As long as I can remember I have wanted to be someone else. When I was a child, my cousin and I would act out scenes from our favorite show, Charlie’s Angels. We would dress up and pretend we were working undercover at a cocktail party or sneaking into someone’s house to photograph documents. My cousin idolized Farrah Fawcett, so she was Jill Monroe. It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t be Jill. Farrah was the breakout star of the show, but I preferred the understated beauty of Jaclyn Smith, so I was Kelly Garrett. She didn’t have Farrah’s enviable blonde hair, but she was smart and sophisticated.
Watching TV was one way to escape the chaos of living in an alcoholic home. Once my parents began drinking in earnest, I would retreat to my bedroom. The world shown on my little black and white TV seemed far better than mine. I longed to be part of it, so in high school I joined the drama club. We did a lot of improv, and I usually played characters who were confident and bold. They weren’t like me but tapped into something inside that needed to come out.
I also took an evening course, a professional level class led by an instructor who had worked in the industry. I was only 16 and the youngest in the group. The rest were well into their 20s and 30s. One night the instructor assigned me a role opposite a man in his 30s. We are playing a couple and the script was filled with romantic dialogue. I had to call him “Handsome” and he referred to me as “Angel Face.”
When I looked at the script I felt my heart race. I was terrified. My experience with boys was virtually non-existent. I had never even been on a date, and now I had to be demonstrative with a man more than twice my age. But surprisingly, as soon we began the scene, my anxiety faded. It seemed natural to play this conniving, flirtatious woman. I felt chemistry with my classmate, and I was no longer afraid.
More than three decades later, I understand the significance of that acting class. The seed of my alcoholism was planted. I was not yet drinking, but I felt palpable relief in no longer being myself. When I stepped in front of the class, all my broken pieces melded together into one impressive whole. Finally, the question that had always plagued me was answered—the way to stop the pain was to turn away from myself. And the way to feel normal—content, happy, sometimes even euphoric—was to become someone else.
Unfortunately, acting is not a stable profession and at its core is rejection. My fragile ego couldn’t withstand even constructive critique, so I gave up on my dream. I never forgot the high of performing though--that feeling of fearlessness and triumph. Without realizing it, I looked for a way to duplicate that sensation. Alcohol, of course, was the answer. Drinking removed my anxiety and bolstered my confidence. It freed me from my angst-ridden self. Once my inhibitions were lowered, I could be the person I should have been: bold, engaging, charismatic. I was no longer the girl who wasn’t asked to the school dance. I was the prom queen, surrounded by people who approved of me. And the best part of it was no one knew the wounded girl inside me, the one left at the table while her friends danced. They didn’t know her because they didn’t see her. She was skillfully hidden in this other person, Party Girl .
There was one problem: Party Girl was about as real as a character from my old acting class. She was created and sustained by alcohol. Too few drinks and she faded away, too many and she imploded. Usually it was the latter. Instead of ingratiating, she was irritating. There was nothing she did not know, little she had not done. Her sense of morality became subjective, as did her impulse control. Witty comments became jabs, and friends began to peel away.
I haven’t seen Party Girl in a long time. She went out with the wine when I stopped drinking. Occasionally I think of her, especially when I have to be around a lot of people. I know she wouldn’t be nervous. But then I remember what a friend once told me. He said he was afraid of Party Girl. The remark stung, but I know what he meant. I’m kind of scared of her too. That is why she stays firmly in the past where she belongs. I don’t need her, and I am fine without her. I don't need to be someone else.