I'm out with friends, celebrating someone's new job, shouting a few rounds and debating ordering a cheeseboard. It's a standard evening. It’s a Thursday, and I’m at a bar in Sydney. The music is loud, the bartenders have immaculate beards and the vibe is perfect. I've been on this night a thousand times, from the day I turned 18.
The only difference now - I just paid $16 for a small glass of what was essentially cranberry juice.
It's 136 days since I openly admitted to the people around me that I have a drinking problem and got sober.
One hundred and thirty six days in which I have found out that it's hard to put up with mid 2000's house music when you're off the booze, and that when you can no longer order a gin and tonic, it's incredibly awkward to have "gin and tonic" tattooed on your wrist.
I gave up drinking because it wouldn't give me up. I had become a liability to my friends, and the subject of concerned messages between them. I had been drinking before breakfast, with breakfast and throughout lunch - on a weekday. I had a problem in the textbook, hum-drum, entirely uninteresting but self destructive manner of real life addiction. It wasn't romantic. And it wasn't charming. I sobered up one morning after deleting tweets that I ought not to have sent and apologising to people I needed to stop taking for granted, and I haven't looked back.
I had been drinking before breakfast, with breakfast and throughout lunch - on a weekday.
The most difficult part of sobriety is maintaining a social life. So many of our social interactions are built around drinking. We're at the pub on a Sunday afternoon. We're going to the local after work, just for a few. We're meeting for cocktails. We're having wine at the event. There'll be champagne at brunch. Once you stop drinking, you can't stop seeing it everywhere.
As a queer trans woman living in Sydney, sobriety becomes even harder. So many of the queer events revolve around partying and drinking. We're at the Imperial Hotel every Saturday night. We're at Girlthing. We're at Mardi Gras parties. And the drinks are out in force. You'll even find drinks at a queer picnic in the park at 11am. At the start of 2019, I had made a new year's resolution that this year I would get out onto the queer scene again, to meet more people, and to celebrate being myself.
That has been harder in practice.
There are so few opportunities to be with my people where I'm not surrounded by drinks and constantly tempted to have a couple. People don't pressure me, and they don't push, but when there's at least one in everyone's hand, the pressure is there.
I've found it's not impossible to have a good time after the "good times" have stopped flowing.
I find myself rationalising it. When I'm offered a glass of Prosecco, and I'm running out of stamina, and I want to have the kind of fun that I used to, and there are people I love, I begin the careful internal debate. Can I have just one?
My reasoning seems sound - I've made progress, and I'm back in control, and it's time to prove to myself how strong I've become - but I know that's deeply flawed. I order another tonic water and lime, and I white knuckle it, and I refuse to go home. Not just yet. After a couple more rounds. I don't want to be the first to leave. I don't want people to stop inviting me.
But it's not all bad. There are more options now than there used to be. There's a handful of bars across Sydney who will mix up a cocktail using non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip and Lyre. If you're lucky, you can pick up a beer from Australia's homegrown non-alcoholic brewery, Sobah. It gives you a little spice, a little taste of something different, and the satisfaction of being able to choose a drink made for you.
And I still have a good time. The conversation still flows, if I put in the effort. I still have stories, of good nights at The Vic, playing basketball out the back and eating hot chips, and then cramming in an Uber to make a last minute screening of Terminator 2 in an abandoned theatre. Or catching a hardcore show at Crowbar, and walking to Central Station at 1 in the morning, heading home via late night Maccas.
I can remember these stories the next day, which makes them all the more worthwhile. I've found it's not impossible to have a good time after the "good times" have stopped flowing. It simply takes a little more effort. A little more thought. And a lot of willpower.
If you’re in need of support, contact the Alcohol and Drug Foundation on 1300 85 85 84.
Joan Westenberg is a freelance writer. You can follow Joan on Twitter at @Jonwestenberg.