My Month Without Alcohol… and Men (Week Three)

by Brenna Holeman


 With Kerri at my favourite wine bar, you know, the one I can’t attend this month

Please note: This post will make a lot more sense if you read Week One and Week Two first. Click here to read Week One and click here to read Week Two.  

January 15, 2017

I drank again last night. A lot.

After exploring Camogli yesterday, I took the train a few stops to Nervi, which is just as devastatingly beautiful as you’d expect from a small fishing village on the Italian Riviera. It was very quiet, but I walked along the promenade, took lots of photos, and then tried to find a restaurant that was willing to serve me pizza at 4pm, an unusual time to eat in Italy. I found one that overlooked the sea, and I spent the rest of the afternoon eating four cheese pizza, drinking a lightly sparkling white wine that’s famous in Liguria, and feeling on top of the world. Honestly, I didn’t expect to fall in love with Italy as much as I have in the past three years – it’s an unusual feeling, to want to keep returning to one country instead of exploring somewhere new. I love Italy for its culture, for its food, for its brightly coloured villages that jut up from the water, for its whitewashed stone buildings that appear on mountaintops. I love that, whenever I go into a restaurant, it is filled with people laughing and greeting each other, a beautiful cacophony. I love how much the small things in life seem to be appreciated in Italy – the perfect espresso, the smell of a lemon, the double kiss on the cheek, the way the wine sounds as it pours out of the bottle.

Oh yeah, and did I ever tell you about the Italian guy?

Despite everything I write about in The Last Time I Saw You series, I never write about guys in real time. I prefer to ruminate about the experience, give it some time, and then still write about it all online like the petty bitch I am. I change a lot of the details in those stories – let’s call it creative license, shall we? It sounds so much prettier than “lying” – so that it’s impossible to figure out who I’m talking about. Just because I put damn near my entire life on the internet doesn’t mean every guy I make out with wants the same. I’ve occasionally had guys contact me and ask if one of the stories is about them, or once in a while an ex will “like” one of my posts on Facebook and I’ll go into a slight panic, wondering how deep in the archives he’s gone.

But any mildly adequate detective (in my head, your office is in a strip mall outside of town, your assistant has long fake nails that she uses to dial a rotary phone, and you’re always smoking) could have sussed out that something was up last year, because I returned to the same place in Italy a couple of times. I also even mentioned some “Italian friends” a few times on this blog. Well let me tell you, for future reference: one does not mention Italian friends for naught. Especially if said Italian friends are dudes.

Anyway, this particular guy has not inspired me to write one of those Last Time I Saw You posts (I have to feel nostalgic about the person to write them – in this case, if he crosses my mind, I roll my eyes and say, “Ugh”) but he DID inspire me to write this post, which, incidentally, now brings in a lot of new readers every day through Google searches. So take it from me, folks, I HIGHLY recommend getting romantically involved with an Italian. Just think of the SEO benefits!!

But, ghosting and selfish behaviour aside, what this guy really did introduce me to was la dolce vita. No, not the 1960 Fellini film – firstly, I don’t think he’s that cultured, and secondly, the person who introduced me to the movie La Dolce Vita was this guy named Andrew who worked at Blockbuster in the late 90s/early 2000s. I had the BIGGEST crush on him and I used to hum and haw about which band t-shirts I should wear under my brown vintage leather jacket whenever I went to the store, which was at least once or twice a week. I used to rent tons of movies – mostly on VHS, yes I have started noticing grey hairs, thanks for asking – that I thought would make me appear cool and sophisticated. We’d chat about film for an hour or so before I went home, studiously watched all of the movies he recommended, and then returned to talk about what I learned. I credit this crush with making me fall in love with film and also making me understand that if you wear a Smiths t-shirt, you better be able to name at least one fucking Smiths song, otherwise Andrew is going to know your entire life is a lie. The last I heard, Andrew became a documentary filmmaker and was shooting footage in the Yukon, so, basically, I still have a giant crush on him. Also, RIP Blockbuster.

Anyway, I initially met the Italian on one trip, and then, on another trip, I let him woo me. Like, full on, let’s do this, wine and dine me, show me what you got kind of wooing. I spent a solid five days lounging on a beach, lounging by a pool, lounging on a boat, sitting on the back of a vespa, drinking grappa, and eating pasta. I was also topless for like 65% of the time, and I didn’t pay for anything. It was amazing. I remember being on this little boat in the sea, eating fresh focaccia, watching this tanned Italian man dive into the water and emerging like something out of a goddamned Fellini film himself, and thinking, “I have to remember exactly how this feels, because life might never be as good again.”

But because my dating life is more like the hit TV drama Without a Trace and less like a beautiful Italian film, we all know how that one ended.

Despite this, I can’t help it – I’m still so completely in love with Italy. I leave Nervi and go back to Genova, where a bunch of us cook a delicious pasta in the hostel (meaning, one person cooked it but a bunch of us ate it), and I drink wine late into the night, surrounded by laughter.

When I wake up – I know, it’s messed up, all of that was actually about Saturday, and today is Sunday – a couple of us eat a quick breakfast and then take the train to Santa Margherita Ligure, yet another beautiful Italian town. We walk to Portofino, a gorgeous walk in the January sunshine. There’s nearly nobody else on the trail, and it’s so nice to be with new friends and see these new places; I’m once again, for the thousandth or millionth time in my life, reminded how incredibly lucky I am.

And maybe it’s the fresh air or or the good vibes or maybe it’s because I love Italy just so much, but when I get back to Genova I go out on the town, drink a bunch of limoncello, and end the night by making out with an Italian. I KNOW.

Brenna in Paris 3

With a cold kir cocktail on a hot Parisian day, because it just felt like something Zelda Fitzgerald would have ordered while wearing a really great hat

January 16, 2017

So, in the last instalment, I confessed that I knew all along I was going to drink in Italy. The truth? I also knew that, if the situation came about, I would break the other resolution, too. You know that whole, ‘what happens in Vegas’ thing? Yeah. We’re just going to go ahead and apply that to all of Italy, too. My month without alcohol and men…… unless I’m in Italy, because honestly, what kind of sick masochist would deny themselves two of the finest things that country has to offer?

I make the train journey to Pisa, sleep the entire flight, and am home in my flat in London for bedtime. Complete lack of willpower aside – or was it because of this complete lack of willpower? – this latest Italian holiday was one of my best yet.

January 17, 2017

Today I feel pretty sluggish at the office, which makes sense, considering I spent the last four days drinking like it was freshers week (but at a posh college where they only drink Chianti… wait, maybe that’s just Oxford?!). I eat alone in the cafeteria again and am thankful I no longer have a work crush, because now I don’t have to worry about looking sexy while using chopsticks in public.

After work I meet up with my cousin Tanis at a nearby restaurant called Morito on Hackney Road. The food – Spanish tapas – is SO good I can’t stop eating, and because we haven’t seen each other in a while, the conversation flows freely. I then have a mild heart attack when we get the bill, because it is £32 for the two of us. I just stuffed my face for two and a half hours and I’m only paying £16?! In London?!? Holy shit, so not drinking at dinner is not only healthier but I save MONEY?! Sorry, what was that? No, math was not my strongest subject in school, why do you ask?

January 18, 2017

I delete my Tinder. It’s just too much work. This is the average Tinder schedule:

Day 1: Match occurs.

Day 2: He sends the first message. I return the message after a couple of hours.

Day 3: He send another message, but no questions in this one, my biggest pet peeve in an early correspondence.

Day 4: I return his message.

Day 5: Silence.

Day 6: He sends another message in the morning. I return his message after work.

Day 7: Silence.

Day 8: Silence.

Day 9: He sends me a random message asking what I’m doing for the weekend.

Day 10: I decide there is no chemistry and delete him.

I mean, yes, occasionally you have great chemistry and message a lot and decide to go for a date. Recently, though, it seems like a lot of stopping and starting and unanswered messages which makes me think that everyone on Tinder actually has a partner already, and is just using it for an ego boost.

But Katie from Domestiphobia (shout out to Katie for being such huge supporter of this blog) had some insightful points in a comment she left on the second instalment of this series. She says it much better than I could, so I’m just going to quote her comment here:

“I don’t envy people who have to date during the age of Tinder — you’re forced to do everything ass-backwards! Think about it: You meet a guy at a pub for the first time. You’re both casual and relaxed, confident to just be yourselves because you don’t have time to think about who the other person might want you to be — you just are. That’s why it’s easy to tell whether or not there’s a spark.

It’s SO much harder to distinguish a spark when your first interactions are though instant messages. Everything is so fake. Is it possible? Sure. Especially for a writer. But if you’re not dead-set on only hitting it off with a writer, then looking for that initial spark via instant message is tough because at that stage the guy is more likely tentative… trying to see whether he’s into *you* before putting it all on the table or maybe trying to gauge whether you can handle his real personality. But you’re just being polite because he’s just being polite. I don’t necessarily believe sparks can grow because by definition, that’s not the nature of a spark. But I do believe that there’s a chance you could spark with someone in person with whom you otherwise wouldn’t have sparked on Tinder because you haven’t already built an impression based on the awkwardness of a conversation built entirely from a profile impression. OY, I say.”

A big old OY from me, too, because I agree with everything Katie has said. I guarantee that if I saw some of the guys I’ve been wildly attracted to in person on Tinder, I would have swiped no, because being attracted to someone is so much more than a photograph or a few text messages. It’s the way they smile. It’s the way they laugh. It’s the way they carry themselves, or make eye contact. It’s their wit and their humour and their intelligence, all of which are pretty fucking hard to show over a few polite texts. It’s the fact that they get your weird joke, the one you wouldn’t have made in a message because you were worried your sarcasm wouldn’t translate, even if you put that emoji. It’s the sound of their voice. It’s the way their cheeks get a little bit ruddy when they’re nervous, or the way the muscles in their arms look when they reach across for something, or that, when they bend down, you can see just the hint of a hairy chest – SWOON – and… OK, wait. I am getting a bit worked up here. But you know exactly what I mean. I don’t know any of that stuff when I’m talking to someone on Tinder.

This is not to say that I don’t believe that dating apps work, because I think that they can. But it sure feels pretty good to delete Tinder anyway. It also gives me space to take a whopping four more photos on my phone, so who’s winning now, huh?

Brenna and Isabel

Isabel and I last summer, back when I ordered cocktails with lunch (p.s. that restaurant, The Barbary, specialises in Northern African food and is definitely worth a visit)

January 19, 2017

After work I meet my friend Isabel. I did something really, really dumb, because, back when I was on the sauce (AKA four days ago) I RSVPd to a press party for a new gin. That’s right, I said I would go to a gin tasting. I only realised my error the day before the event, but I had already said I was going, I’d invited Isabel, and I really do love gin (I also love tequila, whiskey, beer, and wine. I have fairly good relations with vodka and rum. I never, ever want to see sambuca again and don’t you dare make me talk to him, OK? He knows what he did).

Isabel and I meet in Shoreditch and then go to the Drunken Monkey (kind of an institution in East London) for the party. The conversation is lively, the dim sum is fantastic, and the gin is absolutely delicious. At least, that’s what Isabel tells me, because I drink mocktails all night. That’s right. I, Brenna, self-professed boozehound, went to a gin tasting for a beautiful new gin (it’s called Willem Barentsz, if you’re wondering, and I will be buying a bottle on February 1st) and drank only virgin mojitos. I know, I know, grounds for sainthood, or at least make me a Dame or something. But something really weird happened. While I was eating good food and talking to great people and drinking these alcohol-free drinks… I started to feel almost… tipsy. As in, I got the same energy and good vibes from this scenario as I would expect to get from drinking a few shots of gin. I don’t know if this was some sort of weird placebo effect or if my entire adult life has been a sham, but it’s kind of cool.

And really, with the four days drinking wine in Italy excepted, I have to admit I no longer miss the act of drinking that much. Yes, I do miss the taste of alcohol, but I notice that at home I get pretty pumped to drink my San Pellegrino with extra lime, just as excited as I used to be about pouring a glass of white wine. I also notice that, as long as I have a glass in my hand, nothing has really changed about my social life, other than, you know, I no longer wake up with a headache, £20 less in my wallet, and a few hundred calories in my system. In the last three weeks, I’ve effectively switched up my routine enough that I no longer care about doing the things that came naturally before, like pouring a glass of wine after work. And so, on the walk home after the event, I come to a startling realisation: am I making a motherfucking LIFESTYLE CHANGE right now?!

January 20, 2017

Today I work from home, which I’m enjoying more than ever now that I wake up feeling refreshed. I’m drinking these probiotic yogurt drinks and taking fish oil and going for walks and goddamn it, I’m becoming all of those people I make fun of but GODDAMN IT AGAIN, because now I have to apologise to all of those people. I feel great.

When I’m on my walk today I FaceTime with my mum, which has become a regular occurrence. We start talking about Carrie Fisher and how amazing her relationship was with her mum, Debbie Reynolds, and start envisioning buying property together and turning it into a kind of compound that’s way more shared garden/nightly chats on the porch/a mid-sized dog named Franklin/borrowing each other’s books than, say, a Grey Gardens scenario.

Oh, and just a side-note, because I’ve never had the chance to tell this story on the blog… last year, while walking around Marylebone, a pretty posh part of London I almost never go to, I started talking to a dog. You know how you do that? You start talking to the dog without looking up at the owner? No? Just me?? Well this dog was VERY cute, with a tongue that hung out of the side of his mouth. I soon learned his name was Gary. When I finally looked up at his owner – like a normal person who doesn’t have a “we may need to talk about this” obsession with dogs – I realised it was Carrie Fisher. “Excuse me, are you Miss Fisher?” I asked, to which she smiled a beautiful smile, and said, “Yes, I am.” And so, of course, I talked to her about how much I respect her writing, how she has worked as a script doctor on some of my very favourite movies, how interesting the social media landscape is today, feminism, and our relationships with our mothers. HAH. No. I clammed right up and just said, “Well… I just wanted to say…….. it’s very nice to meet you.” She smiled again and said, “It’s very nice to meet you, too.” I tell that story because if anyone was wondering if Carrie Fisher really was a goddess walking amongst us, you’re right. She was. I have met a lot of celebrities in my life (I used to work for Miramax and helped out on red carpets for the Associated Press, plus I have this strange knack for always seeing/meeting celebrities in airports, PLUS I live in London, where I’ve seen at least a dozen famous people just walking around, like they’re real people or something… no really, I saw Robert Pattinson and FKA Twigs walking right outside my flat and I posted about it on Twitter and then I got death threats from insane Twilight fans, no joke) and I can say with confidence that Carrie Fisher was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth celebrities I’ve ever encountered.

Anyway, when I get home from my walk, I get ready to meet my friend Emma, who is also from Canada. Emma and I met at a Canadian Thanksgiving party thrown last year, and it’s so nice to have a friend who’s also from the Great White North. We go to an incredible restaurant in Islington called Rök, which is a smokehouse that features the food of Northern Europe. Neither of us are drinking in January, so we stuff ourselves with pâté, pork with granny smith apples, sweet potatoes with crème fraîche, pickled beets with goat’s cheese, and blackened cabbage (seriously, one of the best meals I’ve had in London) and then go to see Lion, which is a gorgeous and sad film that gave me a lump in my throat from about five minutes in until the credits. I definitely recommend it. The little boy, Sunny Pawar, is magnificent, and, um, when the hell did Dev Patel get so hot?!

January 21, 2017

Today is all about the Women’s March. It feels a bit odd to write about it here, but it was an amazing experience. I am going to write a separate post about it soon. Update: The post is now live; click here to read it.

After a full day being surrounded by fierce, passionate, and supportive people, I’m in a great mood and not ready for the feeling to end. I go into my local pub, and I’m immediately given lots of hugs and “Where have you been?”s which make me feel very loved. I get a soda water and lime, settle in with my group of friends, and watch some football. I don’t even notice that I’m not drinking alcohol, and nobody else does, either.

From Italian kisses to fantastic friends to a sea of unstoppable marchers, this has been a fucking brilliant week surrounded by excellent people. And I didn’t need a drop of booze to enjoy it.


Will these good vibes continue, or will I find an excuse to drink (in celebration, in sadness, in boredom… there’s always an excuse to drink)? What will I do if someone asks me out in person, other than tell an embarrassing story about the time I walked into a plate glass window? And Andrew, if you’re reading this, please stop reading my blog archives immediately and just get in touch, OK? I really did start listening to The Smiths, I swear. 

Stay tuned for the final instalment of My Month Without Alcohol… and Men, coming up on January 29th. *Update* Read Week Four by clicking here! 

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Jolene January 22, 2017 - 10:34 pm

I’m not much of a drinker! Even at Uni, it was rare for me to drink alcohol. I remember getting asked almost everytime why I wasn’t drinking my main excuse was that I was the DD (I was a lot but not the main reason for not drinking). I noticed as long as I had a drink in my hand no one really noticed or cared what was actually in it! And I totally belive that it can act as a placebo! My energy goes up with every glass of water! It’s wonderful! Especially the no hangover the next day part!

Brenna Holeman January 22, 2017 - 11:57 pm

That’s so true – it definitely is a placebo! Thanks for your comment, Jolene 🙂

Laryssa January 23, 2017 - 4:06 pm

I agree! I love doing this with club soda. Way cheaper, too 😉

Brenna Holeman January 23, 2017 - 4:13 pm

Agreed! I’m already thinking that I could probably buy some plane tickets this year with the money I save 😀

Jennifer January 24, 2017 - 1:12 am

I completely agree Jolene! I feel more in my element when I’m not drinking, but enjoying people’s company. And the no hangover thing can’t be beat.

Brenna Holeman January 24, 2017 - 1:16 am

I really think I’m going to do this more often… I finally learned that it doesn’t matter what I have in my glass! 🙂

Cate January 22, 2017 - 11:12 pm

I love this series so much! You are so cool Brenna!!! Hardcore fangirling right now

Brenna Holeman January 22, 2017 - 11:58 pm

Aw, thanks Cate!! You are way too kind. I hate to break the illusion but I’m sitting here in sweatpants with crumbs all over my shirt, ha ha 😀

Sheryl-Ann January 23, 2017 - 12:19 am

I’m really enjoying this series, Brenna. I drink but I don’t always feel the need to drink…except when I’m in Southern Africa, where the wine is to die for! Then, I drink everyday until I leave ????????????

Brenna Holeman January 23, 2017 - 12:26 am

Ha ha, that’s what I felt about Italy! So glad you’re enjoying the series, Sheryl-Ann. 🙂

Francesca January 23, 2017 - 12:45 am

I totally agree about Tinder, and online dating in general. If I’d ‘met’ my husband online I can safely say that I wouldn’t have responded. He is intelligent, funny and caring but finds it very difficult to translate that into written words. On the flip side I met up with a lot of eloquent douchebags after chatting online. Before the husband – of course!

Brenna Holeman January 23, 2017 - 12:48 am

It’s such a difficult thing to navigate! I have definitely corresponded with people and thought, “This isn’t showing the real me, at all.” Thank you so much for confirming that I’m not alone in thinking this! 🙂

Linda January 23, 2017 - 5:48 pm

I laughed, I nodded seriously, I felt teary…when is the movie coming out? Seriously Brenna, this series – 3 weeks in and one more to go – is amazing. I loved every anecdote (and bracketed aside)! You have the ability to expose enough of yourself for us – the readers – to completely connect with you, but leave enough mystery to keep us wanting to know more about you and your very full and balanced (and slightly wacky) life in London and abroad. Thanks for making my Mondays!

Brenna Holeman January 23, 2017 - 7:10 pm

You are far too good to me. 🙂 xoxoxo

Ashley January 23, 2017 - 9:09 pm

This has been my favourite instalment yet! I was laughing out loud at so many parts, and I’m seriously jealous of the 5 days you spent being wooed by the Italian douchebag. I need to get my ass to Italy ASAP!

Brenna Holeman January 23, 2017 - 9:15 pm

Ha ha, thanks Ashley. I have to say, those days were pretty great. 😉 With or without an Italian affair, I definitely recommend Italy, it’s an incredible country!

Paige January 24, 2017 - 1:08 am

I think I have a crush on Andrew now too, especially with that “where is he now?” update! Such a fun series.

Brenna Holeman January 24, 2017 - 1:09 am

Ha ha, thanks Paige! 😀

Katie January 24, 2017 - 2:45 pm

Ha! And I only sound marginally spastic. 😉

I met my husband when he was back in the U.S. for only 2 weeks before he had to go back to Korea, where he was stationed. So we knew we had the chemistry in person first, but *then* we had to keep it up via phone and email. My only writing requirement was that he knew the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re” as well as “to,” “two,” and “too,” and he totally nailed it. It seems like online dating has placed so many stringent rules on written communication with a stranger while allowing all other communication skills to fly completely out the window.

What the hell. You should just reconnect with Andrew and call it a day!

Brenna Holeman January 24, 2017 - 3:32 pm

Hah – I try to be lenient with spelling and grammar, but it can be damn difficult to muster up the romance when someone texts, “Your funny. Wat u up 2 tonite?”

And trust me, if I knew how to find/contact him, I’d be all over that! 😀

Victoria January 24, 2017 - 4:09 pm

I fully laughed out loud throughout this post. I LOVE this series!

Brenna Holeman January 24, 2017 - 5:31 pm

Aw, I’m so glad that you like it, Victoria! 😀

Erin February 15, 2017 - 10:17 pm

I’m really loving these posts, your writing is so good! It makes me feel like we’re already friends 🙂 I’m heading to London by myself in the beginning of May for 3 days so I’m also taking notes of all of the places you mention too! Can’t wait to keep reading!

Brenna Holeman February 15, 2017 - 11:22 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Erin! What a wonderful comment to receive. 🙂 Have an amazing time in London!

Good God, This Again?: My Month of Healthy Living - This Battered Suitcase August 8, 2017 - 5:47 pm

[…] My Month Without Alcohol and Men… Part Three […]


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