When we hear about heroin addiction, we often hear about the ritual associated with using. Cooking the drug on a spoon while it turns into liquid. Tying off an arm to get a vein to pop. Pulling back on the needle to fill it with the drugs, and finally, injecting it. I truly believe much of addiction is associated with ritual. But we only ever hear about it when it’s associated with heroin, meth, or other drugs like cocaine and adderall. We never hear about ritual being associated with alcohol use. But one of the hardest things for me to let go of when I got sober was the ritual associated with drinking.
Drinking for me was always associated with going out, with partying. Since I attended my first party, I knew being at a party was when I was most in my element. These started out as small house parties in high school at empty houses with loud music and alcohol, given to us by older friends or stolen from parents. After I went off to college and found a fake ID, parties got even more exciting. I quickly learned you could even have a party preference! My preference was going to places that had cheap shots and good music to dance to, plus a crowd of strangers to flirt with. My nights would start with raiding my closet for the perfect outfit. It had to be something I felt good in and depending on the season or the day, it could take awhile to find. Then I would move on to curling or straightening my hair, or finding a cute updo for it. Next I’d find the perfect eyeshadow to accent my brown eyes, slap on some eyeliner and shadow, and of course foundation to cover my blemishes. While I was doing this daunting task of getting ready, I would be sipping a vodka and sprite, or having a few pregame beers. I would put on a playlist to get me excited for the night. Once I started doing cocaine, I would make sure I had a baggy to do a few lines before leaving my house. It was my ritual.
Then when I got to my destination I would survey the scene. Who was there? Who could I talk to? What could I say? What would I order at the bar? Depending on the price of the drinks and how crowded it was I would order two at a time. Then I would find a spot on or near the dance floor and get ready to shake my booty and fist pump. As the night went on I would dodge creepy dudes and engage with the cute ones. The drunker I got the more fun I was having and the more I would throw caution to the wind. It was always right before the blackout that I felt like I’d reached the ultimate buzz I was looking for - loopy, relaxed, flirty, saying yes to any free drink that came my way. How else do you bond with people? How else do you become besties with strangers? How else do you delete the painful awkwardness of small talk?
The truth was I loved meeting new people. I find people interesting. What better way to do that than at a club or a party? When I drank I had the desire to talk to anyone about anything. I soon became the person people always saw at the party. The person people associated with the party. I was the one people asked about where the party was, who would be there, what the vibe would be, and what they would be serving. Want to celebrate and don’t know where to go? Ask Kelly. Want to have a fun night out? Invite Kelly. Want a wingman? Kelly. Want someone to host your party? Kelly is your girl.
When I was looking for an off-campus house in college I picked the cul-de-sac where all the parties were held and started hosting my own. When I moved to Ocean City, Maryland, I picked a centralized location close to all the bars and eventually got a job promoting alcohol. In Cancun I promoted parties, sold party packages, and knew the ins and outs of the nightclubs. As the years when on my party girl identity became stronger and more ingrained in my being.
When my issues with substances became such a burden in my life that I considered cutting back, my first thought was, “but what will everyone think of me? Kelly, the party girl?” The whole last year of my drinking I went out less, did less cocaine, only went to the nightclubs on Spring Break while living in Cancun that year, maybe once or twice. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I had anxiety about losing my identity. Then when May 2013 rolled around and I was faced with the decision of quitting for good, I knew I had a choice to make.
I had worked for years to build my reputation as the craziest and most fun party girl around. Would getting sober mean I’d lose it? And if I did, who was I? I tried to keep up with my party shenanigans as much as I could during the first 4-5 months of my sobriety. Just because I wasn’t drinking didn’t mean I wanted to miss the birthday boat parties, the random nights out in the Hotel Zone of Cancun, pool parties, and hitting the biggest nightclubs on their most popular nights with my friends. I wasn’t going to let sobriety stop me.
It was around month 6 that I began to realize this wasn’t sustainable, and that it didn’t have to be. Slowly, I stopped going out. If I didn’t feel comfortable attending the parties, I didn’t go. I stopped feeling the need to be at every nightclub and event. I let go of my own expectations. People stopped asking me where the parties were and who would be there. I lived through the experiences of not missing out, when I truly thought I would. The parties still went on. The clubs were still open. The dealers still had cocaine. The shots were still available. I just wasn’t there anymore. I moved on.
The only person that kept me in the party scene was me. I invented Kelly, the party girl, and I’m the one who laid that identity to rest. I had to figure out who Kelly really was because “party girl,” isn’t actually an identity, or rather it should have been labeled, “running-away-from-her-problems-girl”
Who am I? This is a journey I’ve been on for 6 years now. The only way to find out is by living, and that means no booze, no drugs, no numbing behaviors, no yearning to be out of the moment you’re actually living in.
I am no longer a party girl. I never was. It was just something I did, something I hid behind.
My ritual looks different now and it evolves every day. It’s not desperate or destructive. It doesn't abuse my body. It doesn’t leave me with guilt, shame, or self-hate.
Like so many things in my life, shedding my party girl identity was really overcoming the fear of letting go. If you’re holding on to your party identity, I’ll ask you this - who are you without it? Who do you really want to be?