I woke up, thankful to have made it safely to my bed, and realized it was one minute until noon. I was supposed to be at my family’s annual Christmas Eve brunch, if only to witness my mom and dad finally being able to tolerate each other in the same room. Instead, I was longing for 12 more hours of sleep, three gallons of water and enough over-the-counter remedies to transform me into a functioning human being again. I called my dad to tell him I would be a little late, and he understood. I was a total mess. I grabbed the only clean shirt off my floor and as I rushed to my car, the events of last night started to come back to me.
It was around 9 p.m., and I was on my way out the door.
“Where are you going?” my mom asked.
“Out,” I mumbled quietly.
“Please be careful.” I heard every bit of concern and disappointment lingering in the space between us. She turned her back towards me and continued to decorate the tree, a tradition that we had always shared together.
As usual, I walked out the door, slamming it behind me while ignoring my mom’s words of caution. After all, I was an adult. I had a job. I went to class. I paid my bills. I desperately clung to these facts as if they would miraculously come true. The truth was, I was bored at my job, I was taking one class at a community college and the bills I paid were all due to credit card charges I had racked up at the bar.
“I’ll have another Red Bull-vodka, please.” These words seemed to spill out of my mouth a little too easily. I grabbed my drink and maneuvered my way through the grinding masses at my favorite bar.
The dance floor was packed. The insistent beat of LMFAO’s “Party Rock,” had become bearable, almost enjoyable at that point, but the deafening noise from the speakers was contributing to my already pounding headache. I figured the best way to cure my daily hangover was to drink through it–so I did. I made my way over to my friends just as they shouted, “Happy night before Christmas Eve!” and downed their tequila shots. Our reasons for celebrating had become more and more frequent and it seemed that the “Happy Birthdays!” had turned into “Happy Tuesdays.”
As a child, for the few years that my dad was around, I remember the smell of beer on his breath when he’d put on old records and dance around the living room. As I got older, I opted for vodka, but stayed true to the music we once danced to together, so loudly in the past. My love affair with alcohol had become more apparent as the years blurred by. What began as a beer here, a shot there, turned into a nightly routine of guzzling a bottle of wine before I found my way to the bar to celebrate who knows what. I yearned for these trivial celebrations to last forever.
I was lonely.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I turned around to see a polite, nice-looking guy, but all I saw was the familiar invitation to put my wallet away.
“Sure,” I said flirtatiously with an expectant smile on my face. I had to be up early the next day, but who could pass up free drinks? I knew I had no intention of ever speaking to him again, but the least I could do was pretend I was interested so I could fuel my love affair for free.
The absurdities of the bar had become routine. By midnight, I had already had a heart-to-heart with a complete stranger who was crying hysterically in the bathroom because her boyfriend dumped her, broken up a fight between a guy and the ATM machine and had almost gotten kicked out for trying to dance on the pool table after being told not to. My friends were nowhere to be found, but I was having “the time of my life” and knew, rather hoped, they would make it home safely.
“Last call!” the bartender yelled out with force. I dreaded hearing those two words. Where did the time go? I watched as the crowd dissipated slowly; guys desperately trying to find someone vulnerable enough to go home with them, girls stumbling down the street-shoes in hand and police outside arresting people for public urination and drunken debauchery. Those two little words meant the party was over and that I had to face reality.
“Kelly! You made it, it’s so good to see you!“ I heard my 93-year-old grandma say as the events from last night faded from my consciousness.
I looked up as everyone stared at me with inquiring eyes. The ordinarily intoxicating smell of cinnamon and pumpkin spice that wafted through the air made me nauseous. The radio played “Silent Night” and I kindly asked the manager to turn it down. I went to give my grandma a hug and before I could compliment her on her newly knitted sweater, I made a beeline for the bathroom. I was sick–really sick.
When I returned to the table, I ordered an extra large soda and pretended to eat the food on my desolate plate. Between my stomach grumbling and my ears ringing, I heard laughter and the meaningful conversations between the members of my family and knew I was missing out. You could feel the love in the air. This was my reality and I had no idea why I continued to run from it.
It was time for everyone to head to my grandma’s house to open presents, but I wouldn’t be joining them. I had to get home as fast as I could to try to cure yet another hangover. As I drove home alone, I pictured the joy on my nephew’s face as he opened his first Christmas present without me. I began to wonder what my life had become. I had missed quality time with my family because I had chosen to spend it with hundreds of strangers the night before. I knew my love affair had to end.
I crawled into bed and after a few hours of much needed sleep, my friends invited me out for happy hour. I decided to go since I hadn’t been able to eat a bite of food earlier. As I waited for them to show up, I sat down between a lonely old man and a group of girls who still seemed drunk from the night before. The bartender threw a cocktail napkin my way. I watched it spin as it landed on the bar next to a waiting glass in front of me.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked.
“No thanks, I’m good.”