The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement one small step at a time.
When my editor suggested an experiment in self-imposed sobriety, my first reaction was panic. Not so much because of the proposal, but because of the timing – it was the Toronto International Film Festival and I was on party patrol. The basic routine for covering TIFF is this: Jot down notes on semi-scandalous celeb behaviour with one hand, clutch a cocktail with the other.
Still, to refuse would have felt dangerously close to copping to a "problem," and so I agreed. Specifically, I agreed to attend a celebrity-packed, Saturday-night Soho House party as a teetotaller, which is sort of like a reluctant vegetarian agreeing to spend the day at Ribfest. (But worse, since meat festivals don't generally employ an army of servers to test your willpower every five minutes.)
Armed with nothing more than a failure-is-not-an-option attitude, I entered the belly of the beast. It was 6 p.m., and my eight-hour shift stretched out like the driest of deserts.
I am sober, hear me snore
As an adult Canadian consumer of alcohol, I am in the overwhelming majority. The most recent numbers show that about 83 per cent of us imbibe some amount of hooch. These numbers feel even higher at an entertainment industry fete. A good deal of the TIFF party beat involves laying in wait, making small talk while trying to catch a glimpse of the A-list. Free cocktails are part of the fun (debatably even part of the pay) and they certainly make those lulls a lot more entertaining.
Booze can also be a bonding tool, an abolisher of awkward silences, a point of conversation, a time killer and something to do. (Stand alone in the middle of a room staring at Kate Hudson's perfect butt and you're a weirdo, but put a flute in your hand and all of a sudden you're "having a drink.") After two hours of chit-chat, stuffing my face with hors d'oeuvre, knocking back a couple of "Lame Mule" virgin cocktails and figuring out what to do with my hands, I had a whole new understanding of the term social lubricant. It's not like I was getting the sweats or having some sort of Nic Cage meltdown. But it was sort of a snooze.
I held a one-way solidarity stare with Bradley Cooper, who was quite possibly the only other teetotaller in the room. The Hangover star recently opened up about his sobriety in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Had I gotten a chance to speak to the reigning "Sexiest Man Alive," I might have asked him whether he missed the carousing, the camaraderie, the late nights spent in rapt conversations followed by mornings when you are not entirely sure what was so fascinating.
More on lubricants
It was 2 a.m. (10 mineral waters and five Lame Mules later) when I finally called it a night. By far the hardest no-drinking period had been the first few hours. After that I was resigned to my fate and maybe even a little bit relieved – cocktailing on the job requires policing drink counts to make sure that things stay … professional. I can certainly confirm that drunk people, even drunk celebs, seem sort of ridiculous when you're not wearing booze goggles. (Sadly, that's all I can report without risking a slander lawsuit or a set of busted kneecaps.)
This was not totally unfamiliar territory. Last January, I quit drinking for a month – a respite after a particularly festive season. During that experiment, I couldn't believe how much time I had on my hands – no late nights, no hangovers. But during wagon month I didn't subject myself to anything resembling a late-night TIFF party.
On Sunday morning, I bounced out of bed, ready to write about my adventures in star-land. My brain was operating at full speed and there was no need for Advil. A nice silver lining, perhaps, but I don't think I would do it again. Spending some time sober is easy, but spending eight hours at a party sober is not terribly fun. The next night I was back on the TIFF beat, this time with my trusty cocktail in hand. I had a two-hour dance party, gabbed with strangers and stayed out until 4 a.m. A good crutch is a terrible thing to waste.
Next challenge: We all aspire to have homes that are tidy, if not totally Zen-like, but that's hard to pull off when every nook, cranny and extra bit of shelf space is covered in unused clutter (or maybe we should call it what it really is – unused crap).
Share your best decluttering tips at fb.me/globelifestream.