Drugs used to mask my wrath.
But my fury wasn’t physical. Instead, I’d take people hostage with my words. Heaven help you if you were one of my high school or college boyfriends and said or did something that I felt was remotely critical or dismissive: I relentlessly tortured these guys, coldly and repeatedly insisting that they explain their words or actions until they regretted them with everything they had in them and were in as much as pain as I was. I didn’t want to do this—in fact, the whole thing was probably more upsetting for me than it was for them—but it often felt as if there was a furious second self that lived inside of me and couldn’t not lash out at the vaguest sign of disrespect.
When I pulled this kind of thing with my parents, they called me, rather accurately, a monster. Or they simply said I was “being abusive.” But that also became a convenient way to describe anything I did that they weren’t in the mood to deal with. “I won’t take your abuse” my dad would say if I calmly but directly explained anything he didn’t feel like hearing. If he was in a yoga phase and responding through email, he’d simply write, I can’t be abused by you—Namaste, Dad. I understood that because of my eruptions earlier in life, I’d lost the right to have my feelings heard. But even if I’d been warned of this later repercussion, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to control my flare-ups: once triggered, I seemed unable to stop until we were both emotionally bloody. The monster was relentless.
Drugs and alcohol initially helped me control my emotions: first by quelling my insecurities, thus tempering my fear and anger before it could take hold of me, and then by helping me to check out. Drugs—especially cocaine—allowed me to float above my pain and sadness, elevating my mood to a manic joy I’d never thought possible; I went from doing it when people offered it to me at parties to seeking out those I knew had it at parties to buying and doing it with friends to buying and doing it on my own in roughly 18 months.
When I was high, I felt like I was finally experiencing life how it was supposed to be: a stretch of time and space that crackled with excitement and giddiness, where mundane worries and familial obligations were afterthoughts, where all that mattered was continuing to stay as happy as I was. But existing in this state had some serious drawbacks and eventually my life became a succession of jittery nights where I was so wired that I couldn’t do anything but hole up in my apartment alone, feeling like I couldn’t move, nearly jumping out of my skin whenever the phone rang, peering into the apartment of the neighbors I was convinced were watching me through a telescope, thinking I was having a heart attack and welcoming the thought. Nights where I’d drive to meet a cocaine dealer at 2 am in South Central or suddenly find myself at Home Depot at four in the morning because I’d been shaking so much at home that I’d become suddenly convinced I needed to buy a new heater.
At a certain point, I stopped calling my family and began ducking most of their attempts to reach me, but an offer to spend a Christmas holiday with my mom and step-dad in Paris one year proved too much for me to resist; I spent my two weeks there uncovering the seedy underbelly of French nightlife—discovering, to my utter joy, that Parisian cocaine was far stronger than anything I’d tried in the States. I’d return every morning to wish my mom, step-dad and brother a happy day of sightseeing before taking to my bed for the following eight hours, only rising to go out that night to meet my new, drug-addled French friends. One morning when my mom watched me return from one of my nights out and pop a handful of Ambien, she tried to talk to me about what I was doing, but hearing her say “I’m worried” caused simultaneous rage and defensiveness to sweep through me; I coldly assured her she had nothing to worry about before closing the door in her face.
I was the last girl who looked like she was going to embrace a life without drinking and drugs but I eventually got so miserable that I was willing to try it and then I shocked myself and everyone else by taking to it immediately. Even more surprising, underneath my party persona lurked a sort of inner obsessive workaholic who crossed every T, balanced every checkbook, and was determined to have everything under control.
It’s taken a long time and surprised the hell out of me, but sobriety—and the work I’ve had to do in order to stay sober—has also helped to quell that furious second self that used to live inside of me. I still lose my temper—I just don’t do it nearly as often as I used to and most of the time, I see that I can either choose to get upset or not, in much the same way I can choose to drink to drink or not.
I also—at least every now and then—truly believe I’m experiencing life as I think it’s supposed to be. Jittery nights not included.