[OPINION] My alcohol-free year

Every end of the year, my best friend and I attempt to honor a tradition. Together, we give a toast for the last 12 months. For its joys, its challenges, even its tears. Since meeting in college, we spent nights drinking through bad paychecks and breakups. We celebrated promotions and other milestones in the company of San Miguel and other patron saints of imbibition. 

In 2018, we found ourselves steep with holiday revelry in a renovated church-turned-gay bar in West Hollywood. We come from immigrant families driven by fortune and necessity. And so reunions take place once a year – if health, money, time, and visa approvals happen to be at our disposal.  

That night in 2018, we were eyeing the bartender. He was so comfortable in his torn shirt while we depended on alcohol to keep us warm. Lots of it. Three bottles of wine and a few beers, to be exact. The cool air, the '90s pop tunes, and the company of someone whom I fondly call my "person" made me swig rather than sip. We were also racing against the clock, like a drunk Cinderella on her only night out. Our parents gave us a midnight curfew – a time we were more than happy to comply. Through the years of bonded intoxication, we knew that good things rarely happen after the clock strikes 12. Besides, we never really grow up in the eyes of our elders. We will always be the little one that they carried decades ago. 

For that one night in 2018, a little girl and a little boy tried their best to look straight up sober even though we knew we were reeking of alcohol. Amoy chico. The next morning, I emptied my whole stomach into the bowl. My person woke up without his pants. We slept in until 3 pm, zombie mode on until dinner, and completely useless for the whole night.

It was one of those days when you say: I will never drink again. The only difference this time was a lingering wonder: Can I really do it?

So began a personal social experiment of making 2019 an alcohol-free year. Nothing with more than 0.5% ABV, whether in drinks or in food. I passed up on desserts like tiramisu, on dishes cooked with wine, and the temptations of open bars. 

As it turned out, it became much more than about drinking alcohol. It meant choosing a non-alcoholic option during parties or nights out for one whole year. It turned to constant explaining of why I wanted salabat over shots – then being asked if I was pregnant or on medication. It was especially hard for my closest friends, so used to seeing me enjoy a good draft pour. 

For more than staying sober, it was about breaking a habit. Whether as a rite of passage or peer pressure, most of my generation (we are between the boomers and millennials) developed a relationship with alcohol. Even the supposed sober invite of inom tayo (let’s drink) took on an alcoholic connotation. Many times I found myself explaining – if you asked me to get a drink, it doesn’t mean that I have to get a beer. I can order milk and cookies if I want to (one time I did; it was hilarious).  

But did it make a difference? In parties, more would express admiration for resisting the bottle. Even the nagging questions were more inquisitive than mocking. During my annual checkup, my cholesterol level went down, though I attribute this to fewer encounters with fried and oily pulutans. It was a test of friendship, a great treat for my partner (in solidarity, she also reduced her alcohol intake), and a terrific boost in self-confidence. 

For those who are thinking of doing a dry year, here are some assurances that it can be done:

Are you thinking of doing an alcohol-free year? Or have you tried it? Share your thoughts! – Rappler.com

Reyna Tabbada earns her living as a writer, with a keen interest for online content. She is now learning the discipline of long-format pieces such as novels and screenplays. You may reach her via email at reyna.tabbada@gmail.com.