In this week’s chapter of Drinking: A Love Story, Catherine Knapp tackles the subject that everyone deals with and few want to discuss – the connection between alcohol and sex. Specifically, she discusses how drinking allows people the ability to let down their shields, to be more approaching and approachable. She talks about anonymous sexual encounters, friends with benefits, affairs and long term relationships and how alcohol affects them all. Not only affects them, but allows the participant to dance around their issues rather than facing them, like the purple elephant in the middle of the room – seen by all, but acknowledged by no one.
This is just the kind of topic that is difficult to discuss, even now at six plus years sober. It is hard to admit spending a lifetime looking for affection in all the wrong ways and not ever learning how to create real sober relationships.
I was almost always overweight. One of those girls that people said had a pretty face and a wonderful personality – you know – the kiss of death. I never felt good enough, pretty enough, worthy of a loving relationship. I wanted the love of a boy or a man from freshman year of high school. Somewhere along the line, I “learned” that feeling loved wasn’t just holding hands, kisses and hugs. Pubescent boys were not able to draw the line – kissing meant sexual activity, even if it didn’t mean intercourse. But still activity I wasn’t prepared for – until I had a couple of beers.
Once oiled by alcohol, I could accept that physical relations were a necessary byproduct to feeling wanted and needed. I did have a serious relationship as a junior in high school; well, as serious as a sixteen year old high school girl could have. It involved alcohol and sex, but neither exclusively. When Dan left for the Navy, I still needed love and affection. Long love letters from the aircraft carrier wouldn’t cut it. And so, the series of long-term relationships began. I had a pattern. I sought novices. If I was going to have sex, it was going to be on my terms. These men would be sufficiently co-dependent that I could get what I needed by giving them what they needed. Co-dependence is a lot of things, but it is not love.
College is where my drinking and my promiscuity both took off. Every weekend was a different party and a different guy. Well not every weekend. But you get the gist. At this point I was in top physical shape. I was slender but well-endowed, very energetic and vivacious. Looking back, I was everything I could have hoped for – and I hated who I was. In my sophomore year I got involved in a very co-dependent relationship. I didn’t know what co-dependency was at the time, but I thought I was in love. We did everything together. We moved in together. We also drank a lot and made love a lot. It was wonderful. But just like in Catherine’s story, there was something in the relationship that I couldn’t square with the rest of my life. I didn’t think others would accept the relationship and therefore I started to question it. And how did I deal with it? I transferred to another school and stopped all contact and drank myself silly. That is the only way I knew to deal with emotions – I drank at them.
That summer I worked at a resort amusement park. I had the best job in the park. I didn’t have to deal with the people who came to ride the rides or eat at the restaurants. I worked in the employee lounge. I learned to be a bartender to serve pitchers of beer to employees on their off hours. At 2am, the crew would grab a case of beer and head to the lakefront and we would drink ‘til the sun came up. That same summer I met a Casanova. He was a slender, tanned man-about-town who was older and very suave. We had a whirlwind romance, him dining and romancing me with lots of wine and song. In six weeks we were engaged and six weeks later, I walked into his apartment and found him with another man. My insecurities became unbearable and I poured myself into the bottle and didn’t come out for months.
Shortly thereafter I met, dated and married my ex-husband to whom I stayed married for over 25 years, most of which were horrible. However, by that time I had learned very well, how to give what was expected in exchange for what I needed. It wasn’t until the loving, hugging and hand holding disappeared and all that was left was obligatory sex, that I became resentful and wishing for death. Whether it was his or mine made no difference. I was so beaten down at that point that there was no thought of leaving. I didn’t think I could make it on my own. And so began the years of drinking in the basement until everyone in the house was asleep, before I would pass out on my own and later waken to trudge to bed.
In all those years of drinking and drugging and through all those relationships, I never put the two together as cause and effect. Only in sobriety did I begin to see the connection. And only in reading Catherine’s book did the words come together so eloquently, when she described the subject of women, sex and the word “no”.
“I remember listening to the arguments and counterarguments and thinking: They’re all missing the boat. No one here is really talking about booze. Alcohol was trotted out now and then as a complicating factor. But by and large, excessive drinking was discussed as an accessory to the fact, something with tangible consequences: drinking impairs your judgement; drinking wreaks havoc on your communication skills. The deeper the connections between alcohol and self-worth and sexuality, the way women (at least women like me) use alcohol to deaden a wide range of conflicted feelings – longing for intimacy and terror of it; a wish to merge with others and a fear of being consumed; profound uncertainty about how and when to maintain boundaries and how and when to let them down – weren’t addresses with much texture or depth.”
Thank you, Catherine, for sharing this story with the rest of us, so we can learn that we are not unique.