I was beginning to agree with all that talk back in the day that oxytocin was the hottest chemical on the scene.
The headlines were all, “Love is a drug!” Or, “Getting out of a breakup is like an addict going through withdrawal.” And, “The science behind love.” Whoop-doop-de-doop, the mystery has been solved, ladies and gentlemen! But thinking of love as a drug makes sense. It serves as a completely logical explanation to something that feels beyond logic itself.
And I know I was addicted to you. I wanted to be around you, always, even if it meant sitting, doing our own thing, in silence. I was addicted to how good you made me feel—about everyday life, about myself.
When we broke up, I went through a withdrawal period. At first, it was excruciating. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I created an album on my phone that was just photos of you and of us. I’d linger on that screenshot I took of you that time we’d left our Skype open so we could fall asleep together. And I’d lay in bed with my “sad playlist” playing, my tissues spread out across the sheets like a snotty blanket, and I’d relive those memories we had just to feel a little bit closer to you.
You’d still text, and every time your name popped up on my phone, I’d get an anxious but excited feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Then, slowly, I tried to wean myself off of you. My sister would take me on runs up Mount Royal in Montreal, and I’d sweat you out of my skin—out of physical memory. I’d go for drinks with friends to try and forget about you, but still, I couldn’t help but think of all the pints we’d shared. How we’d go to the high street near your old house and talk for hours in those soft, squished-down couches, and a classic rock song would come on and you’d ask me if I knew it, and when I didn’t, you’d tell me about what it meant to you.
And it was like you’d crawled yourself into my life back home; one that you had never gotten the chance to be a part of.
From that first real heartbreak, I started to drink a bit more. I’d drink more when I was going through a breakup, yes, but while I was in a relationship, too. Like I had to replace one vice with another or the vices each spurred more of a desire for the other.
If I wasn’t in love, if there wasn’t someone around to keep me company on a Sunday evening, a glass of red wine and maybe some stovetop popcorn will do.
If I wasn’t able to flirt at the bar, it’s okay, I’ll just get another shot of tequila!
If I wasn’t happy and my partner was disappointing me, a good, strong IPA will never let me down.
The first time I got drunk was at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. My older sister was feeding me and my cousin vodka oranges at the kids’ end of the table, and I remember at one point we all ran up the stairs and lay on my parents’ bed, and I was staring up at the ceiling fan that was just going round and round and round and it felt like the whole world was spinning in circles.
We were all quiet until I said, “Whoa, I feel weird.” And my sister said that’s what the alcohol does. And I remember thinking to myself how magical everything felt. I remember how I wondered if life would ever feel this good again.
As I got older, alcohol became a tool not just during or after relationships, but a way to make them happen. You like a guy? Just go out and wait until you’re both drunk to make a move. Feel awkward dancing? Alcohol will give you confidence. And I thought my ability to drink as much as the guys made me cool.
I wanted to be the kind of girl who drank her whiskey on the rocks, rather than watered down with soda. Sit at a dimly lit bar with tall, black boots and a little bit of mystery.
But, more often than not, all alcohol gave me was that dry mouth, headache, and a blank spot in my mind of moments lost that I’ll never get back. Kind of like ending a relationship that wasn’t really right for you in the first place.
In the same way, we think a relationship is this magic solution that will give us all the things we want. We think if only we can find the right partner, like drinking, we will be confident, happy, connected, secure, loved. And it can be an addiction because, like alcohol, it does momentarily feel good.
We’re chasing that love-high, and when the relationship ends, we’re left feeling like we have nothing, and the only way to get that experience is to be in love again. But we discover that the more we try and get these things from something outside of ourselves, the further away from getting them we become.
I find I am reaching for that drink in my aloneness less and less. Maybe it’s this little thing called self-love, or befriending myself—maitri, as it’s called in the Buddhist tradition—but I enjoy my own company, and most days, that’s enough.
I’ve started to also see the desire to be drunk during a relationship as a major self-red flag. Like an, Oh, god. What are you doing, Naomi? What are you trying to tell me? Because, maybe, there’s this part of me that knows this isn’t really what I want—that maybe there’s something about this relationship that’s preventing me from being myself within it.
Or maybe there’s something still about myself that’s preventing me from being me.
To be honest, I don’t really like whiskey on the rocks. I’ve realized I might be more of an IPA kind of girl. Or maybe an early morning English Breakfast tea—sitting alone in an old, wooden cabin, writing. And I’m not lonely or sad or feeling deprived or isolated; I’m at peace.
*Details have been slightly altered. Excerpted from Naomi’s upcoming book, Time Below the Surface, available for pre-order.