What we’re going to have to do, my doctor says, before we make any other decisions, is to send me over to this janky, shady basement in Greenpoint so I can get blood work done to see if my liver is functioning as it should be. It’s a daunting prerequisite to being prescribed the powerful antifungal he believes will cure my physical woes, which are chiefly that I have been itching incessantly all over my body for the past two months, and developing a number of strange rashes and dry skin areas.
My doctor’s hypothesis: I have a systemic fungal infection. Essentially, a yeast infection or athlete’s foot of the body that causes outward skin problems and many inward issues, like exacerbated anxiety and near-crippling fatigue.
“We should throw in an STD test while we have you there,” Doctor Kaminski says. This is, I believe, in part because I told him I haven’t been tested in a couple years, in part because the first spot my skin started to break out was in my special secret garden area, and in part because he probably did not believe me when I said I had not recently had unprotected sex (which is how dudes tend to get yeast infections, don’tcha know).
“Of course, while you’re on this medicine you can’t drink any alcohol,” he says.
“Because this antifungal is very hard on your body, mostly on your liver. Which is why we are checking your liver function before even giving it to you.”
It occurs to me I will have to wait out the results of an STD test…sober. This is daunting.
“Makes sense,” I say. “How long can’t I drink?”
“Stop drinking now. Prepare your liver for the medicine. Next week, we will give you the medicine and then you will take it for 30 days.
“I’m going to go ahead an assume drugs are also frowned upon,” I say.
“Christ. I need a drink.”
Doctor Kaminski did not laugh. He did not look at me like I was joking.
And I’m not even sure I was.
The hardest part about not drinking for one month is not that you are physically unable to get intoxicated. It’s that you carry knowledge of not being able to have a drink at times when you otherwise would be doing so.
This was very surprising to me. I used to think I was in some way dependent on drinking. Not to, like, a worrisome degree, but to a point where I would miss the feeling of being vaguely drunk more than I would miss anything else about, well, drinking alcohol.
I discovered, however, that for me, the anticipation of a drink is maybe my favorite part of being a drinker. (Just like how when I was a kid, my favorite part of being a pseudo-Christian was the anticipation of Christmas morning, not the day itself.) It’s not a physical craving, but more something that you’re used to.
See, when you go into your long day of work or living or whatever it is you do, it’s helpful to have something to look forward to, to help get you through the day without encountering a severe existential depression. For many, it is coming home to the significant other and/or family he or she is helping support by busting his or her ass all day.
For me, it was breathing a deep sigh of relief while I poured a glass of whiskey and launching into my evening ritual of writing/reading/texting/watching, not necessarily in that order, or when I would walk into a bar and order my first beer of the evening.* These were comforting rituals, and it’s difficult to give them up. (This experience made me fear even more than usual the prospect of being an actual alcoholic, to have to give up this sort of ritual for the rest of your life, lest you potentially wreak havoc on yourself and those around you.)
Another difficult realization that comes with abstaining for a month is that many of your social (and solo, if you drink alone on occasion) activities will be diminished or become downright weird and uncomfortable. Dates become even more nerve-wracking than usual, because you can’t pregame or drink during the date. They become awkward when you order a club soda with a lime, or a cranberry juice, and your date must decide whether she wants to ask why you are not drinking — “God damnit, another date with an alcoholic…” — or to wait for you to explain yourself. (They become more awkward still when you tell them you are not drinking because you’re on a medicine to treat what might be a full-body yeast infection.)
Outings with friends grow increasingly annoying. After your first bar experience, you think that maybe this won’t be such a big deal after all. You can still go out and hang out with the people you care about, and you can even give them rides home afterward. This grows old very quickly, as you remember that being stone sober around a group of drunk people is generally a terrible experience. It’s also unpleasant that people feel compelled to ask you why you aren’t drinking as soon as they see that you have ordered something nonalcoholic, or are standing around without a beverage in-hand. You tell them you’re kind of sick, that you are on medicine that prevents you from being able to safely drink alcohol. When this happens, they either walk away or follow up, seeking a more detailed description as to what in the hell is wrong with you. This is how WAY TOO MANY people find out that you think you have a yeast infection.
But a funny thing happens about mid-way through the month. Instead of looking at the downsides of not drinking, you start seeing the upsides. You’re more productive. You feel better, physically (whether this is placebo or not, you neither know nor care). You sleep better. You get things done in the morning. Pounds seem to melt off of your body.
There’s never any thought given to abstaining from drinking completely for the foreseeable future, but you do take stock in these benefits and decide that you’ll drink less once you’re physically cleared to do so. The plan is to see how long you can take this dry period, actually. Once you hit day 30, you’re going to challenge yourself to go without for as long as possible. Just for kicks, and because hey—it’s already been a month, so this is no big deal. No big deal at all.
The medicine doesn’t work. This is strange, Doctor Kaminski says, because it is pretty much guaranteed to lay waste to any fungus in your system. Three doctors have now been unable to diagnose my issue. The next step is to perform a biopsy, Doctor Kaminski says.
“Yikes,” I say.
I leave his office to go have my first drink in 30 days.
The first thing I notice? My tolerance has gone WAY down. The second is that I missed my dear friend, but have no problem going without.
For the record: I’m fine. The biopsy revealed that I have Eczema. That’s correct. Eczema. Not sure why this was so difficult to figure out.
*My man Hemingway, the manliest of drunken men, to drive the point home: ”I have drunk since I was 15 and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work all day with your head and know you must again work the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?”