For Rachel and Melissa
I used to sing along to Natalie Cole’s rendition of Lush Life, long before I knew what any of it meant. In the last few years the words and tone have taken on a new significance, becoming a sort of secret anthem that I saved for myself when I was feeling low.
Right out of college I started having a bad relationship with alcohol. I got a great job within a few short months during the recession of ’09. I moved into an apartment by myself and became a successful college-educated working person who paid their bills on time. Everyone thought I should be happy but the truth was I was lonely and suffering with an unpredictable combination of undiagnosed depression and anxiety.
Social anxiety prevented me from making more than a handful of friends in college and they were all out-of-state in Washington. I lost touch with most of my friends from high school and most of them had started lives in other places, some in other countries. But something other than my social isolation was much more detrimental. I had a good job but I felt purposeless there. I sat in a windowless office and during the winter months would go days without seeing the sun. Within six months, I stopped caring about my job and my depression got worse. I felt stressed and directionless. I felt trapped there by having to pay enormous chunks of my paycheck towards student loans.
At the same time my dad’s health was constantly in flux as he battled cancer. Every year doctors put him in a new clinical trial or on the next hottest drug. Every year my family rode a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment at the discovery of a new tumor.
To top it off, I was also recovering from the end of a long-term relationship. I began drinking alone almost every other evening. Sometimes 3/4’s of a bottle of red wine, or four or five Mike’s Cranberry Lemonades. The buzz would make me opine, cry, and then fall asleep so I could wake up and do it all again the next day.
At that time, I didn’t know I was leading myself down a dangerous road. Because I drank alone, no one was there to voice their concern, and by the time people did notice I had developed a dependency. Booze took my anxiety away. Buzzed around new people, my inhibitions vanished, buzzed alone I didn’t care, about anything, and it felt good. Because I never drank at work or everyday, I didn’t think there was a problem. After all, I thought, alcoholics need alcohol constantly, right?
After awhile my family started commenting on my high tolerance, and among a couple of friends I became known as the Lush. Up until then I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my drinking habits but from that point forward unless I was in a group at a party, I started sneaking extra glasses of wine or shots when others were occupied.
After my dad died, I started drinking until I blacked out. In Seattle I got reckless and had a couple of one-night stands with people I barely knew. Many times I wouldn’t be able to remember what had happened the night before. By the time I was in South Korea, I was ready to quit or at least make some changes, but the availability and cheapness of soju made that difficult. After getting drunk and starting a fight with my boyfriend at the time, I agreed to stop drinking altogether. I hurt someone I loved and it wasn’t worth it anymore. So for six weeks I didn’t go anywhere near alcohol. I noticed about two weeks in that I could relax after work without having a buzz. Three weeks in, my anxiety felt less severe. That’s the thing people often forget. While alcohol might soothe anxiety in the moment, it contributes to worsening depression and anxiety symptoms over time. For a moment things were looking up. But when we broke up, it was almost as if I’d never stopped drinking.
Most of my time in Korea was spent mitigating my love addiction and the grief over losing my dad with alcohol. My friends tried to help me repeatedly until one night when a friend knocked on my door after I passed out wasted. We had sex, but I can’t remember how it happened.
A lot has happened since then. I came back to the states in February and started treatment for my depression and anxiety which has completely changed my life, for the better. I live in New Orleans and have the opportunity to live the purposeful life I’ve always wanted. I paid tribute to my dad. I un-broke my heart. But…
Old habits die hard. In a new city, with new people the habit of drinking in new situations has reared it’s ugly head and it’s no secret that most of the Crescent City’s inhabitants love their liquor. On Saturday, I had a great night out with new friends at an art show where there was an endless supply of wine. I didn’t stop drinking and now I can’t remember imoportant parts of the evening. Even though my friends have repeatedly reassured me that I didn’t do anything regrettable in their eyes, I know I did.
I Skyped one of my best friends from college today and since she’s teetotal she’s agreed to be my sister in solidarity. I don’t want to be a Lush anymore. I don’t want that song to be painfully familiar in the present anymore. I need the help of my family and friends to kill this habit and have decided from the get go to be as open as possible about this in the hopes of garnering support and starting conversations about alcohol dependency, mental illness, grief, sexual abuse, dependency and friendship, dependency and relationships… I want to hear from people and I want to help people. Knowing that others have read this will encourage me to stay sober and dispel the deep sense of shame that often accompanies dependency. So please, let me hear from you!
Let November 15th be a day I celebrate.