Missing My Crazy Self—Finding Myself

By Jowita Bydlowska 12/30/14

The new sober me romanticized the drunk me. Until I went back...

Jowita Bydlowska

With the New Year’s parties approaching, the "Crazy Drunk Girl" fantasy comes over me strongly. This is the time when, for instance, I vividly recall a former boyfriend telling me he met a woman—not me—he said he was really attracted to. She was wild, he said, and, “hot like you,” he added generously, but she was really bad news. With a scared-but-dreamy look on his face, he mused on how the fact that she was a drunken mess and a cokehead signified that she was also uninhibited, dangerously appealing. (Cut to me in a habit, watering a cactus in a monastery.) (Jokes.)

There are times when I sit in an AA meeting and hear one of those: my-life-is-much-better-now-that-I’ve-Ziplined-and-traveled-to-France-and-got-married! and I want to get up and scream: Well, not me, you smug jerk!

To be fair to that boyfriend, he never actually said my sobriety made me no fun but the conversation fed into my suspicion of how putting a drink away is akin to retiring. After all, drinking and reckless abandon are considered sexy and fun (See: sloppy Spring Break, see glam New Year’s Eve parties) and who doesn’t want to be both? 

Recently, I got a new Twitter follower, a clothing company called Drunk Rich White Girls (DRWG). The models are beautiful young white ladies, with sweaty faces and stringy hair, and they are pouring booze down their laughing, hysterical throats. DRWG have an Instagram [I don’t want to link to them] where you can submit your pics of getting wasted or read inspirational quotes such as: “Sometimes, I just drink water to surprise my liver.” So far the company has only had three products released (productivity is not a forte of drunks) and one of them is a t-shirt that advertises blackouts. I’ve been trying to contact them—no response (too drunk to email back?)—to find out if they’re a joke but why would they be a joke? Consider the recent Beyoncé hit, "7/11" with the video full of Beyoncé and other sexy girls dancing in hotel rooms, and the verse that goes like this: 

“Hold that cup like alcohol, hold that cup like alcohol

Hold that cup like alcohol

Don't you drop that alcohol

Never drop that alcohol, never drop that alcohol

I know you thinkin' bout alcohol

I know I'm thinkin' bout that alcohol”

DRWG is possibly the dumbest thing on the Internet currently (and that says a lot) but its blatant glamorization of lunacy preys on our obsession with partying. And when Beyoncé puts her stamp of approval on getting wasted, I do feel like I’m missing out. I romanticize the oblivion and the fact that although you don’t dance any better on vodka, on vodka you don’t care how badly you dance and you dance in a hallway of a hotel room like it’s your own, goddamned hotel. There are times when I sit in an AA meeting and hear one of those: my-life-is-much-better-now-that-I’ve-Ziplined-and-traveled-to-France-and-got-married! and I want to get up and scream: Well, not me, you smug jerk!   

Except, I suppose, now I am that smug jerk, too. I’ve done more things in sobriety that I’d ever hoped to and many of them were way more interesting and challenging than dancing in a hotel hallway, Ziplining included. Yet, in my dark moments, screw the Ziplining—I just want to be a lemming hurling myself off a cliff. 

Alice, 36, is not delusional about her partying, “I was out recently and drinking and it was not sexy. It’s only sexy when you're under 25. It’s what I'm trying to recreate but I realized it’s unattainable due to age. I have yet to see a woman over 30 look sexier drunk. Now the only abandon I feel is not caring about what a fucked up world I live in and how bad people suck, for a brief bit.” 

I get that. The older I get (I’m 37 now), the more I avoid social situations because of alcohol being present. Kitchen parties are the worst when you’re sober—standing by the fridge for hours talking to a vegan seems as exciting as standing by the fridge for hours talking to a vegan. Recently, I went to a dinner where everyone drank and talked loudly and I perceived the atmosphere to be much more aggressive than it was. I emailed some people the next day asking if they were okay. They had no idea what I was referring to. Sober, it seems as if I’m clutching my fists the whole time and I can’t relax.  I’m bothered by the fact that I care all the time about the fucked up world I live in now. Sometimes, it’s exhausting to care. 

And then there’s the sexual element to drunken abandon. I used to walk into rooms, bars, whatever, with my eyes like a riflescope, trained to detect the person or people I wanted to make out with. In sobriety, I get jittery like I’m 13 when a guy I find attractive talks to me. Prolonged eye contact could probably send me into a mini-seizure.  

Kathryn, 28, who has met her husband in sobriety, and who says she’s much happier now, says, “When I took Ecstasy, coke and weed, I didn't care about anyone but myself. I hurt people around me, I hooked up with guys all the time, I kissed a girl… partied all night. It was hard to let that life go.”

Sandra, 41, says that drinking allowed her to be more open sexually. She’s in a poly marriage and she says, “When I was drinking I practiced [polygamy] a lot. I felt like outwardly [I was] being the sexual person I’ve always been. I started drinking more and becoming more reckless with myself, mostly because I’ve always suffered from a low self-esteem. Drinking made me want the validation more and not care where I got it from. It’s the ‘fuck you’ attitude I wanted in my life because I’m so self-conscious and sensitive.” Sandra also talks about people who used to know her when she was drinking a lot, their longing for her drunk alter ego: “A friend said, ‘New Year’s Eve isn’t the same without Fun Sandra,' when I said I wouldn’t be out drinking on New Year’s Eve. Who the hell is Fun Sandra?”

When I went to my native country (Poland) this summer, I saw some of my old friends. They brought up stories of my past recklessness. Stories I couldn’t remember: a girl (who was me) stripping on a bar table. My friends would tease me about how I was now: sitting there with my little orange juice or ginger ale instead of a “real drink.” I wanted to tell them that I was no longer that girl, one who would strip on a bar table—I was this person now, the one who clutches her little juice. It occurred to me on that trip that sobriety is perhaps just a new identity. And it threatens people around you, sometimes as much as it threatens you.

Take Jennifer, 35, for example, who says that after she was diagnosed with MS, she quit drinking and friends turned their back on her or reacted aggressively to her sobriety—the worst was when a former friend slipped alcohol in her drink. She says,  “There was one time that I was out and my friends wanted to dance and I was not drinking and I felt clumsy so I wasn't comfortable dancing. I had to sit by myself with all the coats and purses—that’s something memorable for me.”

Many years ago, I went to my first sober dance. It wasn’t pretty. I felt like a turtle in a dress trying to stand upright. What was the point of this spastic weirdness we were doing with our bodies and why were we doing it? At the end of the night I sat with my friend’s Al-Anon wife with all the coats and purses and we chatted. I told her I missed my drunken 20s and she said she didn’t get how I could miss being an alcoholic. But what did she know? She was, after all, married to one, she couldn’t possibly see how being an alcoholic is a cute thing. But she was right. There is nothing in my most recent drinking history that proves to me that reliving my wild 20s would be a good idea—when you’re "fun," you’re not only terribly fun; you’re also terrible and people have to take care of you and you throw up in the snow and it’s 3am and you’re dialing your ex-boyfriend and your stupid cat won’t even freakin danshe with you. These are the things I need to remind myself whenever my delusions take over. Fists clenched in tension or not, I admit that sober fun, albeit ridiculous and extremely unrelaxed is better. 

Eric, 37, says, “I'm more fun sober, but my priorities have shifted. If I'm having fun, I'm actually having fun, not forcing it. In regard to wild abandonment, I feel like I was in suspended adolescence for a very long time, if a party sucks, a party sucks and I leave. In terms of bar and pick-up culture, I think there's some of the same stuff wrapped into alcoholism and heavy drinking and the need to pick up/hook up. Even the language is drug relatable. Basically, it’s that need, desire that you have to fill something, but you don't have the right materials.”

Tina, 32, who quit drinking after she got pregnant, says, “There are certainly nights I regret being too drunk. But I think being drunk is somehow different than I used to think it was: when you're drunk you think you're just more fun, but in retrospect, you're just kind of dumb. At our recent house party, at around 1:30am everyone was standing around in a circle talking and I was filling in words for them and finishing sentences—they thought I was brilliant. In sobriety, I also discovered there are only like, three drunk people at every party—the majority are nursing one or two drinks, which I had no idea was happening because I was out on the deck with the drunk ones. I've boxed myself into a bit of a corner here because I’ve spent so much time drinking with people, and made it so much a thing I look for in my friends, now that I'm not drinking, we're sort of out of things to do.” 

My friend Joshua, 38, says, “I remember having to figure out that sometimes life is just not fun and that there’s nothing wrong with that. And that there’s something mildly narcissistic and anti-social to feel entitled to be entertained all the time, as if that’s what the world owes me.” He admits that he does miss the abandon but there are certain elements of it that we can still aspire to have, in sobriety. I immediately think back to my good ol’ friend, Ziplining. That moment when I swooshed down a cable from a massive treetop, across a canyon with snowy trees and mountains below me, and a river: a cold vein cutting through white. I felt death and exhilaration at the same time, the perfect combo; I wanted both. And, in sobriety, too, years after that sober dance, I’ve learned to dance till the morning in the dark oppressive, dangerous darkness of a techno club, where I could only go to wasted, before. I saw girls falling on the floor with broken plastic cups; girls making out with other girls, girls puking, crying in a sink. The violent music assaulted my ears, vibrated in my chest; it felt as if my heart would explode. I loved that. I loved being sober. 

In the end, I know that my longing for oblivion is one of those things that just pops up in sobriety—like my old self saying hello (Old Self: Hello, let’s break things!) My missing being obliterated is an identity-theft in the making; a temporary insanity. “It's limiting to believe that I'm only capable of [having fun] drunk. If I kept thinking that way and never tried to develop those things in sobriety, it would make sense I would be really vulnerable to feelings of nostalgia for being drunk,” says my friend Joshua.

“But at the same time, I get it, I partially liked drinking because it seemed when drunk I could do all that effortlessly, and I've never truly achieved the ability to just feel like I can do all those things effortlessly. But tough shit. There's worse things in life than I have to put effort into other than having fun…like illness.” He says the last part for my benefit. Halfway through writing this article, I’ve found out that my partner is seriously ill.

So there I was, metaphorically clenching my fists. And I thought how good it was to be able to clench them, to not have absconded to abandonment—to fun. In real life, staying where I am, in this so very unfun place, I had the grace to be present—the grace that sobriety afforded me. I was sure of it—of my grace, of my delusions being just that, delusions. And to run away from the illness, from its sadness, we went on a last-minute dream trip to a Caribbean country (Cuba). It was great right away despite the fact that my luggage was raided (one of the things taken: pills I take for bi-polar that I keep in my—valuable, I guess?—Etro purse) so my mania only made the Caribbean dream stronger, faster. Funner. Funnest: the sun, the Ocean, beach and virgin piña coladas, and one wild ride—no seatbelts, in an old, red convertible Cadillac—in Havana.

The illness like the cold, Canadian winter, we left behind us like a nightmare, like a hungover. For now, in my dream escape, I was having so much fun. The sun looked at me, I looked at it; I looked at my ill, beautiful partner, he looked at me; I was beautiful, too. Fun? Fun!

Finally, I drank at the airport on the way back. First time in years. Fun? Let’s up it. But instead of upping, the dream floored me. I couldn’t get up. Literally. The dream was a lie. Fun was a lie. Beware of dreams. Beware of the “fun” that is not yours to have. That will destroy your grace, your presence.

Jowita Bydlowskais a regular contributor to The Fix. Her memoir Drunk Mom was published by Penguin. She's picked herself up off the floor again.

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Jowita Bydlowska is a copywriter and author living in Toronto. She is the author of Drunk Mom: A Memoir. You can find her on Linkedin.