My eyes pop open. Alert and unaware of where I am, I try to make sense of the objects I see in the dark. My head hurts and my mouth feels dry. I place my hands by my sides and grasp the sheets to reorient myself. I’m laying in bed. I feel relieved when I notice my husband lightly snoring next to me, and the sudden awareness of my dog’s weight on my legs reminds me I’m safe.
I turn to my side and rub my eyes as I grab my phone: 2:00AM. When did I go to bed? I can feel my anxiety racing in time with my heartbeat. Did we get in a fight? I try to recount the timeline of our evening: flashes of my husband and I laughing, him chasing me around the living room after us both being overserved at his birthday dinner. I struggle to piece together a full evening. How can I not remember? I only had two glasses of wine. I try convincing myself that my husband and I are fine, that I’m making up drama that never occurred, but my anxiety continues to quicken. Overanalyzing everything I think, Did we have sex? Why are my clothes still on? Is he mad at me?
My breath shortens and my chest feels heavy. Panic sets in. I haven’t had this happen in so long.
I didn’t know how to process the grief, and drank to detach from reality.
The next morning, I force my husband awake after hours of trying to drown out the noise in my head.
“Babe, are you mad at me?” I gently shake him, asking him nervously.
Perplexed, he softly rises and asks, “What?! Why would I be mad at you?! We had so much fun last night!” He turns towards me and places his hand on my chest. “It’s just your anxiety, love, I promise we’re okay. You’re okay.”
He pulls me in tight and rubs my back, telling me everything is going to be alright. For a moment, I believe him, enough to put my mind at ease and finally fall back asleep.
Later that day, he asks me why I was so upset, why I thought we had been fighting. I try to blame my hangover, but just moments later I cave. “Well, I don’t remember last night completely. And I assumed I’d done something crazy…that I was crazy.”
My husband’s eyebrows draw together. “You’ve never gotten crazy in front of me,” he responds, somewhat confused. “You’ve always remained in control.”
But, there was a time in my life, before I met my husband, when I was out of control, and it haunts me to this day.
When I was 22 years old, I got out of a seven-year emotionally abusive and controlling relationship—and discovered a whole world I previously had not known: boys, dating, flirting at bars, drinking, clubbing. In my past relationship, I wasn’t allowed to do these things. It pains me to even use the word—allowed—but it’s true. I wasn’t allowed to do so many things, like even grab dinner with a friend.
As I was adjusting to my singledom and newfound freedom, I was simultaneously coming to terms with my dad battling cancer and my stepmom quickly deteriorating from ALS. I didn’t know how to process the grief, and drank to detach from reality (often taking one too many shots of whiskey at the bar).
I can still taste the way whiskey would linger on my lips the morning after a wild night. The type of nights that were considered normal because of my age. The type of nights that would be celebrated over egg benedicts and mimosas the next day. The type of nights that no one flinched an eye at.
We were young, and we were messed up in our own ways. We were just trying to figure out how to live, how to be.
And yet, still, they haunt me.
The nights I don’t remember how I got home.
The nights I don’t remember where I parked my car.
The nights I don’t remember who I was with.
Nights I don’t remember if I paid my bill.
Nights when I left the oven on, and passed out too soon to be able to put the pizza in.
Nights when my best friend was worried about me, like when she found me sitting on a urine soaked doormat locked out of our apartment.
Countless nights I lost my phone, wallet, or keys. Or, all of the above.
Mornings I’d have to call the tow company to ensure they had my car.
Mornings I’d regret all of my life decisions.
Mornings my self-hatred was so high that the only remedy was to numb myself with another drink.
Even if I experience the slightest of hangovers, all of the memories come rushing back as anxiety-fueled reminders of my past—flutters of nights I don’t want to remember. Some are tucked so deep, into hidden places of my subconscious, that it’s almost as if alcohol is the key to unlocking the worst horrors.
It was shortly after meeting my husband, that I became hyperaware of my alcohol intake. I first stopped taking shots as a way to help manage my inevitable anxiety. I knew that these quick and easy consumptions of alcohol were often how I got myself into trouble, or enabled me to lose control. I then let go of my nightly glass of wine over dinner, but I struggled to give up drinking socially. Alcohol is deeply imbedded in the way we socialize, and I didn’t want to stand out or have to explain my reasons for needing to step away from it. The moment you publicly announce your departure from alcohol, you are branded as having “a problem” and you can expect whispers to quickly circulate. Over time, I found myself having one or two drinks with friends instead of the usual four or six (or ten). My hangovers obviously lessened, and eventually so did my anxiety. Years later, after unsuccessfully trying to conceive for two years, I had a socially accepted excuse to no longer drink at dinner parties. “I’m fighting major inflammation and hormonal imbalances right now, so I’m skipping the aperol spritz these days,” was a common response I found myself saying, and people rarely pushed back.
And while my recent reasonings for not drinking are true, I’m never really honest about the fact that alcohol reminds me of a past I’ve tried hard to ignore. Even if I experience the slightest of hangovers, all of the memories come rushing back as anxiety-fueled reminders of my past—flutters of nights I don’t want to remember. Some are tucked so deep, into hidden places of my subconscious, that it’s almost as if alcohol is the key to unlocking the worst horrors. Like those that are the hardest for me to recall, like the night of my sexual assault, or the night I know I drove home, but don’t remember.
In these anxious moments, I now try to remind myself that I am not my past, that I am more than my mistakes. I practice radical self-forgiveness and self-compassion, and repeat, I am in control—regardless of what my memories try to convince me of. More than anything though, I calm myself with the fact that I didn’t have the tools necessary to deal with my life then. But that I do have the tools now. And while I rarely drink these days, when I do, I remind myself that being silly with my husband and letting loose on his birthday isn’t me being “out control,” but rather, me choosing to not live in the memories of the past, but to live, joyfully, in the present.