On the morning after my Halloween party, I woke up and ran straight to the bathroom. I didn’t just get sick. I got gut-wrenchingly ill for hours, and hours, and hours the next day.
When I was finally able to use the sink to pull myself up off of the cool tiles of the bathroom floor that 2011 day, I looked around the apartment, doubled over in pain, and thought, What the fuck happened here?
My BlackBerry was resting in a puddle of spilled rum. There were chicken nuggets on the terrace. The entire living room floor of the apartment was covered in sticky black footprints. Somehow, blue paint had gotten all over my “sexy nurse” costume.
Flashes of the previous night flickered through my mind.
The moment when I heard my favorite song playing and started screaming with delight, and the following moment when someone pointed out it had been playing on repeat for an hour.
The moment where I almost didn’t intervene before my then-boyfriend started talking to the guy I had just cheated on him with. Because of course I had invited them both to the party. How else were we going to assure that we had 12 bottles of liquor for 15 people? He always came packing!
The moment where my building’s security guard came to the door — twice, actually — with noise complaints, and my friend had to handle it because I wasn’t in any position to reassure anyone in a uniform of anything.
At least, not a real uniform anyway.
I picked up my digital camera, scrolling through pictures of the party, looking for clues about how it had all gone so wrong.
There were also the prerequisite photos of me before people arrived with my finger dragging my bottom lip open, slightly bent over the mirror, my reflection suggesting, “No, I never went to nursing school, but, hey, want me to make you feel better?” But in the photos that followed, we were all posing, laughing, happy — me and Betty Boop, a forest ranger, Charlie Sheen, a lazy witch, some guy in a beige trench coat whose costume I didn’t understand… The final photos were taken on the terrace, where we had been smoking weed… And then…
I put the camera down and took a deep breath.
Now it made sense.
I crawled back into bed and turned to look at my then-boyfriend, who was still asleep, and it all came back to me.
I had said I wasn’t going to drink until midnight, and I hadn’t. Then, at midnight, I made a drink that was 90 percent vodka and 10 percent juice, then I mixed it with weed — something I knew I couldn’t do.
In my first year of college, I partied in the clubs of New York City’s West Chelsea neighborhood with a fake ID and promoters that made me feel like a celebrity. During that time, I thought I was just drinking the unlimited alcohol just like everyone else was. Time passed, and even though the club life ended, I still drank on dates, at parties, at bars. I didn’t drink every day, I didn’t drink in the mornings, and I sometimes had just one or two. I didn’t go to jail, wreck a car, or steal anything from anyone. I graduated college with a 3.8 GPA, a byline in several newspapers, and three internships under my belt.
When the consequences got bigger on the nights when I couldn’t or didn’t stop drinking once I started, I would stop altogether, on my own, for a while. Cold turkey. But I thought about it, constantly. I missed it. I felt I was depriving myself of something perfectly normal that everyone else got to do. So I’d just start reheating that turkey, piece by piece, until it was fully cooked again.
So there I was, so many attempts later, ready to surrender. I couldn’t, despite my best efforts, drink like “a normal person” even though my friends, at the time, tried to convince me I could.
My then-boyfriend turned to me and asked, “How much longer are you going to keep doing this to yourself?”
I picked up my BlackBerry, which, miraculously, would work for a few more minutes, and I sent an email with one line to my therapist.
“Do you know of any 12-step meetings people under the age of 50 go to?”
I was surprised that I’d even though of it, but the thought must have been waiting in the back of my mind after I read about those meetings in Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story a few months before. The seed had been planted, all the way down there at rock bottom, just waiting to see some light.
I look at that photo now, that one of me bent over the mirror, and see the girl I used to be before I recovered from PTSD, before I went into recovery for alcoholism, which will officially be five years on November 12 of this year (because even though I didn’t drink after that last hurrah, I later found I had to give up weed, too, and threw away my cigarettes, too). I slowly said goodbye to the girl who felt that her strongest asset were her…well, "assets"; to the girl who never got the chance to build up that kind of confidence on the inside; the one who gave off the appearance of confidence but had yet to learn the meaning of the word.
This weekend, I’m still not sure what my fiancé and I will be doing. Maybe we’ll dress up as the Joker and Harley Quinn and find a house party where I know the host isn’t hell-bent on getting everyone as liquored up as possible. Maybe we’ll stay snuggled in with our dog, who has made it clear he will not tolerate costumes of any kind, and watch horror movies.
But whatever we do, I will feel content, without having to reach for anything to make me feel that way. These days, peace of mind is always in reach, and I don’t need any mind-altering substances to make me feel that way, even when life gets scary.