I'm nostalgic for times that were worse than I can imagine.
Glendale is sleepy at night, and while there's hardly any place safe for a woman, I never felt particularly disturbed late at night, out on the red curb, smoking the pack of golds I told myself I wouldn't buy. Up until November of last year, it had become a nasty habit, forming out of years of self-neglect and a dire need for escapism. There is hardly anything more satisfying other than coming, lighting up a cigarette, or the first bite of chocolate cake. They're all pretty synonymous. 
I turned 21 during the height of the pandemic—I remember plucking a bright red patterned blanket from the trunk of my car and sitting in the park, scribbling away at the same journal I wrote in last night. I talked about wanting to break the cycle of my eating disorders, feeling hopeless about my career, and wanting to leave home. I should've gotten help then, I eventually did, but I didn't expect a new problem to arise. I didn't start drinking until I was about 22, and it was so much liquor I couldn't keep up with it.
My first job out of college was as a shitty temp, and from 2—10 PM I'd sit at a desk in the corner of an all but abandoned corporate building and shuffle through emails, DMs, and the sort. I'd clock out 10 minutes early, head downstairs, and plug-in directions for the nearest liquor store. Kansas stops selling after 11 PM, I guess. I'd grab handles of disgusting Pink Whitney, Smirnoff, motor-oil type gin, ready-made cocktails, and more shitty handles of vodka. Vodka had always been my favorite.
I'd come home, throw down my bags, and lock my bedroom door. I'd drink myself into another place, and pass out in bed sideways, not caring about my head, not caring about my liver. I'd hardly gotten hangovers except for the few times, and way too often, I woke up in puddles of vomit. It took me months to stop, and only days to start back up. At the end of 2021, I got into an argument and drank so much that I blacked out, fell, and gave myself a permanent scar in the middle of my back. I went to the ER. I finally took a break from drinking because I got my hands on valium for intense anxiety. Once I ran out of my prescription, I bought handles again.
In 2022, I wanted to get my shit together and so I cut back. Then, someone I love died, I dumped my ex, and there I was, drinking again. In October of the same year, I drank so much one night in Chicago that I wound up in the ER. I continued again in January 2023. I cut back for a month or two, as I always did, and then drank myself into a concussion and one too many regrettable one-night stands over several months.
On those nights, I'd have 2-3 drinks in an hour, and stumble in the dark to 7/11 to buy more. I walked in so many times that the cashiers knew me as 'Kansas' since I hadn't changed my ID. They hesitantly slid me the pack of cigarettes and extra cans of whatever. One time, I was wearing wired headphones and I tripped, caught myself, and ripped the headphones out of my ears. They dangled over the snacks at the front of the store and I babbled something before leaving without them. Even hammered, I knew I would be too embarrassed to ever set foot in there again.
It's a miracle I didn't get hit crossing the street before taking a seat on one of the aforementioned red curbs and lighting up while throwing back my fourth, fifth, and sixth drink. I'd stare at the streetlights in the dark, shivering in the cold, and look at the dark nothingness, eyes rocking back and forth, thinking the pavement was beautiful. Sometimes I'd make it back inside before vomiting, other times I'd fall asleep in bed drooling on myself and fizzle into nothing, allowing myself to deal with it all in the morning. When the sun came up, my joints would ache. My lips would tear from the dryness. My cheeks were flushed.
Mental illness is so deeply misunderstood, and I never knew how badly I was drowning in my despair until it almost killed me. I could extend grace to everyone else: including the matted hair, the unbrushed teeth, the lashing out, all of the above. Extending that same understanding to myself was impossible, and any slip-up left me in a state of despair over how imperfect I was and am. I just could not for the life of me cope without drinking. For years (before I was even old enough to drink), I struggled so much, shoving everything so deep down to the point I couldn't feel anymore. Alcohol added fuel.
In October of 2023, I was in Chicago again. My brother and mom got onto the architecture tour boat, and I knew it was going to rain. I knew exactly how it would feel, with the wind forcing the droplets into my eyes, gleaming as we tugged along dazzling city lights. I went to the bar and ordered a drink, drinking only enough to feel a buzz before I stepped back outside and stared at all the lights in the dark, shivering in the cold rain. Thinking about loss. Emptiness. What it means. That's exactly how it feels in my head. That sadness. It's so poignant, unbearably herculean, and worst of all, perfectly romanticized. Luckily, I called it a night after one drink. I couldn't ruin Chicago for myself, since I've loved and continue to love how much it means to me.
Finally, one night, I bought the smoothest handle of vodka, filtered by Icelandic lava rocks. I watched The Boy and The Heron and thought about how weird grief is. Grieving an old version of ourselves, grieving someone who'd died, grieving things being easy, grieving naivety...all of the above. I put myself back into the hands of my depression, and it's merciless. I poured myself a drink and it was so undetectable, that I kept pouring more and more. More than I'd ever had before. I had run a bath before I started drinking, but it was too hot, so I let it cool down while I was throwing back shittily mixed cocktails.
The rest I don't remember. 
I don't know if I got into the tub, or if the hot water saved my life. I think it was either still too warm or turned freezing cold, so I drained it and opted for a shower instead. I get scared thinking of the possibility of that night. I can recall looking out the window (there is one in the shower with me) and crying. I remember a light being flashed in my eyes. I remember signing papers in the ER and almost falling out of my bed into a wheelchair.
I woke up in the psych ward.
The papers I signed were committing me to a voluntary 72-hour hold, also known as a 5150. My hand was covered in blood and I didn't know where my clothes were. They served me breakfast and I asked what happened and the nurses all furrowed their brows and shook their heads. They didn't know either. They assumed I had a mental break and hacked at myself with a knife. 
My BAC was .33
Over the next three days, I lay curled up in a bed with paper-thin pillows, crying off and on about my babbling roommate and how badly I fucked up. I could no longer brush shit off. I had a problem. I was an alcoholic. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was severely, severely unwell. I had been for a long, long time and wouldn't let myself admit it.
I called my mom and little brother while I was staying there—they were both strangely calm about the whole thing. Both times I told them I felt like I shouldn't be there, they went quiet, and said, "I think you need to be there, Maria". I paced around a lot until my ankles hurt. I took the lorazepam they gave me because being awake was unbearable. I met a girl. She was funny. I met multiple nurses. One listened to me talk about my life a little and there was so much sympathy in her eyes, I could see my pain being reflected at me. I told her how embarrassed I was and she shook her head and smiled and said, "This is just part of your story."
After 4.5 days, I came back home and saw my bathroom window shattered, and dried blood everywhere. I didn't cut myself—I must've slipped in the shower, and my hand went through the window, sending shards of glass everywhere, explaining my cut-up hand. While I couldn't remember that night, I knew no matter how fucked up I was, I couldn't and wouldn't intentionally harm myself. The glass was cleaned, and all of my friends were happy to know I was safe. I had intense anxiety to the point where I'd wake myself up out of sleeping out of the fear I was dying. It continued for about a month and a half.
Never in my life have I felt so grateful to have failed at something. I haven't had a drink since (it's been 3 months!) and I feel like an entirely different person. I am so fucking sad it's taken me so long to prioritize feeling good about myself and loving myself but it's like meeting someone new and just falling so hard and not wanting to catch yourself. 
There's so much that's changed in my life over the past three months, and I'm not sure any of the changes would've happened had I not hit rock bottom. I don't encourage people to find those depths of themselves, but I am living proof that once you hit said bottom, you can only go up. There are so many stories in my head I feel inspired by. I love the sunsets. I love whimsical music. I love being annoyed at my brother. I love fucking up and laughing at myself. I love my soft body. I love being imperfect and if it's only been three months and I have this much love for myself, I want more, forever. 
This is so vulnerable to post but I feel like it's important, unfiltered, definitely unedited...but raw and authentic and 100% true. I was not expecting to be sober at 24 but I consider myself a lucky, lucky girl with so much catching up to do with herself. Sometimes I do feel tempted to drink but I'm taking it day by day and so far, this version of myself feels right.
(sober) elena

cover photo: Clare Elsaesser, Red Ribbon