It’s often not cool to be the one
who puts themselves out there.
It’s better to just admit that you are a complex being
and travel into the unknown sometimes.
—Margot Russell, “Letter to a Daughter”
I blamed it on a lot of things: My headband being too tight. The unseasonably warm weather. The fact that February 29th actually came this year. Or the other fact—I watched the Amy Winehouse documentary two days prior…At one point, I remember, someone snap chatted me, “You little Hunter S. Thompson,” and I was all grinning demon emojis about it.
See I don’t know what the hell possessed me, but I recently lost my mind and thought I was somebody else for 72 hours—like I must have been channeling Britney Spears circa 2007 because I smoked a cigarette! (Something I’ve avidly avoided because A. I’m not an edgy teenager living in the UK and B. Cancer.) But I smoked a cigarette (among other things) and it was not okay. Because, before this point in my life, I’d always been that one sensible person who said: “My mind is screwy enough without drugs, and I really don’t want to fuck up the few happy chemicals I have left. I’ll stick with vodka, thanks.”
But what did I decide to do over my birthday weekend?
Oh, you know, just fuck up the few happy chemicals I have left.
And it was serious! But it was also kind of funny. But also, really, really, serious!
So now I feel like I have to write about it because the whole thing got me obsessing over substance abuse and self-destruction, which eventually became an obsession over the concept of selfdom like—self-loathing and self-love. What does this all even mean, especially for girls? What kinds of things do we use and abuse to forget ourselves? Why do we even want to forget ourselves in the first place? And then it all became a matter of rejecting black and white thinking; of considering how American society is still very puritanical in the sense that our collective logic looks a lot like this:
This is good. This is bad. What’s a contradiction? What’s a paradox? Stop. Don’t make me think and relate too much! Let’s keep it simple by marginalizing everyone who isn’t me. See, you’re like that, and I’m like this. I don’t want to understand and I don’t have to, because: We are not the same.
Which, eventually, led me to ask myself: How should I be?
Because, after my birthday weekend, I was forced to really look at myself and reconsider the person I was becoming; the whole experience being a major wake up call, like: Okay I’m not an addict or suicidal. It’s not that bad. But, I’m not as happy as I could be, and it’s driving me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. So, why am I hurting? Why am I acting up? Why am I so inclined to self-destruct? How do I transcend all these tiny prisons I’ve made for myself? (Or the ones that society has made for me?) Maybe I hate myself more than I thought…
And that turned out to be the big realization—the lack of self-love thing—because, honestly, I’ve never really been the biggest advocate for self-love.
(There’s this anonymous quote that gets reblogged on Tumblr all the time, and I hate it. It’s: “You’re not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness.” And every time I read it I go all critical, like: Okay, maybe it doesn’t make you a bad person fundamentally. But sometimes the ways we try to kill our sadness are just outright selfish, and we should hold ourselves accountable. We should look in the mirror and say: ‘It’s not that bad. I should be better than this. How can I be better than this? How do I not take it out on other people, or myself in a way that hurts other people?’ We should think about this!!!!!)
But goddam I really must hate myself, because on my birthday I went to the ER with extreme (self-induced) anxiety and heart palpitations, and the whole time I kept reiterating to the nurse:
“I’m so, so, stupid. I promise. I’m not someone who does this! This isn’t me! I know, I look like a junkie right now, but I’m not! I finished college! I’m actually really intelligent!!!!! I’m just unhappy, this is just me being really unhappy…”
And he was an angel.
He said, “Look, most of us have been here. I should be dead after all the stuff I did in college. I know you’re not a degenerate because—nobody really is. Some people just get made to feel that way.”
Then he shot me Lorazepam.
Part I: My Birthday Weekend a.k.a. The Weekend I Thought I was Britney Spears Circa 2007 a.k.a. Rock Bottom a.k.a. Just Kidding (Sort Of)
Friday: I snorted cocaine off the corner of a credit card in a bar bathroom like some dark take on a Hilary Duff song: Why not (why not) / Take a crazy chance / Why not (why not) / Snort cocaine with friends… The guy I used to have a really gross crush on was bopping around on the other side of things; ping ponging between being outside and inside, like the indecisive maniac that he is, and his presence was wearing on me. It was making me feel like I needed to be up, so up I went. (Cue Hilary Duff: Why not?!) Later in the night he made the mistake of locking eyes with me, which, hopped up on cocaine, I went in for the kill. I walked up to him with a one-track mindset, like: MOTHERFUCKER CAN’T EVEN EVADE ME THIS TIME!
“Why don’t you like me?” I asked, but mostly demanded.
He got all fidgety, looked both ways behind his back, tried evading the question:
“You know, the girl I’m seeing now…”
I’m pretty sure I made a nasty face that was a combination of: Ew. Come on. Really?
“Don’t be like that. She’s a good girl,” he said.
“And I’m not?!” I asked, indignant and slightly distracted from my coke-addled agenda.
“Well, you are, but—I heard things. You played video games with my friend, and—”
I cut him off, “So, you don’t like me because, I played video games with your friend?”
(I couldn’t help but laugh as I asked, because: I heard that you like the bad girls, honey. Is that true?)
“That’s not it, I know you didn’t do anything…” He trailed off.
“So, then, why don’t you like me? What did you hear?”
He kept looking around the room, trying to find an out—presumably—but my focus was relentless, he was stuck and he knew it. So finally, he just admitted it,
“You put yourself out there too much.”
Cocaine said, “That’s a compliment.”
He kissed me, out of nowhere, just to blindside me, before he disappeared.
The comedown said, “It’s not your looks, it’s who you are—again.”
Saturday: I said, “Give me an Adderall.”
Which was stupid!
I had a presents!
A balloon with my name on it!
What more could I possibly need?
An Adderall, apparently.
Like: Fuck me. Who do I want to be again? Oh, Up. I want to be Up, again.
So up I went.
Sunday: I forgot everything until morning. I woke up with a long red indent across my forehead from my headband being too tight, and a text message from a guy I’d been seeing that read:
That was really stupid of me.
I ignored the text, ripped off my headband and, for the first time on a Sunday morning, thought:
I’m not ready to be sober yet.
So I chugged a large coffee and watched my birthday balloon blow away as I had this horrible sinking feeling, like:
Something bad is going to happen.
Determined to outrun the feeling, I texted my friends from out of town:
The weather’s nice; I’m coming up.
On the way there, what Tony Bennett would have said to Amy Winehouse if she were still alive kept floating through my head like a weird premonition:
Slow down, you’re too important.
But I decided to dismiss it.
I got to my friends’ apartment, and we drank beer until the room got dim. Our conversation went back to high school, and my friends confessed that one of our English teachers told them they weren’t allowed to sit with me anymore because they’d “corrupt” me.
I laughed, like: Too late for fucking that.
Then my phone pinged and I got a text from the guy I was seeing that said:
I’m going out, we should meet up.
Forgetting whatever he did to make me mad the night before, I went home.
I had one drink, which turned into two, and then three…
My guy’s friend asked me about what I do.
I said, “I’m a writer.”
He asked, “Like, for money?”
“No,” I explained, “The only job I’ve interviewed for that even kind of had anything to do with writing—they told me my voice was too strong, like I’m too opinionated.”
I saw my guy nodding in the background like: Yes, you are too opinionated.
Hence, drink number four.
Later, he left me waiting outside Kwik Fill with his cigarette and a bottle of Sprite mixed with Codeine.
I got bored waiting.
I smoked his cigarette and killed half the bottle because:
Part II: The Comedown
Monday morning, my birthday, I ran into the ER. I bolted for the security guard and, trying to appear normal and optimistic, said, “Hey, I did a lot of shit this weekend and now I’m experiencing really bad heart palpitations! I think I’m gonna die…where do I sign in?”
Dude didn’t even flinch, just grunted at a clipboard.
I signed in and sat around waiting, thinking: They’re not too hasty considering someone thinks she’s gonna die…I clung to my chair’s arm rests like the safety bar of a roller coaster. I felt like my heart was hurtling itself against my ribcage over and over. I kept waiting for it to just stop, I was so convinced it was going to just stop. Like: This is it for me. I’m that person right now. One more component to the avid drug problem: Cat Olson Dies After 72 Hour Bender…
When they finally called me in, the nurse stuck wires all over me, like, “I have to expose your left breast for this one, is that okay?”
And I practically shouted, “OBVIOUSLY!” Like: I’M DYING! STRIP ME DOWN AND HOSE ME OFF IF YOU HAVE TO! WHAT’S MODESTY EVEN? WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH EVOLUTION?! THIS IS SURVIVAL OF THE LEAST MODEST! EXPOSE ME, LIKE, FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO!!!
And he laughed. He actually fucking laughed. And right then I realized how I must have looked, all sweaty with black eyeliner all over my face, glitzy purple nail polish like a 12 year old girl, wearing a half-shirt that said: Part-time mermaid.
He was the first to ask, “Drugs?”
I said, “Okay, yes,” point-blank.
I put up a hand and started counting down the days by substance abuse, “Friday I did cocaine…Saturday I took an Adderall, and last night I drank…codeine?”
He laughed again, “So you’ve had a weekend,” and I became acutely aware of the airy way in which I admit horrible things.
“Yeeeeeeah, pretty much. And I realized this morning that I have no idea how these things react to each other, and I panicked. Soooooo…”
“Now you’re here.”
STARTED AT THE BOTTOM, NOW I’M HERE!
He stuck me with an IV and left me to wallow with a TV remote. Which wasn’t good because, as soon as he left, the panic set back in, only this time it was accompanied by extreme agitation.
I felt all wrong inside my body and I wanted to move around as if it were possible to outrun myself. All I could think about was how much I hated myself, how much I wanted to not be me. It was a weird kind of guilt, like: I don’t deserve to live after this.
I hit the buzzer.
The nurse came back and I said, “I can’t be alone right now.”
He said, “What’s up?”
My voice finally sounded as panicked as I was, “I really feel like I’m going to die, and I know you have things to do, but talking to someone is the only thing that can distract me from this horrible impending-doom-feeling right now.”
He said, “Trust me, everything about you is normal. You’re just really scared because your body is trying to sort out everything you’ve put into it. I promise, you’re not dying.”
“I really, really, don’t feel okay though, and I’m having a hard time talking myself out of it. I’m usually really good at talking myself out of panic attacks—this is different. Like I have a history of depression and anxiety, I know how to deal with those things. But I can’t talk myself out of this—”
He stopped me, “You need to get a hobby.”
“But I do have a hobby! I read and write all the time!!!!!!”
“No, listen, that’s not a hobby, that’s your job.”
“No!” I said, for some reason, even more panicked, “It’s really not for me, I love it so much. I’m really passionate about it.”
He said, “I get that, but no matter how much you love it, it’s still work that keeps you in your head. What do you do just because, to relax—other than drink?”
I couldn’t answer because the anxiety was real in that moment.
I kept saying it like a crazy person, “I’m so scared, I’m so scared, I’m so scared…”
He said, “Be honest, how many times have you done cocaine?”
“Only a few times! Like I can count the times on one hand, I promise you! After this—never again!”
I knew I was starting to sound a lot like Lindsay Lohan:
I’ve only done cocaine ten to fifteen times…
And they (meaning three nurses and a psychologist), finally, gave me the Lorazepam because it was obvious I wasn’t going to calm down on my own. Then they had me psychoanalyzed by a psychologist who I swear looked just like Sigmund Freud—which totally could have been a hallucination at this point because I was starting to feel like I’d crossed some line that was putting me on the outside of reality; like I had been banished to crazy-people land. Nobody looked like they believed a word I said.
They all kept looking way too deeply into the fact that I scratched myself with a paperclip in the seventh grade, despite my defense, “I was a middle-schooler in the mid-2000’s! We all scratched ourselves with inanimate objects, or else you were bulimic!!!”
Which ultimately worked against me because it sounded an awful lot like:
Hell yeah I’d jump off a bridge if it looked interesting enough.
They asked me why I did this to myself, “Is it about a boy? Did a boy make you feel like doing this?”
“Really?” I asked, “Can’t my problems be more interesting than that?”
I’m sure they unanimously thought: Probably not.
Finally, they asked the big one, “Do you want to hurt yourself? Are you suicidal?”
I started crying.
The psychologist said, “You’re clearly upset about something.”
I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say because (not to sound too cliché):
It’s all too much and never enough.
I kept crying because I didn’t know how to say:
I love the world so much, it’s overwhelming; I wish I could swallow it like a big pill and experience it all at once.
I didn’t know how to say:
I’m angry because it’s always got to be about a boy. It’s never allowed to be a shitty choice I made for myself.
I didn’t know how to say:
I’m sad because it’s not that deep—some of us just get this really shitty feeling called disappointment and it’s tough to overcome.
So instead I croaked, “No, I don’t want to die. I’m actually very idealistic.”
The psychologist stared back at me with a straight face and it made me feel like ripping out my IV and heading for whatever constitutes as the medical hills, because:
I’m so sick of straight faces.
I’m so disappointed with myself for not knowing how to be.
When I finally went home, my parents were looking at me like: What’s your deal?
It was 6 PM on a Monday, and I was practically sleeping in my birthday cake.
I went to bed after a few halfhearted bites of ice cream and, still woozy from Lorazepam, I read the yellow cutout letters decorating my bookshelf through half-shut eyes:
NOTHING IS A TRAGEDY AND EVERYTHING IS A JOKE
They appeared to be dancing, bobbing up and down as if they were floating in the air like water, and I remember wondering:
Why can’t everything be the way I dream it; the way I want to believe it?
Part III: One Week of Experimental Sobriety
At the hospital they essentially told me to be ready for a weeklong hangover—but goddam I never expected to be that paranoid. I sunk into a depression that led to an anxiety that said: You broke yourself. All your cognitive abilities are shot. You’ll never be able to comprehend a book again. You’ll never write again. You ruined it, and you deserve this.
Which, the guilt was real. At work I felt heavy bodied and kept idealizing the lives of little kids going through my line, like: Don’t do cocaine sweet baby angels, just stay at home with your sheep pillows. At one point a little boy who looked about nine said, “You have hair like Queen Elsa,” and I immediately ducked behind a wall of dish soap for an irrational sob-fest, like: If only he knew, I’m not an ice queen. I’m just a stupid cokehead!!!!
Like I really wish I could’ve controlled these moments of self-indulgence, but I really felt as if the last innocent piece of me had died. And yes, it was really melodramatic and irrational because, hello, that’s what a come down from uppers will do to you, but I couldn’t stop thinking it:
I’d do anything to go back to the before.
That night, I couldn’t fall asleep until I’d had a very, very, focused meditation session. (Short-term cocaine abuse symptoms include: Insomnia, disturbing dreams, obstructed sleep…) Which, was all done in vain since I woke up two hours later in the worst pain. And after consulting WEB md. (a foolish impulse that always ends in herpes or cancer) I—get this—went back to the ER. And the same nurse who had been there for my nervous breakdown two days prior was taking my blood pressure.
He got to the shameful question, “Any recreational drug use?”
I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, “I was here two days ago.”
He laughed and said it like I was an old friend, “Cocaine-girl!”
I looked at him like: I hate you.
Then I said, “I think I have herpes.”
He said, “You might!”
I said, “This is the worst week of my life.”
He laughed again, because apparently I’m the joke of the ER, like:
Thanks for the compassion, guys. I really appreciate the lighthearted way in which this group of medical professionals treats my substance abuse and vaginal disrupt. So respectful.
He said, “Really? The worst week of your life?”
I thought about it and understood that there were worse weeks to come, like the week one of my parents dies, which:
Do you really want me to go into a crying spell right now, asshole? Because I can. It’s basically my specialty, waterworks like you wouldn’t believe…
He quickly added, “You’re only twenty-four, you’re fine. Do you even realize the amount of actually crazy stuff I see here everyday? You’re not a coke addict—you had a panic attack that was drug related—and now you probably just have a UTI.”
I mean-mugged him all the way to the bathroom with my plastic cup, like:
YOU’LL BE SORRY WHEN I’M DEAD! OUT IN THE GUTTER! JUST LIKE FLAUBERT!
Which, I’m an asshole, because I didn’t end up having herpes, or an STD even, just like he’d said.
Lying in the hospital bed, waiting for my discharge papers, I texted my friend: “Pretty sure this is some high-power’s way of saying: ‘Hey Cat, do you want to be a cokehead with herpes? No? Didn’t think so. Cut the shit!’”
She responded: “You know I woke up in the middle of the night on your birthday, just like Miss Clevelle in that children’s book with all the little girls? I literally woke up, like, ‘Something isn’t right with Cat!’ Don’t do drugs ever again!!!”
I texted back, “I might never even drink again. I’m afraid of everything now.”
Right as my other friend texted, “I hope you fucking sleep.”
And on my way out, I walked past the nurse who’d checked me in earlier.
He called after me, “Remember, you’re only 24—you’re doing okay!!”
I looked back and joke-laughed, “Haaaaaaa,” because I felt uncomfortable, like I didn’t deserve that kind of affirmation, but in retrospect, I know—
I should have thanked him.
The depression and anxiety didn’t get any better, it actually got worst. And distrusting the nurse’s claim, You’re not a coke addict, you had a panic attack that was drug-related, I Googled: Ways to manage cocaine withdrawal.
All the results were like: Basically you’re fucked for a while—but you can run, or, worst case scenario, eat some chocolate. Just don’t drink alcohol.
So I immediately dominated the treadmill, and stuffed my face with chocolate chips like Harry Potter after a dementor attack.
All I felt was anxious.
So I got depressed and sobbed as I texted my ex-boyfriend for the first time since I’d dumped him, like: Sorry I was such a piece of shit.
Then I went to work and sobbed again because a baby smiled at me and I felt unworthy.
After that, I restocked shelves and composed a mental list of all the things I’d taken for granted prior to my stint with recreational drug use:
- Sitting still and feeling content with the lack of motion
- Drinking caffeine without picturing a fatal heart attack
- Not distrusting those sparse moments that felt a lot like: I’m about to be normal again!!
When my shift finally ended, I drove to 7/11 and loaded up on comfort food.
What was another side affect of cocaine abuse?
I was stuffing my face with Hershey’s chocolate in the parking lot and listening to John Mayer’s cover of “Free Fallin’”—which isn’t even a song that I like! But the moment those first few words were uttered (She’s a good girl / Loves her Mama…) I fucking lost it and started sobbing again. I was trying to convince myself, like a crazy person: I am a good girl! I’m a fucking good-ass girl! And the second I took a breather from this disgusting display of self-pity—like honestly, what is this? Secret Life of the American Teenager?—I looked at the car parked across from me and saw a girl that I kind of know. She looked like she was crying too.
Then I remembered—it was the night of this guy’s vigil.
To summarize the details: Overdose. He was young. Mid-twenties? Went to my high school.
Hearing about his death felt weird because, even though I never knew him well, he was someone tangible. He was the first person to die that was within the realm of my seemingly indestructible, we’re-all-going-to-be-young-forever, bubble—a member of my immediate community and generation. Like, I’d see him walking around places. His posts appeared on the newsfeeds of all my social media accounts. We had mutual friends! I didn’t know him, but I knew enough to feel strange when I found out I wasn’t going to see him walking around anymore.
And no matter what way you flip it, this is a tragedy that every young person who knew him, in some capacity, must have felt—we all must have felt some uneasiness at the news. Because—I’ve seen his picture—it’s not easy to believe that death, and a really dark death at that, could touch a face that looked so open, like so much fun.
How does death touch someone who looked so easy to love?
And, seeing this girl who knew him, I understood something very important:
There are certain substances that you can’t compromise with.
I shot myself with a dose of reality:
Cocaine is a hard drug like heroin is a hard drug.
I scolded myself:
You can’t always come back from these things the same. And if you choose to do them, you have to deal with the consequences in a way that’s productive. Now stop crying to this cheesy song because you’re lucky to have found the line; you know you’re going to be okay.
And then finally, for a second, I felt like my old self again.
I quoted Sloane Crosley in my head, like the insane lit-nerd that I am:
I’m a good girl—but I do not love horses or Jesus and I’d burn America to the ground for a sliver of my former happiness.
After a night of strange nightmares that had me thrashing around, I woke up and something felt different. First off, my brain felt less cloudy, which made me happy like, Maybe you can comprehend a book again! Then I ate a saltine cracker and it tasted like heaven, which is questionable because, it’s a saltine cracker, how good can it be?
I still felt exhausted, like there was led in all my limbs, and things were still pretty dreary on the emotional front. But I at least had a sense of gratitude again—one that I’d forgotten about.
I’ll admit, these past few months I’ve been very unhappy, and I’m wondering if, prior to my ER visit, it hadn’t really occurred to me just how unhappy I was. And with bouts of major depression, the first thing to happen before finally getting better is—laughter. I’ve read about people being majorly depressed, until one day, out of no where, some tiny thing happens and they just laugh so hard because that tiny thing reminds them:
Life on earth is very small and stupid. Why am I trying so hard?
That kind of happened to me on this day.
I was at work, and an old co-worker came in looking for Totally Awesome cleaner. I showed him where it was and I thought I heard him say, “Thanks, I need it to clean my bum.” And I froze for a second, because I was about to take what I thought I’d heard very seriously. I was about to say: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t. Until he saw the concerned look on my face and was like, “What the fuck do you think I just said?!” So I told him, and I know it’s so idiotic—like how old am I? Am I nine?—but I bent over laughing.
I actually had to clutch my sides as I got it out, I said, “I really thought you just told me you were going to douche out your asshole with Totally Awesome.”
He was looking at me like: Are you okay? Are you going to be the same after this? But being the first person to make me happy in a long time, I didn’t even care, I just asked without even thinking,
“What are you doing tonight?”
That night I went to hang out with him and a few people. I played beer pong sober and drank a Pibb X-tra. Then a guy man-splained SCAT to me as I noted how even the way he ate Cheez-Its was cocky. I thought: He’s lucky I’m not drinking. But then, in the end, I had to be grateful for him because, when I considered having a drink, he was the only person who said, “Hey, you don’t want to. You said you didn’t.”
So thanks for looking out for me, cocky cheez-it-eating stranger. You’re the reason I looked at the snow, going all glittery beneath the streetlamps, and could see that it was even dreamier sober.
“Does this shirt say: ‘I’m sober’ to you?”
Me and my friend were at the mall on a Friday and I was asking about a T-shirt covered in cartoon dinosaurs.
She laughed and said, “I love how you get one real birthday every four years and you chose to spend yours at the ER.”
“I know,” I said, “I hate myself; I’m getting this shirt.”
Later that night, at the bar, my friends kept fucking with me and making Cocaine-Cat inspired variations of Selena Gomez lyrics, “All of the downs and the uppers, send Cat straight to the ER…”
There was a group of guys sitting across from us and one was ultra clean-cut with hair gelled back in a way that looked a lot like: I’m either in the army or I hate my mother. He smiled at me and said, “Let me know when you’d like another soda water.”
Eventually, he overheard me telling the bartender, “I thought I was Amy Winehouse for 72 hours…” and his face lit up.
I knew what he was about to say, I could feel it coming—
“Don’t you dare say it!”
But he said it, “I love crazy.”
I said, “You say that now, but I don’t think you really know what you’re saying.”
Because, this is a “compliment” I’ve gotten used to.
It’s one that always forces me to become conscious of the war inside my mind, like:
Do you really love it, or do you just love the idea of it?
In Chris Kraus’s experimental memoir, I Love Dick, she describes schizophrenia—the crazed queen of mental illness—as limitless empathy, no understanding of where the rest of the world ends and you begin; as feeling too much, all at once, and constantly worrying that it won’t be enough; the exact opposite of sociopathy. And having always had a deep, irrational, fear of schizophrenia, Kraus’s interpretation of the illness helped me understand why:
Because I feel a lot.
And I struggle, I admit, to find the line between me and everything else:
Is it you, or is it me? Is it the world, or is it this place? When should I think of you, and when should I think of me? When should I practice self-awareness; when should I practice self-love? When should I speak; when should I listen? Can I trust myself to know the difference?
I’ve expressed the turmoil I’ve felt over these questions to many people and I’ve often been told, “You think too much,” or, “You care too much,” or, “You need to relax,”— “You should calm down.” I’ve been told, “You’re overreacting,” and “It’s not that important.” I’ve been asked, “Why does this matter to you so much?”
And now I resent the words: Too much.
Like, I get it—you love crazy.
That is: You love it until it becomes too much.
Hence the rejection: “You put yourself out there too much.”
Yeah. Well. Fine.
But I’m going to contradict myself right now and say—
This is me: I don’t want to live a life that’s complacent.
Because: I’m not okay with the way the world is, and I hope someday it’s different.
To you this might be “too much.”
But, to me—
Does that make me crazy?
Oh fucking well.
Gelled-back hair guy was supposed to meet up with me, but he didn’t show.
So I texted him, “What happened?”
He said, “I had to go home, it was probably for the best.”
I said, “Okay, it’s cool.”
He said, “It certainly wasn’t you though.”
And for the first time, in long time, I could confidently say it,
I’m weak. I had a long island.
IN MY DEFENSE: I felt better, I didn’t over-drink; earlier that night I was brave and read over the signs of chemical dependency in my ER folder (something I’d avoided doing), and everything came out negative, like: No, I do not take a coffee mug of wine with me whenever I go to Wal-Mart, and I have never resorted to spitting at someone over a miscommunication.
So I had a long island with my friend, and I told her my birthday story in depth. I got to the ER part, “They looked so deep into the fact that I scraped myself with a paper clip when I was in seventh grade—”
“That’s bullshit,” she said, “I tried sawing my wrists open with a souvenir license plate when I was thirteen, and I’m fine now.”
“That’s what I said!”
We both looked around the room like: This conversation is ridiculous.
I wondered: Why were the girls of my generation so sad? Why did we all think in terms of blood? Why were some of us bulimic and melancholy? Cutters, or dating guys too old for us?
I thought we were supposed to be past that.
Why did we all want to hurt, so bad?
Sometimes I think we felt inclined to do these tiny acts of self-destruction because we wanted to remind ourselves that we were real; because we were so bored, and our problems felt so dumb, that sawing at our wrists with souvenir license plates felt like a good idea, like: Hey, I’m here.
Or, something really fucked up, sometimes I think we did these things as a way of saying: Hey, I’m with you.
Hence: Is it about a boy?
I don’t like saying it, but sometimes self-destruction really is that co-dependent.
Amy Winehouse, allegedly, was so infatuated with her husband Blake Fielder that she wanted to feel whatever he felt. At one point she even admitted this sentiment to him flat out, “I’ll do anything you do.” And, in her case, this meant drugs, and a lot of hard drugs at that—something that really makes me question the romance behind the Nicholas Sparks concept:
If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.
Like: If you’re a bird, I’m a bird — I’ll do anything you do. — If you’re on crack, I’m on crack. — Oh shit! This whole thing just stopped being cute!
But nobody ever seems to call it what it is, and that’s: Emotional Abuse.
In the Amy Winehouse documentary (Amy) it’s constantly implied but never stated: Blake killed Amy. Or, the kind of love Blake and Amy had killed Amy. Or, Amy didn’t know it but she was confusing intensity and fear with love, and eventually it led to a number of addictions that killed her.
Nobody ever says anything along those lines. It’s just subtly implied, because nobody wants to admit that a seemingly good thing like love or devotion—romance—could potentially kill you.
But it can.
Amy said, “I fell in love with someone I would die for…and that’s a real drug, isn’t it?”
And I was like: Yes. Yes, it is.
See Sierra DeMulder’s definition of Soul Mate:
“Not the person who makes you the happiest, but the one who makes you feel the most.”
I’m almost positive Blake made Amy feel the most. And, for what it’s worth, Sierra DeMulder has admitted to experiencing a very emotionally abusive relationship.
The one who makes you feel the most?
It’s basically the equivalent of saying: The one who fills you up, and then deflates you, fills you up, and then deflates you…
And being someone who is finally coming to terms with her history of emotionally abusive relationships, I was terrified by how well I understood Amy Winehouse’s decline; how easily I related to Sierra DeMulder’s poetry. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s something I’m working on, but I’ve finally started admitting to myself: I once cut myself to feel closer to a guy. I once isolated myself from all my friends, concealed my past, and turned myself into—essentially—a pet girl, for a relationship with a guy who would summarize the two years I spent trying to be whatever he wanted with, “We had some great jokes.”
I’ve done cocaine to feel closer to a guy.
I guess I get it.
Scraping myself with a paperclip was kind of fucked up.
So whenever people ask about the scars I just say, “I forgot.”
Because it’s less humiliating than the truth: I wanted to feel close to someone with deeper issues than myself.
Because it’s less invasive than screaming in people’s faces: I’M HERE AND I WANTED PROOF!
It’s hard to explain how damaging emotional abuse can be; how you come out of it having to build yourself back up again; having to re-order yourself in a way that’ll keep this whole cycle from happening, again. It’s hard to convince some people that you’ve been deeply wounded—traumatized—when you’ve got nothing to show for it. Like you can’t take out a picture of your former identity and say: Look how he rearranged it, how he confused it into oblivion…
Maybe sometimes we hurt ourselves because we want someone else to see an invisible thing that happened to us—
I don’t know.
But I hate that I’m still struggling to solve the same old riddle:
How does a girl love selflessly without being self-sacrificing to the point of self-sabotage?
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
Later that night, I re-watched The Virgin Suicides just to pacify myself with Cecilia Lisbon’s truth:
“Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.”
My friend got me Lemonheads and took me for a drive.
He let me control the music.
I played Boxcar Racer: I wish I had power / I wish I could lead / I wish I could change the world / For you and me…
I played The Pixies: The creature in the sky / Got sucked in a hole / Now there’s a hole in the sky…
I played a remix of M83’s “Wait” by Kygo: There’s no end / There is no goodbye / Disappear / With the night / No time / No time / No time…
I looked out the window and watched the world fly by, like: Tree, Tree, Tree, Telephone Pole, UFO.
I remembered a few lines from one of my own crumby poems: “Life is not the song ‘Wait’ by M83 / You can’t hit replay / And it never hurts you the way you want it to…”
The world kept flying by: No time, no time, no time…
(Sometimes, actually all the time, I go for long drives to nowhere, in the middle of the night, by myself. And every time I do it, I never feel like going home. It’s like there’s this voice pulling at me from the back of my head, saying:
Just one more loop, you can turn at the next road; it’s not time to go home…
I’m beginning to understand that I’m like that about everything—
I was the one who kept saying, “Just one more line,” until it was 8 AM and the drugs were all gone;
I was always the last girl to fall asleep at slumber parties—
It’s all too much, and never enough.)
I looked up and realized the night sky was making my soul feel too big for my body; all I wanted to do was punch out the passenger side window and get my knuckles all bloody.
I felt a familiar ache that made me feel like howling:
I’m a bad girl, cause’ I don’t even miss him…I’m gonna to free float out into everything, I’m gonna haunt this whole world, never leave it behind…
(This is me trying to un-write that cowboy Tom Petty’s cheesy lyrics:
If you’re a lonely cowboy, then I’m a lonely space cadet.
This is me trying to exhaust you:
Play that song one more time. Are you tired? I’m not tired. Let me run just one more mile. Get me one more drink. Stop, where are you going? Stay one more second. I’m so in love with everything. I don’t know where to place my hands—don’t you know what it’s like? To want to place your hands on everything, to want to hold on for one second longer than what’s considered polite? ‘Cause I’ve got to! I go all OCD when it comes to this. I’ve got to get this moment right…
This is me saying:
Match me; love is not enough. You’ve got to understand me.)
I felt like confessing:
“I’m afraid I’m difficult to love.”
But I couldn’t give up that information because, I think this guy would really love me if I’d let him, and every loving boyfriend I’ve ever had, I broke up with after being told I was “too idealistic” one too many times.
So I got lucky.
A running doe saved me from giving myself away.
She hopped out in front of the car, just barely escaped, and the whole time, my friend kept a straight face.
“Holy shit dude,” I said, “You almost hit that deer.”
He said, “Yeah, but I knew I wasn’t going to. And anyway, I didn’t.”
I laughed because he should’ve been the poster child for the kind of philosophy I’ve always hated:
It could’ve happened, but I knew it wouldn’t and it didn’t. Why dwell on it?
It’s a little too lethargic to be carpe diem, but it’s not quite nihilism.
So I thought of Tegan and Sara:
I’m not the hero, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave…
And I realized:
I want to be someone who can acknowledge the good in the light and the dark and not be afraid—not be afraid of the fact that none of us are ever perfect, or all right, or very good; to be able to turn the things I thought I knew inside out, and then this way, and that way. Until I finally understand them enough to either, let them be, or begin a life committed to changing them for the better; to keep putting myself out there and taking chances within reason…
I know I have this deep need for all of it, or none of it; a feral itch to make nowhere and everywhere my home; a tiny voice always advising me to run from one extreme to the other; to know and experience it all; and sometimes I take shit too far, sometimes I have to reign myself back in and remember:
Slow down, you’re too important.
This is my one life; my one mind, the only true home I’m ever going to know.
Sanity and sobriety are such fragile, underrated, things.
You can’t afford to lose your sense of reality.
You’ve got to put on a clear mind and deal with it in a way that’s brave.
This is me saying:
I’ve got to forgive myself if I want to keep going.
I know I fucked up and did cocaine for a while; I smoked a stupid cigarette; I drank Codeine like a sexist rap artist…but the world didn’t end, and I didn’t lose my mind—we didn’t hit the deer—and I can make out a sliver of truth now,
I can still be brave; I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be.
On this day, a lot of interesting conversations happened. For example: A customer coming through my line at work asked, “Why isn’t there a ring on your finger? Are all the boys afraid of you?” And I laughed a little bit; I smiled as I realized it, “Actually, yeah.” He got a good kick out of that. Probably because I said it in a way that emphasized: I just don’t care how true this conversation is. (I’ve never really dreamed in diamonds—the thought of it has always made me a little nauseous.)
Anyway, on this same day, the seventh day, the guy I’d been seeing said: “I have fun with you, but there are no feelings.” Which stung a little bit. It made me feel like—to this person who I’d been spending a decent amount of time with—I’m just a nice chair, and he likes the chair, but it’s spring cleaning, and now the nice chair is starting to take a up a little too much space. Like:
“You’re fun but, [you’re too opinionated].”
“You’re fun but, [you put yourself out there too much].”
“You’re fun but, [you’re difficult to love].”
(That’s me playing a special collection of Mad Libs called: Why Doesn’t He Like Me?)
So on the seventh day, I wondered all day: What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t he like me? (Two trite musings that inevitably lead to a bunch of other existential bull shit believe it or not.)
I asked a close friend, “What’s wrong with me, like why do I deal with so many harsh rejections? And don’t say I’m choosing the wrong guys, that’s not an adequate response anymore.”
And he said, “I don’t know. I’ve always thought you were great, but it’s like you’re always searching for something.”
That was the extent of his response, which I decided was true but too abstract.
I went looking for a second opinion, and asked another friend the same question. He said, “You’re a real woman and not a lost child. Most people are lost children.”
Which was also abstract, and only semi-true because I am still, very much, a lost child (just like any other millennial, I wear cat pajamas and my mom opens my mail for me). However—I guess—my being conscious of this lost-ness, and not being at ease with it, is a type of maturity. Making me, in some ways, a “real” woman. Like I at least have some grasp on who I am and what I want, and that’s more than, from my observation, some twenty-somethings can say. I don’t think I’m going to be like Marnie from Girls, marrying some bi-polar narcissist and rationalizing an inevitable divorce away—even on the wedding day.
I don’t think I’m ever going to lose myself to another person that badly.
At least, I think this is what my friend means when he says:
“You’re a real woman and not a lost child.”
I think he’s saying:
You don’t change what you believe for anyone, not even the people you fall in love with.
Which, I’ll admit, is probably really intimidating. Because culturally—especially as little girls—we’re taught that “falling in love” is all about selflessness, and “becoming one”; about sacrificing experience and knowledge in favor of—
Being “mature” or some shit.
Like: Look somebody wants me! I’ve got it all figured out! I’m an adult! A selfless adult!
Which just isn’t something I’m looking for at this point in life, so I suppose I have to be a little more understanding when guys tell me, “You’re fun, but…”
Maybe I’m just rationalizing; just trying to put a positive spin on a lot of heartache, but I’m learning to hear these kinds of rejections, not as a bad thing, but as, “You’re fun, but [you deserve to be free].” Like, it’s not that I’m difficult to love, it’s that I’m still busy becoming my own person. And I can’t blame someone for not wanting to fall on the wayside as I do that. I can’t blame someone for not complying when I say: Hey wanna get even more lost? Follow me around for a while!!!! *rainbows, butterflies, oops we’re doing cocaine!*
Which brings me to my other friend’s response, “You’re great, but it’s like you’re always searching for something.”
Because he’s right, I am always searching for something.
I’m always searching for the idealistic world I’ve created in my mind; I want to see it become a reality. But it might never become a reality, at least not in my lifetime, and that’s a sense of loss and disappointment I’m dealing with on a daily basis. Furthermore, I’m not sure how many people actually relate to this kind of sadness, so, by default, I feel very lonely; I feel very misunderstood; I feel like I’m constantly explaining myself, constantly having my views tested simply because they deviate from the way things are, or the way some people want things to continue to be.
It gets frustrating.
I get depressed.
I start getting impulsive.
I make bad decisions to forget.
But: I’m trying.
I’m trying, so hard, to lead a life that says: I want better quality of life for all women.
And if I were to self-destruct, to totally self-annihilate, because I can’t get past some guy’s rejection of me due to a subconscious intimidation linked to sexism; because I can’t get past a sociopathic professor’s agenda to bully me into silence (to quit writing), and some people doubting my perception of this experience due to my gender and politics, then it would be an insult to all the women who went crazy and died because they lived during a time where their only options were to either comply, or self-destruct; when women’s desires and opinions really were 100% illegitimate, and completely repressed.
(Sylvia Plath killed herself to be taken seriously. So did Virginia Woolf.)
This is what I mean when I say:
I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be.
I’ll take all the luck I can get, and right now my luck is this:
I am living during a time, and in country, where I don’t have to comply or self-destruct in order to be heard.
I have the power to transcend all these tiny prisons and become bigger than my circumstances.
This is the part where I start to believe in the significance of that gooey concept called:
This is the part where I regurgitate a self-love quote I found on the Internet:
“Stay away from people who make you feel like you’re difficult to love.”
Now I’m going to take a piece of negative criticism and turn it into a poem about self-awareness:
All the people who love you are beyond you.
They’re already out there.
Part IV: Epilogue?
“You’re so free.” — “What does that even mean?”
This random forty-something-year-old man was giving me unsolicited advice at Applebees. He said, “Baby, cocaine’s bad for your soul.” And I was just like, “Yeah, duh, trust me. I know.” Then he bought me a plate of chicken wings and I bitched and laughed about my life. Eventually he said, “Don’t do cocaine anymore, you’re too free-spirited to sabotage yourself like that.” And I joked, “Or I’m just blonde and 24 and you’re forty, creep.” And he said, “Whatever, you’re still different. You’re smart, but you seem so free.”
Which: What does that even mean?
People say stuff like this to me a lot: “Cat’s a free bitch.” — “You’re the baddest.” — “You deserve to be free.” — “~Wild n’ Free~”
I’m learning to define what all this means within my own terms. And I’m slowly realizing that, to be “free”, and a girl, doesn’t mean you’re not afraid to dye your hair blue, or that you wear a lot of black and don’t give a shit when your mascara goes all over the place. It doesn’t mean you do tons of drugs and self-sabotage in the name of “rebellion”—that shit’s irrelevant to bad-assery, totally frivolous and temporary. It’s just teenage angst seeping into adulthood and distracting you from becoming whoever the hell you’re supposed to become. (Or, even worse, rendering the person you’re supposed to become impossible.)
Therefore, to be “free” and a girl means not falling into the same old traps. It means refusing to accept someone else’s watered down versions of you—mad girl, sad girl, good girl, bad girl—and defining who you are, for yourself.
It means forgiving yourself for being a complicated person with three dimensions.
You still exist when no one is looking!
You are not a ghost of yourself!
This is your only shot, and it’s real!
Don’t fuck yourself over; don’t let someone else bully you into fucking yourself over.
And, yes, in a sad paradoxical twist, being “free” as I’ve defined it means life is going to be more difficult for you; it means that, sometimes, not very many people are going to like you, or understand you. But you’ve got to push past that because—you deserve to be fulfilled. You deserve to look back on your life and know that you did everything you could to achieve the best quality of life imaginable.
We all do.
And if there’s any piece of wisdom I’ve gained from the brief moment in time where I forgot myself, and lost control of my life, it’s this:
I decide whether or not to treat my own worth like a thing.
I decide what criticism I internalize.
I decide to move on from anyone who makes me feel like I’m not real.
And I’m going to be okay if okay’s what I want to be, because—