I see you.
You are sitting alone, a book in one hand and a nearly empty pint glass in the other. You stand out because your hair is done, your face is made-up, because you are wearing a bright green button-down, and because you are alone. In this dark and dingy bar — this bar lit by Christmas lights and neon signs — you are the only woman who is alone. But that doesn’t seem to bother you. Instead, you lean back and down the last remnants of your lukewarm beer.
You raise your hand and order another.
And while all of your attention may be directed at that book, I see you.
Make no mistake, I cannot take my eyes off of you.
Because there is something about you which I recognize. There is something about you which feels familiar. So familiar, in fact, that I am mirroring you: I am drinking when you drink. I find myself shifting in my seat when you shift in yours.
Because there is something about you I can’t quite place.
I know you are not a stranger, but I also do not recognize your face.
I see you when you look up from your book and toward the door.
I see you when you check your cell phone for the 27th time.
I see you finish off your third beer, and then your fourth. And I see you drinking quickly and without regard.
Drinking. Surfing the web.
But before long, you rise to go to the bathroom, leaving your book facedown to hold your place. To keep your seat and your little “safe space.” And I follow you.
I cannot help but follow you.
You are stumbling now. I mean, you’re not falling over and you haven’t bumped into a wall or fallen to the floor, but you are swaying. I can tell your feet are heavy, as is your heart, because the pain is written all over your face. Because your facade cracks when your eyes glass over. When flecks of mascara smudge beneath your lashes and fall onto your cheeks.
And because I feel it. I cannot explain how or why, but I feel what you feel: the sadness, the anger, the emptiness, and the fear.
But the “truth” can’t come through so you open your purse and pull out a small compact. You dab powder on your face, paying particular attention to your nose and the darkness beneath your eyes.
You head back to the bar and order another drink but I see you.
God, do I see you.
Eventually, your companion arrives. You exchange shots and kisses, and you get louder. I see your smile grow wider, but it isn’t because you are happy, it is because you are drunk. It is because you have reached that point in the night you have hoped for: the point in which the voices are silent, the pounding in your head has seized, and your racing heart has slowed down. You have reached that point in which you cannot feel. You are hollow and empty and “good.”
Drowning in an alcohol-fueled haze, you are “good.”
Because this is where you wanted to be — where you needed to be — before going home. You needed to numb yourself to face the night ahead. You needed to be drunk in order to make it to the morning.
Make no mistake, you do not know this. (At least, not yet.) You don’t realize the reason why you’re tossing back shots of Wild Turkey as one would toss back kernels of popcorn. In fact, right now you think you are happy.
You honestly believe you are having a good time.
But the beer on your chin tells me differently. The stumble in your stride tells me the truth, and as your makeup melts away, I recognize you.
I see you.
Because as you head out the door and down the street — as I manage to catch your reflection in car windows and closed storefronts and alley-way puddles — I realize why I thought I knew you. I realize why you seemed so familiar. And the truth is I see you, and know you, because I am you. Because I was at the bar staring back through a clouded mirror. I watched you pee through the polished metal of that damn stall door, and because I saw you in every clear surface.
In the curve of every pint glass.
And even though I was sporting beer goggles, and only caught your eye with sidelong glances, I saw you. I see you. And realize that you’ve done this “dance” before.
Because there was a time when I was “that girl:” the one who would drink in excess, lift my top, and flash my breasts. I was “that girl,” the one who could go shot-for-shot with anyone on a Saturday night, who drank to have a good time, and to avoid the bad ones. And I was “that girl,” the one who drank to live and feel and to be comfortable in her own skin. I was the girl who drank to pass out. But the truth is that girl was self-medicating. That girl was sick. That girl was dying, and — secretly — I hoped every glass was my last.
Even drunk, I knew I wanted to die.
But please listen, because I do not want you to make the same mistakes I did.
I do not want you to die.
I am not judging you, or diagnosing you. I am not saying you have a problem. I am not saying partying is bad, and I am not saying those who “kick back and cut loose” do so for the same reasons I did.
I am not saying every woman who bears their boobs after one too many beers is attention-seeking or hoping to find comfort at the bottom of a bottle. In fact, I know many, many women who down a few cocktails every Friday (or every night) without incidence. I know many, many women get drunk and do not have a “problem.” Who smile wider, and sing louder, simply for shits and giggles. And I know many women who party as hard as their male companions and that is OK.
Please believe me: It is OK.
But if you are “that woman” — the gal at the bar who is hiding behind her book or her makeup, and finds solace, and her sanity, with shots — know I see you.
If you are “that woman” — the one who uses Jack Daniels to hide her depression, or relies on Patron to play up her personality — know I see you.
If you are “that woman” — the one who only keeps secrets because booze kills her memory, because drinking three Long Island iced teas is the only way you can function, and forget — know I see you.
Because today — in your eyes — I saw my own. Today, I saw the pain in your heart which I once felt in mine. And whether your scars are on your skin or buried deep inside, they are there. I know them. I feel them. I see them.
And you are not alone. Dear God, things can get better (I pray they will get better) but you are not bad or crazy.
You are not alone.