From Medium: I Was a “Fun” Drunk. Until I Wasn’t.

This piece, which has been lightly edited for sexual content, originally appeared on Medium. It was inspired by the responses to Susan Orlean’s recent series of tweets about getting wasted, which were celebrated by thousands of people and featured the following day in a laudatory piece in the Washington Post.

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When I quit drinking, there was no one around to suggest that I didn’t have a problem.

My friends were gone. My family was distant. My world consisted of an elliptical path between the grocery store, the bus stop, and the 600 square feet of my apartment, full of dirty dishes and half-eaten pizzas and empty bottles shoved into suitcases in the closet in case anyone dropped by.

My drinking took me to that point. But it didn’t start that way. Instead, like many women in their 20s, I started drinking because I wanted to fit in — at work, where everyone seemed so much older and more sophisticated, and in my social circle, which came to consist mostly of other drinkers—women who could shut down the bar, take a guy home, and wipe away the hangover with a few Bloody Marys in the morning.

It wasn’t just that no one ever told me they thought I might have a drinking problem — my drinking, like that of many young women, was celebrated, and the more over-the-top my behavior was, the more “fun” people considered me to be. I remember one night, out at a dive bar called the Jade Pagoda, when I danced on a table while my coworkers cheered, then made out with one of those coworkers on that same table while they cheered some more. What I learned from that experience, and from countless others, was that people liked me more when I was drunk and “fun.” For years, I took the lesson to heart.

I was fun. Until I wasn’t.

The parameters of acceptable femininity are wide enough to accommodate women who have “funny” meltdowns or who take their tops off or who sleep through Sundays. They don’t have room for women who lash out when they’re drunk, or who wonder whether they really gave their consent, or who say, in so many words: “This isn’t fun. Stop clapping. I need help.”

In all that time, no one ever suggested that I might consider taking a break from drinking. Why would they? Women who act out in a certain way — by being a certain acceptable type of “messy,” the type that isn’t too picky about men’s behavior and cracks jokes about her drinking (“Drinking problem” always worked when I spilled my cocktail) and laughs uproariously — are celebrated. Everyone loves a “fun” girl, a “cool” mom, a “wacky” older lady with a martini in hand. (Note that these parameters are not just gendered but aged — a 60-year-old throwing herself at young men is seen as pathetic, while a “wine mommy” who heads out to the bar while her husband takes care of the kid is irresponsible; why isn’t she celebrating “wine o’clock” at home?).

The parameters of acceptable femininity are wide enough to accommodate women who have “funny” meltdowns or who take their tops off or who sleep through Sundays. They don’t have room for women who lash out when they’re drunk, or who wonder whether they really gave their consent, or who say, in so many words: “This isn’t fun. Stop clapping. I need help.”

Women who fall into addiction — a neurological, psychological, and physical brain disorder that many people still consider the result of personal failings — are not celebrated. Strangers don’t show up to cheer when you pass out on the sidewalk, or check yourself into treatment, or say “I need help,” although addictions that lead to these behaviors tend to start benignly, with the kind of drinking women are socially permitted to do.

I thought about all this when celebrated writer Susan Orlean posted a series of increasingly incoherent tweets on Friday night, in which she acknowledged being “falling-down drunk,” embarrassing her husband in front of their neighbors, and apparently infuriating her family. “I am@being shunned by my family because I am drunk. Yes ok I am fine with that FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCKERS,” she wrote. As I write this, the most recent responses — of thousands in this vein — are “Cheers to you!! This is definitely not the right time to be sober(within reason)I’m having a few with you!!,” “How wasn’t I following you until now? Best 2020 Friday night entertainment” and “Hey Family, leave her alone! Let the girl drink and tweet! 😜. Got your back”

These people piling praise onto a celebrity’s timeline are ostensibly “celebrating” Orlean for “living her best life,” as many of them put it. But in reality, they’re projecting a narrative that’s as American as Lucille Ball.

We celebrate women — particularly famous women — when they embarrass themselves, or get falling-down-drunk, or go on harmless-seeming tirades against their families. “No one on my house is talking to me right now ok!! YeH whatever I hzte you too.” We stop celebrating them when their behavior tips over into problematic territory — when Britney shaves her head, or Lindsay passes out in her Mercedes. Being a “fun” drunk is a trap, but you won’t know that until you get down off the bar, or stop live-tweeting your life like it’s a sitcom, or say something publicly that’s just a no-two-ways-about-it bummer, like expressing shame, helplessness, or regret. Watch how fast the crowds dissipate then.

Read the rest of this essay on Medium.

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