The first year I played Fantasy Football I drafted Ray Rice in the first and won the whole thing. I celebrated by drinking a bunch of powerfully hoppy IPAs and bourbon shots and ended up getting frostbite on my feet from running home from a hot tub. The next day, I had my way with at least one big, greasy meal. I spent my days bantering with the boys in the bar and drove a car with a manual transmission with a big old dog in the backseat.
I was, I hoped, cool. Not in the real effortless Paul Newman way, obviously, but I believed that if I adorned myself with enough physical trappings of cool, I would absorb it by osmosis. Like the giant bug alien – call him Edgar – in Men in Black, I was wearing a cool suit. And just like Edgar, I was not pulling it off.
Trying hard to be cool was a bad habit, baked deeply into who I believed I was. Disentangling myself from it meant shattering the foundation of my identity, which was exactly the problem. I refused to shop for new cars because I was the girl who drove that old car. I needed the validation I got when guys thought it was cool that I drove a stick. I never stopped to think that being liked for what I drove was a really shitty form of validation. It was important to me to be considered “chill” and not like “other girls” who I believed were shrewish and exhausting.
Forget about the drinking, overeating, and spending full Sundays getting blitzed and watching football. Those were just ancillary habits. The real worst habit was trying so hard to impress others to the point that I completely forgot who I was.
When I quit drinking. I did it because I could no longer ignore the inner voice that would snort every time I justified how much I drank. “I just drink because I’m bored.” Snort. “Plenty of people drink before and after they go out.” Snort. “I just have a naturally high tolerance.” Snort. I wasn’t fooling anyone.
It was downhill from there. When you drink a lot, quitting forces an entire recalibration of your life. Your schedule changes. Evenings open up. Mornings are suddenly on the menu. Most importantly, thoughts and feelings are no longer so easily drowned in bloody mary oblivion. You have to look yourself square in the face again and figure out who the hell you are, because you’ve painted over your escape hatch.
Slowly, the other cool girl trappings fell away. My dog died. The car was no longer worth fixing. All my flannels became too big. Watching football sober was just a loop of brutality and corporate logos. I had to confront the nagging suspicion that all of those things were mechanisms to cope with the boredom of a mediocre life.
It wasn’t easy. I tried frantically to appropriate new coolness. I attempted a capsule wardrobe and went minimalist. I got really into kombucha and green smoothies, read a lot of self-help literature. I made bone broth and bought a singing bowl. I traveled a lot, hoping that great stories and a stamped passport could replace tales of drunken debauchery. Turns out neither of those things constitute a personality.
Now I know what my psychic friend meant when she told me I wear my travels like peacock feathers. At the time, I took it as a compliment, imagining travel stories as beautiful adornments. In fact, traveling is just a showy distraction from an otherwise scrawny-looking bird.