The Case of the Girl who Didn’t Know What the F?#% to Do

Note: I wrote this on my second day of being sober, July 10, 2016. Also, adult language in this one (as evidenced by the title).

 

Much of my young adult life has revolved around the idea of putting up facades in an effort to keep those closest to me from knowing, or understanding, the depths of my not-knowing-what-the-fuck-is-going-on-ness. There were a lot of things that made it easy along the way: boyfriends, friends, college, jobs, (so many jobs), apartments (so many apartments), cars, moving across the country, getting married, being a wife, being a professional, being well-liked among my friends, being a people-pleaser.

When I got laid off, lost my grandfather, and lost my marriage in the same week in July 2014, my head was spinning out of control, and so I put myself into hyper-control-freak mode. I couldn’t let anyone know how horribly my sense of self was starting to shrivel and fall apart, how deep the depths of my despair burrowed into me, or the number of nights I drank enough wine to literally knock myself out cold because I knew that the immense sense of anxiety and dread I was feeling wasn’t going to let me sleep unless I did.

The facade I put up was that of a young woman was was sad, who had fallen and stumbled a bit, but who was hopeful about the future, self-determined and intrinsically motivated to be a better version of the already “good” person I was. She kept saying, “this is a learning opportunity.” She kept saying, “this is just another part of the adventure – something to put in my memoir.” She kept saying, “things will get better. They really will.”

I guess that facade wasn’t really a true facade. It was partial – still part of who I was, and how I was handling things, a half-true representation of me. And for the most part, things really did get better. Eventually. Most things, but not all.

 

This partial facade went for long walks, introspectively journaled and read about others who went through similar things, blogged her highly introspective thoughts as a form of therapy, sought out actual therapy, attended meetups, and started dating with the best intentions of making a genuine connection once again.

The partial facade hid the young woman who was drinking (often alone) and to excess, who was anxious and depressed, who experiencing cycling between numbness that edged on a complete nihilism and all-consuming, face-reddening rage that was expressed in bursts of screaming into pillows and going for long runs. It hid the young woman who, despite her efforts otherwise, convinced herself that it was impossible to find the kind of love she wanted and deserved. She believed that it was more rare for a relationship to stay healthy and strong than it was for it to crumble beneath the weight of the expectations, lost dreams, annoyances, and personal foreclosures placed upon it.

It wasn’t just the divorce, the lay-off, or the re-structuring of my world. It wasn’t just the transition from happily coupled to terrifyingly free, or from established to exploratory. It wasn’t just the exciting and scary world of dating as a bona fide adult, and learning how to navigate responsible, adult relationships without becoming overly emotional or carrying expectations that are too high for my partners to meet. It wasn’t even the loneliness, though that did contribute quite a bit.

It was the feeling of being in a state of complete frameworklessness, a mixture of anxiety and having no idea what I was supposed to be doing. You know that stage of early adolescence, where you were trying to figure out the meaning of life and what you’re going to do, but with very little frame-of-reference and a deficit in the kinds of cognitive capabilities required to grasp the many nuanced, frustrating, freeing parts of being an adult and having direction in life?

Yeah, that was me. Except I was going through that at age 25. 

My individuation from my “past life” left me feeling unstable, anxious, exhausted. In trying to regain my footing, I knocked a few boulders down the mountain and watched as they tumbled haphazardly toward the landscape and people below. I made a lot of mistakes, unintentionally hurt people, unintentionally hurt myself, self-sabotaged my own best efforts to become sane and level-headed, and kept myself in an endless loop of hope for a better life and utter despair about the meaninglessness of it all. 

 

Like I said, most things have improved. It’s been nearly two years since I moved home from Colorado and said goodbye to the friendships, life and home I was building there. I’ve mostly come to terms with that loss, and have placed it neatly in a box labeled “old chapters” that sits collecting dust under my bed. It’s been nearly two years since I arrived exhausted at my father’s doorstep after two days of sleep-deprived driving, knowing nothing about what the fuck I was going to do, or how I was going to do it.

All I knew is that I needed a beer to cool my hot, white-knuckled hands. I got that beer – and after it, I got many, many more.

 

There are a few things I’m still working on. A few things that catch me and pull me back a few steps from where I’m trying to go. I have to stop and intentionally tell myself, “no, don’t do this. Don’t let it derail you. Not again. Just keep moving forward.”

We all have our daimonic force. That little thing (or those little things) about ourselves we’d rather keep secret. Our dark sides, if you will.

From Wikipedia: “As a psychological term, [daimonic] has come to represent an elemental force which contains an irrepressible drive towards individuation. As a literary term, it can also mean the dynamic unrest that exists in us all that forces us into the unknown, leading to self-destruction and/or self-discovery.

The more I try to keep my daimonic underground, the louder it bangs its drums against my head. It’s a frustrating, annoying, even harmful cycle. And so, here it is:

My daimonic forces? Well, among many things, the most prevalent are: drinking, perfectionism (aka high personal expectations), and expecting myself to know what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing with my life by now, because I’m 27, goddamnit, why don’t I know what the fuck I’m doing right now?

Drinking, which I’ve historically used as a social and personal crutch, has and always will be a detrimental behavior for me. I know this and have accepted the fact that, unlike most of my friends and family members, I don’t have – in fact, I never have had – a healthy, boundary-driven relationship with alcohol. I started drinking regularly and heavily right after I turned 21, which was also a time when I had recently left an emotionally abusive relationship that damaged my sense of self, my confidence, and my capacity for intimacy within romantic and platonic relationships for a very long time.

Since the age of 21, I managed to keep myself close to social environments where drinking was not only acceptable, but expected. I maintained friendships and relationships through a mutual love of craft beer and other fine libations. I conditioned myself into believing that an after-work beer was the best – the BEST – thing in the world. Homemade margaritas were a close second. After not-too-long, difficult conversations required a boozy aide. I often felt paralyzed voicing my needs or concerns without downing a drink or two first. Angry? Booze! Sad? Booze! Happy? Booze! Bored? Booze! Booze? More booze!

On, and on, and on. You know how it goes – once the train gains momentum, it’s damn near impossible to slow the damn thing down again without a lot of help (and heavy-duty braking systems). It goes on its merry way, and mows down anything that falls into its destructive path. 

 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned a more critical eye to my drinking habits, though my attempts at moderation and abstinence have typically been met with failure (self-sabotage), criticism (mostly from myself, occasionally from others), misunderstanding (often from myself, occasionally from others) and disbelief that there’s even any problem at all (from myself and others, equally). Some of those who are closest to me have even expressed defensiveness. about my attempts to quit. And through their defensiveness I try to say, “it’s just about me – drink as you please.” But their words have done a lot to shape how I think about drinking, and how I think about quitting drinking. It makes it hard to go at it alone.

Despite my failures, quitting has never been far from my mind. Each brief period that I’ve spent without has left me with a renewed sense of accomplishment, calmness and joy. There’s actual clarity that can’t ever be achieved when I’m pouring beer and wine down my throat. That elusive pink cloud feeling, while brief, is oh-so-wonderful to encounter.

Then, inevitably, the disbelief and fear set in, and I seek out those boozy comforts with mixed feelings of shame and relief. I think, “well, here I go again – but thank god I don’t have to keep trying anymore. That was hard.” And so I end up right back where I started – or worse. Every time.

 

My drinking has contributed in many ways to the other two problems listed above: perfectionism, and expecting myself to know what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing with my life by now.

When I’m drinking in ways that I know aren’t healthy, I tend to overcompensate by being a perfectionist in other areas of my life – because if I can’t totally and completely control my drinking, I may as well try to totally control something else. My weight, my waist, my work, my workouts, my schooling, my relationships, my free time, my food intake, etc., etc.

When I drink, I overcompensate by pushing myself to the limit in the gym, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if I were doing it to reach a new level of physical fitness and health, rather than trying to hide my love of beer by having to work harder to keep the extra weight off.

I track and control my food, I measure my self-esteem against my pant size, I fret about the new gray hairs I keep finding on my head, and I obsess over the quality of my skin, trying to find anything and everything that might possibly make it better without having to quit drinking. At least not yet, I think. Not until I’ve exhausted all of my other options.

When I drink, I overcompensate by trying to excel in every other area of my life – I want to be the best student (with a glass of wine in my hand as I study) and the best employee (planning on the after-work happy hour). I want to be the best girlfriend (she likes craft beer and knows how to brew! She likes going out with my friends and holds her liquor well and isn’t a crazy psycho-drunk!) I want to be the best at maintaining and managing a full social calendar. And I want it all to happen without having to give up drinking, even though drinking de-motivates me and makes me tired and contributes to my desire to overcompensate in the first place. But, I think, so long as I can control these other things, the drinking isn’t so bad and I won’t have to stop after all. Right?

 

This all comes down to me feeling like I should know what the fuck I’m doing with my life, because that’s what it probably looks like to most people on the outside – but let me just say I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with my life. I don’t think I have ever definitively known what I’m doing with my life. I make assumptions about what might work, and I give it a whirl, hi.

All the while, I see my close friends, acquaintances, coworkers and classmates making strides in their (social-media-edited) lives and from where I stand, they seem to have their shit figured out, even if they say they don’t.

They’re making serious moves on committed relationships, relocating and traveling for their professional lives, buying property, getting married, and having children. Some of them are living in tiny houses in the mountains with their spouses and dogs, while others are excelling at work and using their newfound financial independence to buy homes. Their children are perfect. Their makeup is flawless. Their hair is full-bodied. And let’s not forget how good their boobs look from that angle – I mean, come on: dayum.  

So, there’s me, then. Just sitting over here with an uncertain career future in one hand, an uncertain educational future in the other, no real “place” to call my own home, stuck in a self-harming cycle of drinking more than I want and regretting it, and all I can think is, “I sure hope something sticks. Otherwise, I’m screwed.”

And when I get anxious and self-doubting, I drink more. Because it shuts that stupid voice up and tells me, “nah, it’s all going to be okay. You can figure that out later. Just have some more wine.

Just as it did before – during the aftermath of my emotionally abusive relationship, during the depression-heavy years of undergrad, during my marriage and divorce, during dating and breakups, during every phase of self-discovery I’ve been through so far – the booze quieted the voice for a minute, and I felt that little bit of fuzzy warmth that made my cheeks flush and head feel light. In those initial moments, the world was quiet again and I wasn’t really so scared anymore.

Once that sensation died down a bit, the immediate desire to replicate it came on. And if I could manage it, I’d try to keep the feeling going all night, increasing its intensity with each drink, until I was eventually too tired to stay awake and fell into a light, restless sleep that would leave me feeling tired and edgy the next day.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Honestly, though, I’m just so tired of that. I’m tired of convincing myself that I’m okay when I obviously still have things to address. I’m tired of keeping the facade alive. I’m tired of allowing my identity to be wrapped up in something I know is not good for me, mentally or physically. And I’m tired of trying to find ways around it without anyone being the wiser. 

 

What I want to do now – what I’m hoping might happen – is to reach a state of complete mental clarity, aided in part by a prolonged stage of sobriety. I’m talking 100 days, to start. 100 days of abstinence and teaching myself to do something other than pour alcohol down my throat and an automatic response to anything that happens in my life. 

Despite any misunderstandings, criticisms from friends or self, fears, anger, anxiety or boredom, I’m going to sustain sobriety until I can have a clear understanding of how I feel about drinking, and the role it plays in my life. Then – and only then – can I understand the best way to move forward, and maybe get a little bit closer to knowing what the fuck I’m doing with myself.
Or, alternatively – I might have a chance of easing up on myself, and not expecting myself to know what the fuck I’m doing with my life, no matter what my anxious, high-expectations-holding, perfectionist brain wants me to believe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s