husband’s twisted sense of humor makes me laugh—most of the time, at least.
And that last mint Milano? Mine!
Milano® is a registered trademark of Pepperidge Farm, Incorporated. | Stoli® is a registered trademark of Spirits International B.V.
A native Brooklynite, Nina Malkin has written for everyone from hoity-toity fashion magazines to trashy tabloids to The New York Times. She’s the author of six books, including the paranormal romance novel Swoon and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.
A version of this article was originally published in January 2018.