I Never Realized How Much Drinking Affected My Relationships, Until Now

by Zara Barrie

I started drinking at 16.

I mean, there were occasional slip-ups before that.

Like the time in seventh grade when my posse of giddy little 12-year-old punks and I snatched a bottle of vodka right out of the grown-up's liquor cabinet, gulped the whole thing down and bizarrely ended up making out without each other with so much intensity that our bodies were marred with hickeys for two weeks (that's a lot of turtlenecks, babes).

And there was also the time when, as a 15-year-old, I got wasted off of 10 white Russians at a film festival after another party (I had a knack for getting into all the good parties, even as a flat-chested high school student).

That night, my parents found me curled up in the fetal position, sound asleep on their front porch, platforms strapped to my teen girl feet, mascara flakes peppered across my face like freckles.

But those were isolated little incidents. They exist as fragments in my brain — snippets of embarrassing adolescent moments that make me shudder when they occasionally flicker through my mind when I'm tossing and turning at 2 am.

But they aren't connected to the time "When Drinking Became A Thing."

"When Drinking Became A Thing" officially started in my junior year of high school. Suddenly, Saturday nights were defined by crop tops, velvet choker necklaces and reckless house parties where we destroyed perfectly manicured McMansions.

Hangovers were worn like badges of honor, because hangovers were pregnant with so many loaded things.

Hangovers meant you were cool and pretty enough to be invited to parties with alcohol. Hangovers meant you were well-versed enough in the glam world of drugs and booze to even have a hangover (everyone knew the green kids were too fresh to the scene to understand the nuances of le hangover).

Most importantly, hangovers meant you were a sexual creature because drinking, boyfriends and sex were all perfectly intertwined.

And even though I was a closeted baby dyke, I knew sexual attention from boys was the ultimate form of validation. And I was hungry for that ~validation~, babe.

So, despite my sexuality, I was an avid participant in the drinking-boyfriend-sex parade.

Sometimes, I even got to kiss girls, because if you were drinking, kissing girls was cool. If you weren't, kissing girls was weird.

It's amazing how these arbitrary little rules from high school can get so ingrained into your subconscious.

When high school ended and I started dating, kissing, and having sex with girls for real, drinking might as well have been an additional character snaking it's way around our ribcages and joining us for every kiss, date and late-night hookup.

For instance, the first real grown-up relationship I had with a woman — the kind where I fell hard, spilled all the secrets, and dropped all the guards — was in my very early 20s.

Our eyes locked across a poorly lit room at a company holiday party. You know how sometimes you exchange a look with a random entity, and you get that premonition? That, "we're going to make out tonight" premonition?

My witch vibe was right on point.

Hours later, we did indeed make out. We were two drunk girl creatures sorely out of context at some low-rate strip club with a group of rowdy lesbians. Rihanna boomed through the cheap speakers as a young girl peeled off her clothes on stage, and BAM. Our lips locked.

She tasted like tequila. They all did, because it always started and ended with tequila.

And even though we were in love for almost two years, we eventually had to cut ties. I broke it off when I caught myself fighting with her (verbally) in the street at 4 am about something I couldn't even really remember.

I was over thinking toxic relationships were glamorous.

I suddenly sobered up in the middle of my crazed, drunken state, sort of like how I used to sober up in high school the moment I saw the blinking lights of a cop car. Except these blinking lights were scarier than any cop car.

It was more like an alarm warning me, If you don't run now, you're going to stay in this place forever with this person.

And I wanted to be balanced. Dear God, did I ever.

I was over thinking toxic relationships were glamorous. Hollywood movies had made me think that two people screaming at each other while knocking back drinks meant passion.

And when I finally lived out those scenes, I learned they're actually painful and confusing. They're probably the demise of real, pure, honest passion.

When you're partying all the time with your partner, it bleeds into your relationship in a very sneaky way.

When my ex and I were drinking, we didn't live in reality. We shared "magical" moments, but they weren't real, magical moments because we were living them inside a pretty, blue-toned filter.

And yeah, I can get down with living inside of a blue-toned filter. I don't love reality.

But it doesn't work that way. Anytime you get bombed on the poison, it will start out pretty. But eventually, it will turn on you.

Drugs always turn on you, and don't think for one second that alcohol isn't a drug. I've done them all, and alcohol is the one that scares me the most.

If you keep going, that calming serenity of "the buzz" will escalate until you're two sloppy creatures screaming in the street.

You'll wake up, and you won't even understand why or how you got into this toxic dynamic.

It wasn't the excessive drinking that stopped me from being a bad partner — I'm not even a bad drunk (most of the time). It was the next day that did me in.

Some people wake up with a sore head and cotton mouth. I wake up so deeply depressed, I can't muster up the energy to pull down the shades. And most of all, I'm vulnerable. But not strong vulnerable. I'm needy vulnerable.

In this particular hard-partying relationship, I woke up with so many hangovers I began to believe I was a fragile, exposed person because I woke up feeling that way so many times.

How can you even begin to have a healthy relationship in such a state of perpetual weakness? I mean, let's get real: You're not healthy (mentally or physically) when you're hungover.

It wasn't until I stepped away from the party scene for a bit, stayed single for a few years and dared to look at my life through a filterless lens that I realized how much wild, out-of-control drinking had affected me.

Drugs always turn on you, and don't think for one second that alcohol isn't a drug.

It's such a rite of passage in your 20s to binge-drink, you don't even think twice about doing it several times a week. You think you feel so displaced and anxious because you have an "anxiety disorder."

Of course we're anxious, alcohol is a depressant.

These days, I still drink, but I've revisited my relationship with alcohol.

I want to do things with my life. Big things. Things that require strength and courage. A big career, a long-term relationship, a family (one day, fucking far away).

In order to do those things, I need to feel the solid ground. I need clarity.

Only recently has it occurred to me that maybe all of my past relationships were so tempestuous and toxic, not because of the other person, not because of my struggles with anxiety, not because of our lack of life experience and youthfulness, but because of booze.

It's kind of scary to think that a little liquid could really be the catalyst for so many fights and broken relationships — friendships included.

But then again, it makes sense: How can you know what your real dynamic with your partner is if half of the time you're shit-faced, and the other half of the time you're depressed and you don't know why?

They say you can't love someone until you love yourself, but how can you love yourself when you don't even know yourself?

Since I've taken a step back and started drinking in a very different way than I used to, I've discovered so much.

I've learned what my real emotional triggers are, as opposed to just my hungover emotional triggers. I know when I'm really hurt, as opposed to just wasted and oversensitive.

As most of us know, first dates or first sex romps can be scary when you're sober or even just lightly buzzed. But it's so much more beautiful, even with the fear.

In fact, the fear is beautiful. You're only scared because you know you have something too good to lose.

The main gift out of all of this is: Changing the way I drink made me realize how much actual control I have over my life, and how fiercely independent and fully competent I am.

The fear is beautiful. You're only scared because you know you have something too good to lose.

I don't need someone to give me emotional support or to clean up my mess (because WOAH, I'm actually NOT a mess?!).

Now that I know I don't need someone, I'll never be in a codependent relationship ever again.

And just having that inherent confidence is better than any drug or drink in the world.

And, like I said, I've tried them all.