Discipline, Drinking & How Janet Jackson Helped Me Get It Together Again
Note to my readers: this is a little more personal (raw), as Lindsay Lohan would say.
During the last weekend of March, I spent my Saturday night out doing the usual: bar-hopping from Brooklyn to Manhattan, drinking to near blackout excess. Some portions of the night are still hazy. (Very “Blur.”)
The last bar I hit closed at the usual 4 AM, but I stuck around to gossip with the bartenders. (I stayed after everyone else got kicked out because I knew them. The glamour, I know.) And so I flirted with the cute barback and took advantage of a few free shots until around 6:30 AM, then headed home in a daze while the rest of the world woke up. I finally crashed around 8 AM in my entirely sun-filled apartment.
The next day – or, well, late in the afternoon – I woke up with a deep, horrible sounding cough. (And a miserable hangover, obviously.) I assumed that it was just a cold, but it kept getting worse. By the end of the week, I was in emergency care with a nearly 103 degree fever. It turned out I had the flu, with strep sprinkled on top.
I needed to be on antibiotics for 10 days to remedy the throat situation, which meant I couldn’t drink. So I laid low, stayed in and played video games. I got better, finally, and was back at the gym before I even finished the 10-day run of medicine.
As I was working out on that first day back, Janet Jackson‘s – Miss Jackson, If Ya Nasty – Discipline came up on shuffle. (Specifically, the underrated “The 1,” featuring Missy Elliott.) For whatever reason, I kept staring down at the album cover while it was playing. The album’s title stuck out at me: Discipline.
Later on, I listened to one of the interludes on that album: “The Meaning,” where Janet brings herself to near-orgasm by moaning the dictionary definition of the word “discipline”: “Self control / Training that corrects and molds the mental faculties or moral character / To train by instruction and exercise.”
Something just clicked. Discipline.
I live in a city where anything, or anyone, can be sent directly to my door within minutes whenever I want. It’s the best thing in the world, and the worst. For a long time, I’ve maintained the idea that I don’t belong to anyone, so I should just belong to everyone. This world is bullshit, so fuck it, right?
I know there are supposedly different “types” of drunks: happy drunks, horny drunks, angry drunks. When I drink to get drunk, I usually have fun and get silly, like most people. But at some point, at least in the past few years, there’s an immediate and inevitable switch in my head: the fun meter is full, I think to myself.
It goes downhill quick. I start tearing up on dance floors, because I suddenly feel lonely or ugly, or just for no reason at all. I walk back home crying in public. I sit in the back of taxis sobbing. I have multiple sloppy, indiscriminate Grindr hookups with strangers. Forget knowing their names – there are times I don’t even remember the sex at all. I think about death. A lot. Too many nights, I walk back home thinking about how easy it would be to just step off the curb. I leave disturbing messages on exes’ answering machines about how much I just want to fucking disappear.
I don’t like seeing any of this written out, but it’s all completely true. And because it doesn’t take a lot of liquor to get me to that place, I almost always get to that place.
It’s now late on a Saturday night in the middle of May, two months since that weekend bender. And apart from a few sips of a margarita on Cinco de Mayo that I ordered purely for appearance out of feeling the pressure to prove that I’m not boring, I haven’t drank. I’ve made it through nights at bars and clubs and shows, and I haven’t felt the need to partake. Some friends have been kind when I order water at the bar, and some have been pretty shitty and sarcastic. It’s whatever.
The word keeps popping into my head. Over and over. When you live alone, no one’s there to slap your hand. So I’m choosing to do this for myself. I’m staying in more on the weekends, doing healthier activities, and attempting to go to places where alcohol isn’t the main focus when I do go out. I’m going to the gym more than ever, hydrating, moisturizing, and maintaining a fairly strict diet. And I quite honestly feel better, and more like myself, than I have in a while. Happier. Funnier, maybe. Skinnier, possibly. And my wallet isn’t mad about it, either.
It’s also sort of a funny coincidence that Missy Elliott, who’s featured on the song that first inspired whatever this current journey is, just recently revealed that she’s given up bread and soda for the past four months for her health, and she looks amazing.
This isn’t a “coming out” declaration about being sober. It’s only been, like, two-ish months. I’m still very much trying to figure out what the game plan is in the long run. I could very well have a drink tomorrow — I won’t beat myself up over it if I do.
I frankly don’t think I have it in me to never drink (responsibly) again, and I think it’s disrespectful to put myself in the same category as my friends who have overcome serious struggles with addiction requiring professional help. But I do think I needed to completely shut it down for a bit. And every time I’ve “survived” a social event without a drink, I feel good about not waking up with a headache, a half dozen credit card charges and another STD scare.
This is all somewhat embarrassing to air, especially when it’s possible, or even probable, that I’m going to drink again soon. But I think it’s still somewhat more hopeful than some of my more grim, existential crisis-y A Little More Personal (Raw) moments that I’ve shared in the past. I needed to reel it in, and I did. And now, at the very least, I’m well aware of my pattern.
This also isn’t about feeling superior, or lecturing, or judging. I’m just feeling better, and felt compelled to share why that is and where I was at before, since shirtless selfies on Instagram and write-ups about the hot new bops don’t tell even half the story about what’s going on IRL.
I don’t know that I can offer any advice beyond sharing my own experience. But if I were to make any immediate recommendation to anyone who feels similarly stuck and is perhaps turning to substances to distract yourself or dull the pain, I say: go give Miss Janet’s Discipline a spin to get you up and moving, and then do something kind for yourself – even if that means cracking that whip to regain some control.
Photo credit: ChuanDo & Frey