The Terrifying Moment You Realize You've Spent Your Whole Life Drunk Or Hungover
The first time I ever got wasted, I was a skinny adolescent living in the affluent suburbs of Connecticut. It was New Year's Eve, and we had just raided Lilly's* parents' liquor cabinet... because we were bored adolescents living in suburban Connecticut.
Like, what else were we going to do on New Year's Eve?
It was 1999. We were pretty sure the world was going to end that night, and neither one of us wanted to die without at least experiencing being drunk once, you know?
The next thing I remember, we were all practicing "french kissing" on each other. Lilly* was the most experienced french kisser of the group, so she stood and watched us all make out with folded arms, taking on the role of our strict kissing coach.
Too much tongue, Zara! Not enough tongue, Amanda*! SLOW DOWN, TIFFANY*!
She would bark at us like she was a militant drill seargeant.
The next morning, we all took turns vomiting into Lilly's porcelain toilet bowl.
"That was fun!" I gleefully shouted, sticking my head out of the toilet while coming up for air between my violent vomiting sessions.
Even though I was so sick, I felt like I'd been poisoned, the whole night had been a total blast! And while the throwing up aspect of the hangover sort of sucked, it also relieved me of any pressure for the rest of the day.
The hangover sort of sucked, but it also relieved me of any pressure for the rest of the day.
"Ugh, how am I going to do my geometry homework with this brutal hangover!" I dramatically cried on the phone to Lilly later that evening, feeling really cool and grown-up.
So many mornings, I had enviously watched my elder sisters put their glamorous hands to their gorgeously highlighted heads and weakly declare, "There's NO way I'm doing the laundry today. I'm so hungover."
Finally, I understood what being "so hungover" felt like. Being "so hungover" meant you were free from doing boring, menial, adult tasks.
I hated chores. I hated the mindlessness of studying.
I hated reality.
I decided I loved being drunk because it meant I could guiltlessly make out with girls (which was super fun). I loved being hungover because it gave me an excuse to do whatever the hell I wanted, like guiltlessly eat chocolate cake for breakfast or binge-watch an entire season of "The Real World" in lieu of doing my homework.
By the time I was 21, I was getting drunk all the time... and feeling hungover the rest of the time.
Hangovers had lost their excitement by now. Now, they were just painful and brutal. They sent me spinning down dark, emotional shame spirals. They stripped me of my health and self-esteem.
However, drinking never seemed excessive to me because everyone I knew drank just as much – if not more – than I did.
"I can't believe we got so hammered last night," my friend Sarah* would squeal into the phone the morning after a bender. "I hate myself."
"I know, I want to DIE! I'm not doing anything today. MAKE THE PAIN STOP," I would squeal back, curling my sore body into a tiny little ball, pulling the sheets over my eyes and feeling both deathly ill and manically depressed at once.
Drinking never seemed excessive to me because everyone I knew drank just as much – if not more – than I did.
In my world, blackouts were completely normal. In fact, if we went out for the night and didn't black out, it was a big triumph.
I'm so proud of myself! I made it until 2 am without blacking out! You go, girl!
I also wasn't the kind of drunk who didn't show up to work. I didn't screw up my life or lose my friends: In fact, I was pretty high-functioning. I always had good jobs, close(-ish) friends and a non crack den-looking apartment.
Except... I was depressed.
I was depressed and anxious all the time. Unless, of course, I was drunk or high... off pot, booze, pills or cocaine, just to name a few.
I went on antidepressants at the age of 25. Lexapro is what the doctor gave me.
It was an orange bottle of little blue pellets to be swallowed once a day, and it would apparently quell the suffocating sadness and debilitating anxiety that consumed my day-to-day life.
The Lexapro helped for a little while, but after a month, every time I drank – which, let's be real, was practically every night – I would wake up with panic attacks so severe, I once called 911 on myself because I thought I was having a heart attack.
"What the fuck is wrong with me? Am I bipolar or something?" I fearfully wondered as I sat on the subway, teeming with the usual fear and dread.
There was no way it was normal to feel like this all the time. After all, nothing was really WRONG in my life, right?
On that train ride from Williamsburg to Chelsea, I began to think a lot about the days when I wasn't depressed, sick or anxious all the time. I knew feeling weak wasn't my natural baseline: I'd been a really happy, creative kid!
Suddenly, it hit me. The darkness took over right around the time I started drinking as a teenager.
In fact, I came to a terrifying realization, right as the train screeched to a halt on Bedford avenue.
I had spent my entire adult life either drunk or hungover.
A pile of hipsters boarded the train. They were all carrying their Newport cigarettes and wearing skinny jeans. Their ironic grandpa mustaches framed their winter-blistered mouths.
I stared at them as I began to break down my life.
I came to the realization that I'd spent my entire adult life either drunk or hungover.
Drinking, for the most part, was fun. It gave me a bravado I didn't have when I was sober.
It gave me the guts to aggressively tell off the fuckboy who was disrespectfully hitting on my friend. It made all my wild dreams of becoming a famous actress and writer seem totally obtainable.
It made the increasingly ugly, barren world look as if it were covered in a soft coat of pretty, pink, sparkly glitter.
I really liked being drunk.
Hangovers were a double-edged sword, though. I would wake up with my head feeling as if a 1,000 hammers were smashing against my tender skull.
I would feel too sick to eat... and I would feel too ridden with guilt from all the empty calories I'd consumed in liquor to even think I deserved food, either.
I would feel chemically depressed. My heart would flutter with anxiety.
This feeling was so regular to me, since I was hungover all the time. I had become convinced that person was who I was.
But in a way, it also gave me a get out-of-jail-free card, therefore relieving me of the pressure to reach my true potential. I mean, just going to the audition in my sick, sad state was pretty good, right?
Forget if I blew it, screwed up the lines or looked like shit: I showed up. I showed up with acute anxiety and intense liquor sweats.
That counted for something, right?
Had I secretly enjoyed this part of the hangover?
But as soon as I realized all of this, I felt sick. And not hungover sick... sick in the way we feel when a life truth's knocked the wind out of us, and we know we'll never be the same again.
A wise woman once told me, "When you know something, you can't unknow it."
When you know something, you can't unknow it.
Now that I knew this cycle had dictated the course of my life, shaped my personality and was the very thing holding me back from attaining my big goals, I knew, deep down, what I was capable of.
And I couldn't unknow it.
"I wonder who I would be if I wasn't drunk or hungover all the time," I thought to myself.
Maybe I should stop drinking for a minute, and see who I am without it.
So, I took a solid two months off drinking... and it was the most transformative time of my entire life.
Seriously: It was astounding.
I realized when I wasn't drunk, I wasn't such a sassy, selfish, loud-mouthed person. I realized I actually cared about the consequences of my behavior.
I realized I was hyper-sensitive. I loathed small talk, and preferred one-on-one connections, as opposed to big group discussions.
I realized when I wasn't drunk, I wasn't such a sassy, selfish, loud-mouthed person.
I realized I was still as wildly creative as I was when I was a kid.
I began writing again... for fun. I began drawing again... for fun.
I realized those were the things that gave me authentic joy.
And not being hungover all the time made me realize I wasn't even that anxious of a person! I was a depressed person, but I wasn't really an anxious person.
So much of the anxiety I felt was simply rooted to my constant withdrawal of alcohol.
And guess what?
Without the booze, the Lexapro started to work. No one had warned me drinking on antidepressants is basically like taking the bottle of pills and flushing it down the toilet. They don't really work when you're drunk all the time, babes.
Once you know something, you can't unknow it.
I now knew what life was like on the other side, and I was so much happier living on the great island of Clarity. I never wanted to go back.
I had spent my entire 20s in a pattern that was steering my life off-course. And now that I had stopped drinking, I realized my true nature is actually productive and calm.
I was so much happier, living on the great island of Clarity.
Now that a few years have gone by and I've (for the most part) leveled out, I do still drink. But my life is not the drunk/hungover up and down seesaw it once was.
I drink to celebrate. I drink at dinner with my girlfriends. Sometimes, I take it too far, like over the holidays or at a best friend's 30th birthday party.
But I can instantly recognize when I'm getting caught back up in the toxic cycle because there is such a clear distinction between who I am when I'm not heavily drinking, and who I am when I'm a wasted head case.
And when I feel myself go there, I reel myself back in... right away.
So, if you're feeling like you constantly teeter between free-spirited party animal and sad, scared, depressed person, maybe you should look at your booze intake. I say this not from a place of judgment, but from a loving place of personal experience.
Since I've been a teenager, I've run with the fast, fun, booze-swilling, drug-sniffing crowd. Drunks, druggies... they've always been my people.
I love their reckless passion, and I understand their instinct to drink the demons away. I admire their sense of adventure.
And I still love these people.
But the trouble is, rubbing elbows with drunks all the time totally normalizes the drunk lifestyle.
No one around me ever connected depression, lack of meaningful relationships or anxiety disorders to excessive partying. Getting blitzed was just part of being young, you know?
And I had no idea any of it was connected, either.
The trouble with rubbing elbows with drunks all the time is it totally normalizes the drunk lifestyle.
And if you do come to this realization like I did, don't be upset. You're having one of the most powerful, life-changing revelations you'll ever have in your life.
This is where your life begins. It's fucking exciting to explore who you really are when you hop off that emotional rollercoaster of the perpetually inebriated life.
You need firm ground if you want to grow real, sustainable roots. And when you're standing on firm soil, you're safe to discover the girl you're supposed to be.