Identity and Resilience, Part Four: Drunk

I’ve never been big on groups. I’m sure it’s because of my family of origin, but I get skeptical whenever anyone invites me to be part of any organized, regular gathering—I assume some nasty group dynamic will eventually arise, or groupthink will quickly set in.

As a result, I didn’t last very long in AA. I stopped drinking, though.

I’ve been sober since September 17th, 2005. I remember that morning: I woke up supremely hung-over in a situation I hadn’t expected, recalling very little of the night before. I know I’d been in a lesbian bar in Los Angeles. I know a friend saved me from doing some extremely stupid and potentially life-altering things.

I used to be the one in clubs who “watched” drinks while my friends danced. They’d come back to find all the glasses on the table emptied, whether they held cosmos, vodka, or beer. My weapon of choice, however, was whiskey—Jack Daniels, from the bottle.

During my time of regular weekend night intoxication (and many weekend days during college), I engaged in all sorts of daredevil activities. Here are just a few of the many, many examples:

  • Sprinted down hills in North Beach to land on the hood of whatever car happened to be in the way
  • Tried to instigate fistfights with equally drunk frat boys (luckily I failed)
  • Dry-humped a friend’s broken leg during Dyke March as she rolled in a wheelchair
  • Ended up in the wrong, rich-white-men-only seat at the Academy Awards
  • Approached off-white young men with the greeting, “mah mulatto bruthah”

In other words, I had a blast.

The thing is, alcohol is amazing. It’s legal, cheap, and easily accessible. Being drunk was incredibly freeing and otherworldly, to the extent that I could do just about anything I wanted and think it was okay. It made me comfortable around women, as I’ve mentioned.

My inebriated party lasted for somewhere around 17 or 18 years before I realized that once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop. It was starting to affect my relationships. My blackouts became more frequent. I was a parent now and after seeing how my father acted while drunk when I was a kid, I couldn’t bear the thought of bringing the same stuff into my new family. And, being an aging, lonely alcoholic didn’t sound very attractive.

Still, once I admitted to myself that things would only get worse if I continued drinking, what did it feel like to identify as an alcoholic?

I know there can be a self-perpetuated social stigma to this label. I had trouble with it and still do, partly because I no longer drink. I have a greater desire to binge on sugar than to accept an offered alcoholic beverage. As for AA—half of the handful of meetings I attended felt like gay pickup scenes. The others just weren’t for me, the group-averse skeptic. In the end, I cozied up more to the identity of health nut, reducing my intake of sugar, exercising, and eating organic fruit and veggies, whole grains, and grass-fed things. If I was cutting out alcohol for my health and well-being, I was going whole hog, dammit.

Once again, like so many other times in my life, I bounced back (and not just from car hoods). Resilience extended to jumping on the wagon. To his great credit, my father did the same thing, kicking his alcohol habit in time to ensure I had just a messed-up upbringing, instead of messed-up and fatherless.

I still love alcohol, just not having it. I like being around drunk people; just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. I often volunteer to be designated driver. Life’s too short to not appreciate those who can get away with something.

So let’s raise a glass—to identity, resilience, sobriety, and alcohol.


Identity and Resilience, Part Three: My Collegiate Crisis

Okay, so everybody goes through an identity crisis in college, right? These are the formative years, a time of nascent adulthood and three-drink bisexuals.

I’ve been thinking about college not only because my oldest daughter is about to embark on her search for one, but also because of my recent explorations with identity and resilience. It’s been a long time since I figured out who I am—although it hasn’t been all that long since becoming comfortable with certain aspects of what I figured out.

Who and what am I?

Well, I’m mixed-race black and white. I can be shy, I see myself as an extroverted introvert, and I’m a filmmaker, wife, mom, and lover of solitude. These are all aspects of myself that are and were easy to appreciate. I’m also a queer chick who spent about 18 years drinking heavily then stopped (pretty much cold turkey—I’ll save the crazy AA stories for another time).

The heavy drinking, quite honestly, actually helped (for awhile) with the “uncomfortable” part—specifically, being around those of the queer, female persuasion. I came out in 1990 but spent the next many years overcoming this anxiety. Although I came to understand other parts of my identity, my evolution into a shiny, happy lesbian was a slow one.

It all went down (so to speak) in college. It started in a drama class with Anna Deavere Smith and ended with lesbian sex in a passenger’s seat.

It was my senior year at Stanford, 1991. Anna Deavere Smith, who was about to bask in the theatrical limelight of Fires in the Mirror, was teaching a drama class. It was a popular class and I knew it’d be hard to get in, but I showed up to the first session to try my luck. The criteria were simple enough: precedence was given to drama and American studies majors. Everyone else had to provide a convincing argument for being in the class.

We went in a circle, offering hard-hitting and deeply sociopolitical reasons for wanting a coveted spot. “As a Black female,” started one student. Others had similar, self-prescribed labels of identity: Black man, Asian woman, gay male. (Among those who made the cut were Omar Wasow and my friend Alice Wu.)

My answer to the identity question: “I don’t know what I am. I just thought the class sounded interesting.”

So, yeah, I didn’t make it into the class. Right afterward, however, after I wandered out of the drama department in a daze and headed toward The Claw in front of the Stanford Bookstore….I ran into her. She was the unofficial Big Dyke on Campus. Like me, she was mixed-race. We talked for probably four hours about ethnicity, our families and backgrounds, identity, and sexuality.

Cutting to the chase: about a week later I had my first lesbian sex in her car. She interned for the police department and knew the nighttime beat, so we were supposedly safe in the parking lot near the Stanford Museum for the time being. I think Joni Mitchell was playing on the car stereo. (Of course Joni Mitchell was playing on the car stereo.)

I promise I won’t dredge up a fake scandal if she’s ever nominated to the Supreme Court.

And with this—along with my years of heavy drinking—I was brought into and eventually became comfortable in the world of my own skin, at least to the extent that I avoided any major, life-threatening catastrophe. Was it easy? No. Did I make it to the other side with a better understanding of myself (and a new if unfortunate lesbian wardrobe)? Yes.

What I learned from all of this: For anyone going through any sort of identity “crisis,” or any process of bringing into greater focus those things that lead to “me,” it always feels like the first time—not unlike sex in a parked vehicle with a time limit.

In the next and final installment of identify and resilience, I’ll share a few of the finer moments with my now estranged friend, alcohol.