Maybe we all had a problem?

Originally published on 6/29/2017


I went to AA once.
And I wish I could say it was a couple years ago, or back before I got my shit together, but it wasn’t. I was living in Columbia.
It gave me a lot of perspective, but ultimately showed me that I wasn’t necessarily an alcoholic. I didn’t like the idea that I had absolutely no control over alcohol. Everyone in the meeting was kind and supportive. They asked how long it had been since I’d had a drink, and I replied,
“Two days,”
“Don’t worry, this is the hardest part,” they assured me.
However, what I felt in that moment wasn’t hard, and it made me question whether or not I really needed to be there. I wasn’t craving a drink. I was fine with being sober. It was a Tuesday afternoon; why would I be drunk right now? I listened to the members of the group tell their stories, and I couldn’t relate. I’d never started my day with hard liquor. A mimosa, maybe, but that was only on special occasions. I don’t regret going. Attending that meeting was a step in the right direction for me to figure out what exactly my relationship with alcohol was.
Alcohol was one of the last things I got under control. Throughout the process of figuring out why I turn to alcohol so easily, and what exactly it does for me, I realized that I had been taught through socialization by peers, media, and even family, that alcoholic tendencies are a very normal part of our society… and I think that’s kind of fucked up.
After the AA meeting, I shelved my copy of the Big Book and made the decision that I probably wouldn’t ever go back.  I still needed to do something though, so I sobered up for a month. I just wanted to see if I could easily do it.  During that time, I took a notebook and wrote down every time I wanted a drink. It was a journaling technique I was taught in therapy, although I was using it for a specific reason instead of just logging my mentality throughout the day. I wrote down the date and time, what I wanted, and why I wanted it. The answer took me about two seconds to figure out, but I kept journaling anyway until I stopped wanting drinks for emotional reasons.
I’m an extremely emotional person. It’s just part of who I am, and I used to have issues with that. Emotions are what make us human, yet for the longest time, I wanted to deny that I wasn’t overly emotional. I felt that it made it harder for people to take me seriously. So instead of being upset, I would drink. Instead of venting my frustrations, I would drink. Instead of soaking up every ounce of happiness over an exciting event, I would drink. Mental illness didn’t help either. I coped with my depression and anxiety by drinking. During those years, being intoxicated was easier than being sober, but it didn’t solve anything. It just delayed the moment when I finally faced my shit head on, and the things that I had said/done while intoxicated added a ridiculous amount of other stuff that I also had to deal with.
When I moved to Columbia and went back to school, I moved away from the vast majority of my social stressors. I was able to finally start over and just focus on college. Yet, for some reason that I can only guess was habit, I was still drinking at least two nights a week, if not more. It wasn’t quite on the same level. I wasn’t going out and dancing on bars and blacking out. I wasn’t sleeping with a trash can by my bed, but I was waking up with a wine bottle on my nightstand. My recycling bin was mostly filled with empty bottles. I was spending my Friday thinking about the bottle of wine waiting for me at the end of it. I was significantly disappointed when my friends couldn’t make it to dollar margarita night, and would usually wind up going to the liquor store and throwing myself a marg night…alone. Yup, totally normal.
It took me a solid two years to actually see something wrong with that, because our society is so tolerant of alcoholic tendencies, especially in college. Now, the raging drunk who beats their children and spouse obviously needs to sober up and go to AA, but what about the functional alcoholic? What about the person who brags about a dinner of, “fruit salad, okay mostly grapes, okay wine, I’m having wine for dinner,” does that person need a meeting?
Back in my days of doing a lot more than just boozin’ at frat houses, I remember scouring the internet for something that would convince me that I had a problem. I knew I did, but I needed someone else to tell me, and I didn’t think it would be the people doing all of the same things with me.  Anyway, I remember finding a quote on tumblr, and it was something along the lines of,
The second you use a substance to fill a void is the moment you start to abuse it.
It’s stuck with me. We drink to deal with our insecurities, to give us the courage to ask out the attractive person on the other side of the bar. We drink to celebrate. We drink to drown the sorrow of a loss. We drink when we win, and we drink when we lose. Win or lose, we still booze. You aced your final? Hell yeah, let’s go party. You think you failed? Oh well, it’s over, let’s go get drunk to forget about it. Why is this behavior okay, and more importantly, why is it normalized?
This is the part where I have to get really clear about what I’m trying to say, otherwise every time I post a photo of a glass of wine, I’m going to get shit: I’m not saying we should all stop drinking. I’m not sober. What I’m specifically addressing is the normalization of drinking to fill a void, which is 100% an alcoholic tendency. I got a grasp on my drinking by getting very real with myself about why I was drinking. I would turn to alcohol when I had something on my mind that I didn’t want to deal with. A test that I thought I did badly on. Loneliness. The guy I liked was dating someone else. A paper I didn’t want to write. I felt that I couldn’t be funny unless I was three drinks in (which is false).
I’m not talking about sitting around a table with your friends, playing cards and having some drinks. I’m talking about the, “Fuck it, let’s get drunk,” moments that are all over the internet and basically everywhere. I’m talking about drinking to forget about an ex or losing your job, or even spending an entire day looking forward to the drink that’s waiting for you at the end of it. Drinking from an emotional place. Drinking to numb something. Drinking to cope. That’s what I’m talking about.
One fun thing about myself is that I have a really hard time stopping my consumption of alcohol when I’m emotional. I don’t want to deal with whatever is happening that’s making me upset, so I just get another drink. Cutting myself off means sobering up and having to face whatever I’m avoiding. I finally got really sick of being the drunk girl, so I stopped drinking when I was upset. That’s when I have to tell myself, “Nope, I don’t need alcohol right now.”
My weekends with friends went from, “Hey let’s get drunk this weekend. We’re due for a drunk night,” to, “Hey let’s go out,” or, “Hey, let’s have a movie night,” and somehow that mentality has allowed me to actually remember time with my friends. Drinking to get drunk results in a different type of drunken state than just having a few drinks with friends does. I was recently in one of my best friend’s weddings, and we spent the night before the wedding drinking in the bridal suite after the rehearsal dinner. It was like a giant adult sleepover, and it was so much fun. We sat around in our PJs and drank champagne out of plastic cups and talked about life and love and relationships. I woke up the next day feeling completely fine, with all of my memories from the night before fully intact. Whereas on nights when the goal of the night has been to get drunk, things usually end in a much uglier manner.
Granted, a lot of this might have to do with the fact that I’m in my mid-twenties and just don’t feel like doing shots and keg-stands, or going from Jack to Malibu to Fireball to Budweiser and then back to Jack again. I was offered a tequila shot at the reception for the previously mentioned wedding, and I had to give myself a damn pep talk before I took it. Maybe this is just growing up. I’ve mentioned my past drinking problem to people and they say, “You didn’t have a problem, you were just in college. We all did that shit. We all drank multiple nights a week.”So maybe we all had a problem? I don’t know.
I guess all I’m trying to say is that just because it’s everywhere, doesn’t mean it’s normal or healthy. Facing whatever you don’t want to deal with is scary and hard, but no matter how much you drink, you’re going to have to face it eventually. Trust me.


I’m coming back!

Sup, WordPress?

About a year ago, I abandoned ship and decided to take my blog to another platform. Turns out that was a huge mistake. I’m now beginning the process of moving back to old faithful wordpress. Over the next week or so I’ll be uploading some pieces already published on the newer site, and eventually transfer the domain back to this page.


Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why.

TW: Discussion of suicide, self-harm, rape, and mental illness.

I also relate a lot of it to my own personal experiences, so if you’re not familiar with my story, you’re about to be.

Aaand, spoiler alert for the show, I guess. Although I’m not sure why you’re reading this if you haven’t watched it yet.

I just finished watching 13 Reasons Why. Well, actually about twenty minutes ago, but it took me ten minutes to lower my heart rate from the brutal break down I had during the suicide scene.  A few days ago, I had firmly decided I wouldn’t touch this show.  I wouldn’t watch it. I didn’t want to wind up hyperventilating while sobbing hysterically during the rape and suicide scenes, like I knew I absolutely would (and I did).  Yet, all I’ve heard and read about lately has been this controversy. There’s a pretty clear split: people either love it or hate it.  I’m one of those people that likes to form my own opinion, especially when it comes to things that everyone is talking about, so I finally took a deep breath and began cautiously watching this show.

I have a lot of things I want to discuss in relation to this show, and I apologize if I go off on rants or tangents.  I’ll try to make my points eventually.

13 Reasons Why makes me so frustrated that I want to scream.  It’s decently close to really nailing what it’s trying to do, but the errors it makes in telling a story about suicide ruin the entire thing, even the good stuff.

As a writer, and someone who appreciates the art of storytelling, I think the mechanism it uses is really interesting.  Not necessarily something new, but still interesting. The tapes. Each episode is a different side of a tape, and through flashbacks and voiceovers, the story is told.  It’s intriguing.  It keeps the audience interested.  Who’s on the next tape? What did they do?

This entire concept is ruined by the fact that each tape is supposedly a reason why Hannah killed herself.  It’s an artistically detailed suicide note blaming those responsible for killing herself and overlooking the real culprit: mental fucking illness.

It’s 2017, so I hate that I have to state this, but mental illness is serious.  It can kill you. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  Approximately 121 suicides occur every day, with 25 attempts for every success. Think about that. This is real. While other diseases weaken your immune system and wind up killing you with pneumonia or organ failure, mental illness kills you with suicide.  It’s the fucker that gets you to do the dirty work.

There’s a movement to start saying “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide” because “committed suicide” makes it sound like it was an active, coherent choice.  “Oh, I think I’ll die today.”  People who have never been in that place call it selfish.  Weak.  Inconsiderate to your friends and family.  But until you’ve been stuck at the bottom of the rabbit hole for months or years, don’t try to tell me it’s a choice. It’s the glowing exit sign out of the dark hell your mind has been trapped in.  It’s the warm sense of relief that in just a few minutes, all of your suffering will finally be over.  It’s warped perception, because your mind doesn’t go there until shit is really bad. It’s bullshit. And to this day, I will still scream from the rooftops that it does in fact get better if you just stick around to find out.  Like Hannah, I needed someone to pick up on the fact that I wasn’t okay.  And luckily for me, someone did. That didn’t magically fix my issues, but it bought me a little more time to at least get my head above water.  However, I didn’t attempt to get someone’s attention or to get back at anyone.  It doesn’t work that way.

It’s not a place you get to just because people are shitty to you.  People being shitty to you amplifies already existing issues.  Bullying does not cause suicide.  Bullying can amplify the symptoms of pre-existing mental illness, and in severe cases, that can lead to suicide.  There’s a difference here.

Another massive issue I have: this show basically walks you through a successful suicide step by step with visual aids.  If it’s something a viewer is considering, lo and behold! A perfectly good way to do it.  You can tell the story of suicide without a step-by-step visual.  I have a lot of issues with exploiting trauma for views, and that’s what the suicide and rape scenes felt like to me.  Showing a violent rape doesn’t help the story in any way.  You can get the point of what happened across without fully depicting it.

The suicide scene fucked me up. My attempt was basically the same method, only I didn’t bother with the tub, and I only had enough time to do one arm before someone was banging on my apartment door.  While watching, I was hysterical and seriously considered fast-forwarding through it, but instead I just closed my eyes and tried to not pass out from hyperventilating.  Even though I knew how the scene ended, I kept wishing someone would knock on the door like they had for me.

One thing I really liked about this show is that it showed the aftermath of suicide.  The people left in its wake.  The scenes with Hannah’s mother almost always had me tearing up.  Her daughter is dead.  She’s trying to cope and figure out why.  I feel like Kate Walsh nailed this.  The desperation, the grief, all while trying to hold her life together and barely doing so.  The only unbelievable moment was when she found Hannah’s body, and her first reaction was a very quiet, almost nonchalant, “oh no,” like she left her phone in the car.  After that, the shock built and it became more believable, and I once again lost my shit over imagining my mother finding my body.

Early on, I was so annoyed by Hannah.  Her tone in the first few tapes is superior, like she’s happy to finally get her revenge on these people. But as the show continued to develop, and her condition begins to get more and more unstable, I began to see myself in her.  Which is interesting, because I know a few people that have the opposite opinion: that as she becomes more unstable, they find her more annoying.

As Hannah becomes more unstable, she begins to lash out more. She pushes people away while secretly hoping they’ll run back, and then is disappointed when they don’t.  She screams at Clay and tells him to leave, when she just wants him to understand that she’s been through some serious shit with dudes and has trust issues.  People cut her out because she’s a lot to deal with, and she winds up alone and isolated and contemplating suicide.

I actually overheard someone talking about the show today and they mentioned how crazy she was.  Boy, did that strike a chord with me.

The general public seems to be way more understanding with internalizing disorders, because to some degree, almost everyone has experienced some type of depression or anxiety, and they can easily wrap their head around the concept of, “Okay it’s like that day you were really in a funk but every day for months or years on end.”   People who don’t suffer from Major Depressive Disorder or an anxiety spectrum disorder can sort of understand that and try to empathize.

But as soon as symptoms become external, it’s a completely different situation. People can’t wrap their head around irrational thoughts or saying one thing and meaning the exact opposite. That makes no sense in their minds that are fully capable of rational thought. They don’t understand what it’s like for your mind to jump to conclusions so fast that you wind up with a version of reality that defies all logic. They don’t understand how crippling paranoia can be.  They just see you, yelling about something that doesn’t even make sense.  And all of a sudden, you’re difficult. Or a drama queen. Or overreacting.  Or crazy.  Or psycho. Insane. Too much to handle. The list goes on and on.  For some reason, people don’t want to recognize that those people need help too.

I’m not part of the intended audience. I realize that. Trauma survivors are not the intended audience.  But we still have to watch to see if they’re telling our stories correctly, and when they don’t, we have to call them out.  Because our stories matter.  Our stories help eliminate stigma and assure others who are struggling that they are not alone, and it’s okay to ask for help.  Our stories of rape and suicide and abuse deserve to be told correctly.

So I will end by restating my main point that prompted this giant rant.  The parts that 13 Reasons Why gets right are completely ruined by the overarching theme of the story: that thirteen people caused a girl to take her life.  I’m sorry, but that’s just total bullshit.

If you have thoughts of self-harm, seek professional help or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you have experienced sexual assault, call RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).