(And no, I don’t mean a closet case who died before he had the chance to come out!)
I’m pretty sure all addicts, regardless of substance of choice, have a James Dean complex. I’m going to discuss it, of course, as it pertains to the seemingly socially unacceptable habits of smoking, drinking, and/or doing hard drugs.
It’s not something you haven’t thought of: What happens to your persona when you quit drinking, stop smoking, or flush your hard drugs? You’re no longer “hip.” You’ve lost your “cool.” You can no longer identify with what our society has outwardly shunned but inwardly normalized to be “exciting,” (i.e., daring/rebellious). So, who the hell are you now?
James Dean (or, the characters he played, at least) represented the misunderstood outcast. Smoking was a form of self-expression, a persona. And he was a BADASS mothafucka for it! Every man wanted to be him and every woman wanted to fuck him. Why? Cuz he threw caution to the wind, did what he wanted against everyone’s better judgment. While smoking was made to seem cool and sexy in order to sell the smokes back then, though, public health mandates and general common sense have evolved (along with medical studies). Yet, we still seem to idolize or desire to emulate (or become, in our fantasies) the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle — despite our “evolved” best judgments! We still think, on some level, that overdosing rock stars and hard-boozing journalists are living more exciting lives than us. Addicts are as much addicted to the drug as to the persona. They cultivate their personas and then they become them. In my case and I know others, we become not only identified with our habit but also emotionally attached to it.
I had a friend from grad school who nearly killed himself the year of our studies. He drank so much booze and did so much coke that he ended up triggering a latent autoimmune disease inside his body. The last time I saw him was a few days before graduation; he looked white as chalk and about to fall over. Next thing I know, he’s in the hospital within a few hours of death. He missed graduation and was ordered to strictly avoid booze and drugs for like, the rest of his life if he wanted to keep it.
I went out for “drinks” with him a few days after graduation. It was in a word, weird. I’d only known this guy as a chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, damn-fine journalist. He may even have been Hunter S. Thompson’s actual reincarnate. How would he live and who would he be without his smokes and booze? Would he even be able to be a good journalist? (Turns out, yes, but I’ve lost touch with him to even know if he’s drinking and/or smoking again.) I know he must have struggled with these questions. (A life-threatening disease probably helped him reach some smart conclusions pretty fast, though.)
I’ve always worried about being too shy and socially awkward — AGAIN — once I quit drinking. So far, that hasn’t really been the case. And, I’m drifting steadily away from actually wanting to be *that person,* wine glass dangling precariously from one hand, the other holding me up on the bar while I laugh too loudly at some stupid, unattractive man’s “jokes.” However, while I may no longer define myself by it, I still feel an emotional attachment to the act of drinking wine. I miss it. I miss drinking at night. I miss drinking while watching movies. I miss drinking and having sex. I wonder if the sex is less exciting…and then I feel a sense of being deflated, of having lost something. I equate wine with feeling and being exciting (because I never thought I was?), and so I suppose that is the persona I used drinking to acquire, hold/wear, live out. What if I’m no longer that “badass?” What if I’m no longer fun, sexy, or sexually attractive? What if people were attracted to that kind of crazy, and now that I can’t and won’t go there, they don’t want to come along for ANY ride with me? Drinking is my island; and, you’re telling me I can never escape to that island again?
It’s confusing, and the only advice I can give myself after a few weeks of being sober is, You just have to wait and see. Live out your days, confront life and being and friendships and sex SOBER, and then get back to me and tell me that it’s either better or worse than when you were doing it drunk. With perspective comes better choices; maybe I will decide that yep, all those things ARE actually better while drinking/drunk. Or, maybe I won’t…