One of the things I knew I’d have to work on the hardest, once I managed to get the “not drinking” thing more or less under control, was my niggling habit of being a total liar.
I think that’s one of the things that kept me drinking long after drinking ceased to work, to be honest (see what I did there?).
In the time I’ve been sober, and in the time I’ve been hanging around other sober people, I’ve come to understand that they’re pretty well entwined, substance abuse and telling whoppers. They’re reactive behaviors. I did both as a response to what I was perceiving. I did both because they (very temporarily) provided a quick “hit” of relief whenever I was feeling any kind of discomfort. I drank, and I lied, because these things allowed me to be somebody other than I was.
Feeling awkward in a social situation? Drink.
Feeling like I’m somehow going to be found wanting when weighed against someone else? Lie.
Yes, I’ve read that book. Yes, I am also a fan of that movie. Yes, I know who that obscure German industrial band is.
Will I be more interesting to you? Then I will say these things. And I will drink so that these things pour out of me like bad poetry into a spiral notebook. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Years ago, I read a biography of Edie Sedgwick, and was struck by something she did during her time living in Cambridge. She was hanging around with a lot of Harvard University students, and while they adored her, and despite the fact that she was studying sculpture, she insisted on walking around Harvard Square with a hardcover copy of A Tale of Two Cities. I related immediately to this little quirk. I grasped that she, in essence, wanted everyone to believe she belonged there. Simple enough to carry a book around and appear as though you’re well-read. Just pray that nobody asks you what you’re reading.
When I was in college, I went to Cocoa Beach one weekend with my roommate, her boyfriend, and a guy I thought I was seeing. I wasn’t really clear on what we were supposed to be to one another. And this little weekend getaway was going to clear that up for me. He’d hold my hand, put his arm around me, and I’d think that maybe he was heading into boyfriend territory. But then we went out for coffee at some diner, and after we’d ordered, he closed his eyes for a few moments and then looked at me, meaningfully. “I just sent a thought to someone.”
“Yes. I sent it to the girl I’m in love with.”
He then proceeded to tell me what a complicated relationship they’d had, but she was in Michigan.
“I see. Did she get it?”
“I think so.”
“Well, maybe she’ll send a…thought…back to you.”
The next morning, my roommate and I went to get breakfast to bring back to the condo in which we were staying. And I ducked into Ron Jon. And it was in Ron Jon that I found myself seriously considering buying a used surfboard. Just to have in my room, you know. In case someone walked by and saw it and would come to the conclusion that I was….Gidget. Or something. I was so craving reinvention at that moment, was so desperate than to be anyone other than the girl sitting across from a guy who was “sending thoughts” to another girl in fucking Michigan, that the complete absurdity of buying a surfboard was nowhere in my thought process.
Fortunately, common sense – in the form of my roommate – prevailed: “And how in the hell are we supposed to get that back to the dorm, Lees? Jesus. You’re insane.”
Edie’s book. My (potential) surfboard. External symbols of an internal need to be someone other than who we are, because who we are seems woefully inadequate. Edie became a drug addict. I became an alcoholic. Edie died before having a chance to get at the painful truth about herself. I’m trying to be more honest with myself.