Dry. Devoid of moisture. Sober. Dehydrated.
I’m not dehydrated, in fact I probably imbibe a little too much water every day, if my nighttime bathroom visits are any indication. I’ve been mostly dry though, since January 6th of 2021. Sober, you know. Abstaining from alcohol.
Now, I can’t say totally sober as that would be a lie. But I’ve probably had 10 drinks in 11 months, and tipsy to the point of discomfort once. For anyone who knew me in my mid to late 30’s and into my 40’s that will be a divergence from my onstage (and off persona). I had a very functional, but likely unhealthy, relationship with alcohol. What do I mean by that?
What do I mean by that?
I mean I drank in a way that never really got me into any trouble (no drunk driving, no accidents, no huge fights, or reckless behavior…well maybe some reckless behavior, but nothing that caused real long term damage) but that was very clearly a coping mechanism for several things in my life that were going on at once, several coping mechanisms that probably needed their own coping mechanisms in order to cope with the first thing they had to cope with.
The first was being a parent of two small children while recovering from two bouts of severe postpartum depression (I mean severe and dangerous and probably exacerbating my already compromised and delicate depression/anxiety balance which was related to PMDD) while working full time and also grappling with caretaking a mother who was dis-integrating from the inside out after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Alcohol appeared to help at the end of every day after dealing with all the basic and normal things a mother would deal with-getting kids up and dressed and off to school or kinder and then to work and then fielding calls about the general-falling-apart-ness of my my aging mother whose brain decided to betray her. Our relationship, always fraught and tense and a push-away-pull-towards sideways kind of intimacy, was strained to its limits, or at least it was while she could remember to be fraught and tense with me. Wine at the end of the night was a baby bottle of soothing GABA releasing salve. A slight numbing blankie of avoidance.
The other thing was that I leaned into performance REALLY hard during this same time. I found improv after my second child and the worst of the postpartum depression, and it was truly a life saver. I thrived again, and went on to produce shows, perform really intimate and provocative work, and hold community space for a load of artists, but if I’m being honest, my drinking picked up here as well, both because of a special kind of anxiety that was hidden waaaaaaay back in the corner, an anxiety that was itself sort of unspeakable right?
How could this be? To look at me, I’d get up on stage and I’d make something out of nothing, I’d hold that space like I was born to it, I’d write vulnerable stories about sexuality, relationships, culture and then share them with humor and wit and timing and just KILL it.
And a drink (or two) before a show helped me not feel so afraid. Usually just one, because more than one was actually bad. As a host of shows I’d need to be present to greet people but man I’d get so scared. A drink made me feel less afraid of…I don’t know what, but scared I was. I felt awkward and anxious and stupid most of the time. I really can’t tell you have scared and anxious and awkward I felt all of the time.
And drinks after the show were often a must (so it seemed) because we would all want to go out and keep laughing and creating and a little alcohol helped open the doors to more creativity (so it seemed again). And frankly, even if I went home, after performing? My brain was ON FIRE for like…hours. Sleep was elusive, and so a glass or two of wine helped me unwind.
The next day however. I had adrenaline and vulnerability drop from the show and I’d have a wee little hangover leading to too much coffee all day leading to needing something to relax leading to…. Functional, in its weird way, but not helpful or healthy. Lean into performance to LIVE while one’s mother is dying, and lean into alcohol to get relief from the anxiety of LIVING and doing the equivalent of emotionally flashing an audience of mostly strangers.
Ok, not functional. Fine.
The cycle got pretty cemented, for a number of years. And I found that alcohol helped unlock the creative door for writing (less for performing, but certainly for recovering). Hemingway has famously been misquoted (according to the internet) as saying “Write drunk, edit sober.” Apparently he was against drunkeness during the writing process, though Faulkner seemed happy to pick up a glass and a pen together. There is likely much research on why substances seem to unlock creativity, but if you have to imbibe, is it really yours to unlock?
I don’t know. Its in you, creativity, but the fear and the anxiety are the issues that get in the way. Alcohol, or pot, or cigarettes…just chemicals that mess about in your brain to get into that space that we creatives crave being in. My own father was notorious for writing his music early in the morning smoking up a storm. He wrote a lot of amazing stuff, but the nicotine and tobacco helped kill him.
My mother died. And that changed a lot of things. The void that needed the baby bottle that was related to her changed. The wound was still there, but I suspect it has been healing pretty well for a while.
The way I did shows changed. It was far less about fun and playfulness and more about supporting others. I had less stage time over all after she died. Odd, I think.
Where I lived changed. I moved from the city I was living in where I spent about fifteen years being extremely creative and productive in that creativity. I like to think I entertained a lot of people, I wrote things that had an impact, and I created space for some extremely talented people to grow and perform. And we moved here, to a very different place, and my body was in a very different phase. Anyway, I moved to a tiny little place and haven’t found my own creative community.
My body changed. Hormones being what they are…why would I expect that after PMDD and Postpartum Depression were such jerks that Peri-Menopause would treat me any better. It treated me worse, if anything. Wild anxiety, insomnia, rage, aching joints, organ malfunctions, weight gain, deep depression. I was in withdrawal from my hormone padding and my creative life.
In fact, the last public piece I’ve done, was in 2018 and it was about my impending hysterectomy and our imploding democracy. How our foundations fall down. It was really quite good.
Menopause has made it mostly impossible to drink. Something about how the liver ceases to process alcohol well. It happens to some bodies. I maaaaaybe could have one drink a week, if I drank it very slowly and with food. Not two. That just leaves me dizzy and feeling ill.
I also don’t perform anymore, not really. There isn’t really a place to do it in this small region as the niches are mostly filled, Covid has rendered collaboration mostly impossible for me at least, and I don’t have the time in my work-life to carve out the energy it would take (and I suppose the anxiety it might engender). This depresses me to no end, in part because my identity was so wrapped up in entertainment, producing work, and performing it that I often just don’t know who I am creatively if I am not performing. AND I feel relief that I don’t have to gear up to perform, don’t have to come down from a high that kept me awake all night, from the vulnerability of the next day wondering if what I did on stage when I was soaring was ok or not.
I also don’t drink anymore, not really. It doesn’t make sense and doesn’t fit and it depresses me to no end, in part because my identity was aligned into boozy cocktails and speakeasy nights, and lovely wine, and dinner parties and late-night performances. AND I feel relief that I don’t drink because I don’t feel bad during or after, and I don’t have to worry about my mornings.
But, in the loss of both of those things (or the giving away of them, or the absence of them), I still feel like there is a void to be filled. A creative something, if not locked behind a door, then in a room, in the farthest part of the house, up a bunch of stairs and there are some boxes in the way, and was that a spider? And, isn’t it just easier to sit in the living room and scroll Twitter or, god help me, TikTok.
Sometimes I’d just like to knock the entire house down, to be honest.
I don’t have any answers to my desiccation for the moment. I do little things, just to keep in some kind of practice. I take the moments when I feel seized to write something, like tonight (sober, drinking a Black Cherry Polar Seltzer), and I enjoy the flow of it just words coming out without any real stoppage. It’s different than it used to be, but I guess I am too.
I’m far less scared and anxious. And that’s something.