I’m a big fan of the TV series Parks and Recreation, which I binge-watch on Netflix. It means I’m always a season behind, but it’s worth it to keep pressing “next episode” rather than waiting a week for a new show. In a recent (to me) episode, Nick Offerman’s character, Ron Swanson, a gruff, rugged man’s man remarked “do what you want with your life, but don’t confuse drama with happiness”. I’d seen the quote on Twitter, but it wasn’t until I saw it on the show that it impacted me. I thought, oh my god…that’s absolutely what I went through years of doing…no wonder I was so fucked up and unhappy. I consistently mistook the chemical rush of a drama-filled life, where I rushed from crisis to elation to crash to buzz and back again, with happiness. Yeesh.
I think it must have started when I was in elementary school, or maybe even younger. I was constantly engaging in inappropriate, risky behavior to see what would happen. If I had the attention of my peers, that would spur me to impulsive action, usually ending in some sort of timeout, punishment or segregation from others. I clearly remember one occasion in kindergarten when a group of us were sitting at a long table coloring. The group included first graders, whom I desperately wanted to impress, so I stuck a marker up each nostril. The group looked at me wide-eyed, shocked and thrilled by my display of grossness. “Nancy’s coming, DRAW!” someone hissed, so I did, putting the tips to paper and scribbling with my nose. I hadn’t understood I was being warned to stop before our teacher caught us, and Nancy put me at a table by myself, with no coloring supplies, to think about what I had done. It had been worth it though, to have all eyes on me, feel my heart pound and body tingle from the attention, risk and anticipation of being caught. I kept chasing those feelings, a sort of high.
Flash forward to my late twenties when I decided to get married, one of the ultimate acts of settling down. I loved my partner and had been wanting to marry him since we met at age eighteen. In fact, I’d been wanting to get married–quite honestly it was my number one goal and aim in life–since I was four. But there I was, engaged and absolutely terrified I was going to live a life of miserable blahs after the wedding. And maybe worse, people were going to perceive me as blah once I married. To avoid the perception, in an attempt to remain relevant, which would make me happy, I began a partying campaign, at breakneck speed. Every weekend I tried to host a party at my house, or come up with some sort of going-out en masse plan to prove to myself I wasn’t settling down, and therefore I wasn’t lame.
I began to court drama. I attracted people like me with few boundaries or scruples, who lived from rush to rush, whether that be drugs, alcohol, affairs, fights, you name it. I also attracted a crowd of on-lookers as I had that day in kindergarten, people who wanted to be near the horribly fascinating trainwreck, without actually being in it.
I drank. Hard and fast, until blackout. I sucked down alcohol like it was water in the desert, chasing the buzz, taking it all the way. When I’m intoxicated, there is no pause between impulse and action, meaning I act on every outrageous impulse that occurs to me. And I have a lot of outrageous impulses. One night I went out dancing with a bunch of friends. We got shitfaced before leaving my apartment, and walked to the club where we drank more. I was dancing wildly when suddenly a friend’s face was in mine, asking, are you ok, is this what you want? I had been locking lips with another woman, sucking face on the dance floor, without even realizing it. the woman slouched against the wall, watching me expectantly, clearly thinking I was going to be her conquest for the night.
At my husband’s high school reunion a few months later, we gathered in a bar in small groups, chatting and enjoying the friendly, relaxed vibe. I had drank several beers before the event, and was drinking several more. The next thing I knew, my eyes were rolling back in my head as I told his ex-girlfriend in a slur how much I had wanted to kick her ass for hurting him. An hour later I was nibbling on one of his colleague’s earlobes and trying to kiss him. At some point I ended up in the bathroom pinning another colleague to the wall and making out with her. At no point had I decided to do any of this, it simply happened.
The worst were the mornings I woke up hungover on the couch, knowing my husband had put me there the night before because my drunkenness and bad behavior had upset him so. I knew I was in trouble, but not why, having blacked out the night before. He repeatedly asked me to take my foot off the gas, but I wouldn’t. I was addicted to the drama my drinking was causing, because it made me feel important, liberated and high. I did not want to come down, and creating drama meant there was always a rush to chase, a teetering edge off which to leap into the unknown.
I would sit at work on Monday morning, still hungover, hands shaking, body feeling tender and bruised, mind a mass of confusion, and ask myself, have you had enough? For a period of many months the answer was no. I couldn’t imagine life without the colossal highs and crushing lows.
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