CW: This article includes references to a sexual assault. Additionally alcohol, alcoholism, and substance abuse are discussed.
An open letter to my aunts
& the rest of you judgmental b*tches;
The first memory of alcohol I have is learning what a “Sex on the Beach” was from the 2004 movie Sleepover. I was eight, maybe nine, and was enamored. This oughts film was coveted religious material for me because I watched it on a loop and absorbed it into my innocent soul.
The first time I had a drink, I was thirteen. My 23-year-old cousin handed me strawberry rum (the smell of which is still vivid to this day) and we partied to LMFAO’s “Shots” (ft. the ever-iconic Lil Jon) until 3 AM. My cousin, who is my best-friend-meets-babysitter-meets-sister, knew it was her job to introduce me to alcohol, weed, and parties in a relatively controlled environment. When she handed me the strawberry rum, she recounted the memory of my mom handing her a very not-virgin piña colada when she was 13. And so a tradition began.
As an adult, 13 sounds so young to be drinking. 13 is the age people on Intervention started drinking. Sometimes I find myself wondering which of my cousins will get my future 13-year-old child drunk. I hope someone trustworthy, fun, and relatively responsible will give my kid their first drink because no one should go from zero to Four Loko without some milestones in-between.
Even though I had my first drink at 13, it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I drank even semi-regularly. I remember getting wasted on rosé and tequila on prom night. Throwing up corned beef hash in my mom’s bathroom at 3am while muttering, “I didn’t drink,” is still burned into my brain.
With my cousin, drinking was all about having fun. It was about the act of rebellion. It was danger, but with the training wheels on. It was safe.
I miss that.
Drinking hasn’t felt safe in a decade. My first Christmas home from college I stormed into NYC like a bitch on a mission. I had a new vibe, I was a young adult, and I had finally learned how to fake self-confidence.
It was a few weeks before Christmas ---- a night of underage drinking, meeting friends of friends, and flirting. This is the night I was sexually assaulted.
My memories from that night are not warped from drinking. But all my memories are black around the edges, corroded away by trauma and embarrassment.
My heart still stutters when I think about this night. For a long time, it wasn’t the rape that bothered me. It was the fact that I initiated sex with my abuser, hours later, to reclaim the memory.
It took me four years to understand that the reason I initiated sex with my abuser after he sexually assaulted me was because I was looking for the control I needed. Drinking had been about controlled fun for so long that when I lost it, I threw every ounce of caution to the wind so that I could falsely claim responsibility for my violation. I spent years making bad decisions with alcohol afterward.
In the final trimester of freshman year, I broke up with my girlfriend of two months. Our relationship had been built by bonding over our mutual crush on another member of our friend group. When we were both rejected, we dove headfirst into each other.
It worked as well as anyone might think it would. She was controlling, jealous, and closeted. I was insensitive, provoking, and obnoxious.
When we broke up, our friend group fractured and the utter high of first trimester freshman year came crashing down around us. Instead of facing rock bottom, I decided to day-drink, drink during exams, and make a standing dick appointment for every Wednesday after Intro to Film.
I had sex drunk, high, and maybe without a condom. I had sex angry. I had sex that made me hate myself.
When I started dating my long-term college partner, I figured I could sweep all my decisions under the rug and brush it off as a hoe phase.
When we broke up, I was right back to where I started.
I moved back to New York City after college, and I was back at the scene of the crime. I knew I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t want to drink, but I was. I didn’t want to feel like I needed to have sex, but I did.
And it didn’t help that I heard all my thoughts echoed in everyone around me. Drinking alcohol in NYC sometimes feels like drinking water. All activities revolve around it. All topics lead back to sex.
Slowly, I started to see alcoholism in every drink. It felt like a problem was lurking, ready to snatch me at any moment.
I started drinking more to quiet the feelings of anxiety about drinking. The cruel irony being that drinking worsened all my other conditions (see: previous letter).
When I was put on Effexor I was strongly warned that drinking should be rare. I realize in hindsight that so many people do not listen to these warnings. However, whatever part of me wanted to change gripped onto this like gospel.
It was the perfect excuse. And I mostly held to it. The less I drank, the more I realized I didn’t want to drink. I realized that every time I drank, anxiety would bubble up.
I thought that if I drank only a little, or made up rules about when I could and couldn’t drink I would feel better. I was convinced that everyone felt this way when it came to alcohol.
I talked to a few friends about it. I talked to my spouse about it. I talked to my mom about it. And I realized I was very wrong.
Anytime you find yourself saying “I’m sure everyone feels this way,” you’re probably making an excuse as to why you’re okay with letting yourself feel miserable.
I wasn’t an alcoholic. But the anxiety surrounding alcohol and addiction wasn’t healthy, normal, or fun.
I gave up drinking entirely in July 2021. It's been less than a month. I’m a part of sober groups and subreddits. But I still find myself inclined to hold onto a beer at a party.
There has been more than one occasion where I feel excluded from my family because they love drinking socially so much. I still worry that I’m not fun to be around if I'm sober.
The last strong memory where I was drinking is from when my best friend from college still lived in NYC. We went to a dive bar. I didn’t know what to order and in a panic (and to the bartender’s dismay) I ordered Sex on the Beach. My friend and I both cackled and holed up in the back of the bar talking about a book we would one day write, people we hated, and our ideal life where we would live in a commune together. We held hands walking home in the rain and yes, I felt cool. It was a childhood bucket list item complete.
I feel content to let alcohol live in the full-circle bubble of Sleepover, friendship, and Sex on the Beach. But when it comes to making choices about drinking right now, I have to live in my present reality. I have issues when it comes to alcohol and my life is better without it. So, if you drink alcohol, I ask you not to question my Sprite.
And if you are living sober, IWNDWYT.