I think there must have been some point in my life when my confidence was not tied directly to intoxication, there must have been, but I don’t remember it. I remember painful shyness in my childhood that I covered with what can only be called, in hindsight, bitchiness — I remember one summer before going away for a week of sleepaway camp (on a Salvation Army grant for poor kids) sitting down and planning out, in writing, exactly the persona I was going to affect so that the other girls would leave me alone.
Not, understand, because I wanted to be left alone, but because it was simpler to feel lonely than it was to try to make my personality, my brain, my experiences, accessible to other people. It was easier to reject ahead of time instead of risking rejection. I was so tired, so early in my life, of being called strange, ugly, weirdo, freak. I was tired of being mocked for having hand-me-down clothes and homemade toys, for my parents being older than those of my peers, for smelling like cowshit even though it wasn’t true, it was just something the village kids said about all the farm kids. I was tired of being called “Technical” and “Encyclopedia” for reading so much and for interrupting teachers to correct them or argue about finer points of their lessons. I was tired of being sneered at by girls because I was a tomboy, and being treated like one of the guys by boys whom I desperately wanted to notice that I was a girl.
by the time I smoked my first joint at 13, I was exhausted. I’d made friends with the bad kids because they at least came from the same poverty I did, and while they ragged on me a little for being smart, I believed it was more admiring than resentful. The weird shit that my brain came up with, that confused and upset other people, they just shrugged it off. It wasn’t a total acceptance, and it didn’t last, but it felt comfortable enough at the time. And by then, I had the answer.
If I was high, I could talk to people. If I was drunk, I could talk to people. I could ramble on about shit and people thought it was awesome. I could flirt with guys and even hook up with them. I started to be able to look in the mirror and see a pretty girl instead of the ugly thing I’d always been looking at. I had more confidence than I’d ever had in my life. And I didn’t spend every minute fucked up, but I knew it was an option, it was there as a parachute. If I got shaky, if I got worried about how a situation was going down, I could have a drink. I could have something stronger. Everything would be fine.
I gave up most, then all, of the other shit in my 20s, but I still had the drink. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to drink for drinking’s own sake, I loved to drink in celebration and in comfort and just sitting around the house, it wasn’t only a social crutch, but it was definitely that.
I need a drink.
Let’s get a drink.
Who wants a drink?
At one point some friends commented on how after a certain hour in any evening I turned into Peter O’Toole: drunkenly rakish and charming and a little bit mean. I thought that was the most fabulous compliment I’d ever been paid.
Oh, man, I was so fucking confident. I could go new places and meet new people, knowing there would almost assuredly be drinks available. I could have amazing conversations with strangers, I could be in the center of everything, at a bar or a club or a party. Drinks! With a glass in my hand, I could rule the world.
Tonight pretty much everyone I know is going to be at a brass band show out at Vaughn’s. It’s a benefit for the Juvenile Justice Project, and you should totally go. I told everybody I’d be there, but the doors opened 5 minutes ago and I’m still sitting on my couch in my underthings, curled up into a ball of nausea. My stomach’s a cold knot. I want to go hear the bands. I want to dance and see my friends.
I don’t need a drink.
I want a drink.
I can’t risk a drink.
I don’t have the confidence anymore. I never really did, of course, it was all a put on. I am scared to go to a place where I’ll have to have a social conversation, where I won’t have the time or space to ease into acquaintance. I’m scared to go into a situation where I’ll be offered alcohol and I’ll have to refuse, and then more than likely have to explain, because nobody ever accepts the answer “I don’t drink” gracefully, and talking about my addiction isn’t really fun for me.