Last Thursday was my birthday. I turned 29, the last year of my twenties. I will not lie to you and say that I am so thrilled to be almost thirty, but honestly, I wasn’t too concerned about that. I wasn’t concerned with the ever-nearing of the big 3-0 because I was preoccupied with something else: how to celebrate my birthday sober.
Last year I actually spent my birthday without drinking, as I was on one of my many intermittent and short-lived hiatuses, but I drank in the days following it. My boyfriend and I took a weekend away along the coast and drank wine and champagne. There would be no boozy weekend away this year.
It’s not that I don’t think you can have fun sober. Next month it will have been a year (!) since I quit drinking, and I’ve had some of the best times of my life thus far, but I wanted my birthday to feel special, momentous, celebrated. As everyone knows, special occasions or celebrations are usually fueled by alcohol, especially where I live, in “wine country.” Without taking a trip and without taking a sip, I wanted to have fun on my birthday. I didn’t want to feel like I was “missing out” on anything.
This “fear of missing out” is a common fear among my age group, especially in our digital age where every instance is photographed and catalogued on Facebook or Instagram, filtered and photoshopped to perfection. When you’re constantly bombarded by images of people supposedly having the time of their lives, you can’t help but feel like you’re missing out on something. Though I know this display of “fun” is often not as it seems, I will wholeheartedly admit that I am not immune to the feeling that I am not having the kind of fun everyone else is. “Fun” to me no longer entails nights of shots and blackouts, thank god, but it can get pretty mind-dulling when your typical Friday night is spent watching Netflix. So what to do?
I decided that I wanted to feel different, to shake things up. I wanted to mark the next year of my life somehow. The week before my birthday I realized that I was sick of my long hair and wanted to cut it off. I wanted a new look to match the “new” me — more open, more free, more willing to try new things. So I had my sister-in-law, who luckily for me is a hairstylist, chop my hair off to my shoulders (it used to graze the middle of my back). I instantly felt more free, younger, more polished. I’ve heard that we carry negative energy in our hair (hey, I live in Sonoma County, home of the New Age), and I will admit that I am now inclined to agree. I did feel like a weight had been lifted.
Though a weight had been lifted, I still felt like I needed something else to mark my transition, both as a person and as someone older. So on the day of my birthday I got a new tattoo, a line of a poem from one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, that you may remember from one of my earlier posts: “Forever is composed of nows.” To me, it is a reminder to stay present, in the now, in the moment, but it is also a reminder that we as human beings are infinite.
With my new hair and my new tattoo, I felt ready — as ready as I was ever going to be — to conquer my fear of missing out, my fear of not being able to “go out” and experience nightlife anymore. I wanted to go out and see if I could still have fun at the bars without a drink in my hand. I don’t miss the hangovers and the anxiety that accompanied my drinking days, but I do miss the dancing that would always ensue after a few shots of tequila. Would I still be able to dance without boozing it up? Would I even still want to? I told my girls that we were going dancing to find out.
Hitting the bars without drinking is an experience, to say the least. We began the night at an upstairs lounge where we had heard that the deejay would be playing what I didn’t want to hear: techno (dance, EDM, house, whatever you want to call it). But in my little neck of the woods, beggars can’t be choosers. Unless we headed to San Francisco or Oakland, we just had to make the most of what was offered. So imagine my surprise and delight when we found that the deejay was actually playing everything I wanted to hear: hip-hop and Top 40! Judge me if you want, but there is no better music to shake your ass to than hip-hop and Top 40. The night was already off to a great start.
With the music I had been longing for booming from the speakers, colored lights flashing and the dance floor writhing with bodies, I found that I actually did want to dance. And not only that, I still could. I could still shake it and actually enjoy the pulsation of the bass in my ears and beneath my feet. But I won’t lie to you: I was also much more aware and therefore annoyed by my surroundings. Someone had spilled their drink on the floor, causing a sticky, slippery mess that I almost fell in. Some guys behind us slopped their drink on me and kept bumping into us. Waiting in line for the bathroom, a girl stumbled in with her hand over her mouth, vomit leaking from between her fingers. It was a hot mess!
But I can’t describe the joy I felt when my friends and I decided to head out onto the outdoor deck to get some air and ended up starting our own impromptu dance party. No one was on the deck except for us. We began dancing like no one was watching (because no one was), laughing and reveling in each other’s company. When we looked up, the deck was full with people! We hadn’t even noticed.
After going to two other bars and getting fondled by a random drunk girl (she said simply, “You have a nice ass”), I said it was time to go home. The rest of the girls agreed. It was only 12:30, but we’d had our fun. My friends and I walked out to the car, regaling one another with anecdotes of the night and laughing hysterically. One of my friends, who has also quit drinking, pointed out a girl who was being poured into the backseat of her friends’ car, wobbling dangerously on her high heels and moaning in the way only drunk people do. “Aren’t you glad that’s not us anymore?” my friend asked. “Yes,” I said. And I am. I am so very glad. And grateful. I hugged my friend and then I drove us all home, laughing the whole way.
So now I know that not only can you have a good time sober out at the bars, you can have a better time. All you need is good friends and a good beat. You probably won’t want to stay out until the wee hours, but who cares? Then you can go home and watch Netflix and eat ice cream. Because you know that you’re not missing out on anything.
I wish you a wild, free life.