“I have chased thrills, and I have chased peace, and following the latter is what’s brought me to my most favorite version of myself.” In the spirit of Dry January, a former party girl expounds on her decision to get sober(ish)…
by: Caitlin Behrens
Initially, I believed that you could divide drinkers into one of two groups, each defined by its own motives and mechanisms. The first subset were the ones who drink to escape life; the despondent souls who use alcohol to numb their problems, shortcomings, and pain. A caricature of life’s hardships, disconcerting to others, and drinking to excess intentionally, they might remind you of the Frank Gallagher in your life, or perhaps your very own father, uncle, or childhood friend who just couldn’t find peace any other way.
The remainder, where I think most of us would choose to identify instead, reside within a second branch who drink to celebrate life. Marked by casual happy hours, popping champagne first thing on holiday mornings, getting carried away by a friend in town, a promotion, a ceremony, or even the sight of nice weather, this drinker drinks to excess absentmindedly.
The line between drinking to enjoy oneself and drinking in spite of oneself is muddled even further by actual classes of people, genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and other factors of the like. I grew up within a working-class family, and how they choose to indulge themselves is much different than men and women of greater means, methods, and opportunity. I’ve seen both drown themselves out, but on different grounds, devices, and vindications.
I fell in line with the party girls. It’s a lifestyle, an aesthetic adorned by sparkle and shine, high heels, short dresses, blacks and reds, neons and pinks and purples. It’s a set of behaviors — hedonistic, simultaneously self-serving yet holding little care for oneself. It’s a mentality, a life of low inhibitions, high stakes, few rewards, and constant repetition.
This lifestyle is easy to glamorize, due to the fact you simply look beautiful and have a good time. You stay up all night dancing, sharing cigarettes, hanging out with cool men, sipping drinks you didn’t pay for, all while finding ways to remain as skinny and beautiful as you possibly can. You take a ton of pretty photos for Instagram, find yourself surrounded by white substances often, and when you go to Vegas or Miami, you might even drink all weekend for free at the hands of a promoter whose job is to bring girls into his venue. Sticky dance floors, sloppy hook-ups, mascara-stained under-eyes, mimosas in the morning to keep you going through the very next night — it is all but unavoidable.
It isn’t all in vain, though. Girlhood is a powerful bond, and the kinds of relationships you can form with someone who has seen you in the pits of your party era will either stay with you through life or become something you’ll rid yourself of when you finally decide to get clean. Many of these relationships won’t last for one reason or another. One might decide to pull the cord, for instance, and get out earlier than the other. One might have taken it to a point beyond repair on a particularly eventful night. One might have broken the unspoken yet shared responsibility of upholding each other’s safety and good vibe. Whether or not you make it out together, you ride through it together because neither of us would exist without the other. It takes a lot of energy to hype each other up, watch out for one another, and keep the other in good spirits.
For some of us, the excess might start in college or early adulthood, but I often find that many of us get sucked in way too young. I recently found a photo of myself in a skin-tight, red bodycon dress from Express posing on the stage of a nightclub near the town I grew up in. I was fifteen at the time. You can’t blame my parents, a boyfriend, or any of the girls I was hanging out with. I wanted to be a part of this lifestyle for years before and after that. Now, I’m just a few weeks shy of my 29th birthday, and I have slowly phased out of this life for years now, almost to a point where it is non-existent.
My come-to-light moment is little different than anyone else’s. One too many bad experiences caught up to me and forced me to consider the weight of my decisions and the possibilities of what could come if I didn’t get out soon. The vast majority of the worst moments in my life have been as a result of, or in direct relation to, my own or someone else’s abuse of alcohol. There is almost no chance that you can be part of this lifestyle and not experience violence, sexual harassment at a minimum, reckless endangerment, and other aggressive behaviors. There is zero chance that you can be part of this lifestyle and not experience unpacifiable embarrassment, shame, guilt, and other depressing emotions. Broken relationships, bodily harm, and words or actions that can’t be taken back are all common collateral that you laugh and laugh and laugh at, but one day, it stops being funny.
The lifestyle moves very quickly past looking beautiful and having a fun time. Soon enough you’re hurting people you care about, saying and doing things you aren’t proud of, and putting yourself and others in unsafe situations. You build a reputation for this sort of behavior, and it’s a difficult stain to wipe away. I have been out of the party scene for a few years now, and I still feel deeply insecure that this is who I am and this is what I am known for.
I am by no means intent on committing to full-time sobriety, although the pipeline from party girl to temperance is very real (and I respect you girls for it). My journey, instead, has been marked by developing and upholding the understanding that I am not a casual drinker. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that because I so seldom go out anymore, I should be able to indulge on those rare occasions, but the older I get, the more aware I am of how just one bad choice can lead to severe, if not, fatal, consequences. (And this, kids, is why you really need to let your frontal lobe develop before you get too caught up.)
Sobering up a boring journey, and I respectfully disagree with your opinion if you say otherwise. I don’t feel as though it is possible to go from the constant overstimulation and highs of this life without feeling, “Will I never have fun again?” When in the throes of the fun, you know the lows are waiting for you when you come down the next day, but the absolute relentless boredom from stepping away from the party scene and committing to staying away on the daily is hard to bear. To cope, I review a supercut of all my most embarrassing and awful moments that play at the back of my mind at any given time which helps me stay on track, but if you’re looking for a means of less self-loathing, I’ll have to recommend you discuss it with someone else.
Boring as it is in practice, ultimately why I have made the choice I have is for the peace of it all. It’s to not wake up and worry I might have crossed a line with a friend, or feeling like shit because I drank too much tequila with no food in my stomach. It’s to not waste whole weekends on benders, only to feel anxious, depressed, unmotivated, and no closer to accomplishing anything. And, most of all, it’s because I can feel better about who I am and how I show up in my own life and in the lives of the people I care about. I very often crave the thrill that pulsated through my life before. I have chased thrills, and I have chased peace, and following the latter is what’s brought me to my most favorite version of myself. Whereas, when I was in the party scene, my lifestyle became a form of escapism. I didn’t have much to show for my time in clubs, on stages, or in the back of guys’ cars, other than a feeling that I was within but missing out.
I grew up on Jersey Shore, Kesha, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. Being a child and a teenager in the peak party-girl era of Y2K was impressionable and made the lifestyle seem sexy, fun, and without remorse. I love dearly that there are girls who are sixteen, twenty-one, twenty-four even, out there today smart enough to be more guarded of their minds, bodies, and spirits. I still see little black dresses, poppin’ bottles, and questionable decisions play out in my real life and on my social media feeds, but no one can ignore the shift towards a more sober or sober-conscious lifestyle.
Mocktails, dry bars, even dry months are everywhere, and the only reason they exist is because there is such an emphasis on not destroying oneself through alcohol and other substances. I am very hopeful of my own future and of the future of kids, especially young girls. My advice, with every ounce of love, is to enjoy life, seize life, participate in life — but know when to walk away when something isn’t serving you anymore. If you are doing a Dry January or simply cutting back in 2024, I support you in your journey.
Caitlin Behrens is a writer based out of Cleveland, Ohio.