I'm a romance author who's never had a relationship. Or at least that's what I tell people—and they are almost always shocked by that assertion. It's only in recent months that I've realized it isn't strictly true. I have had one significant long-term relationship. A toxic twenty-year on-and-off affair with alcohol...that's been in tandem with my lifelong partnership with fear. I've always been so afraid. Afraid I'm terrible, unlikable, unlovable. Afraid of what I'll say and what I'll do. Afraid of not being funny. Of not being cool. Of not being pretty enough. I grappled with those fears alone through my teens and into my first few years of college. And then I realized drinking softened the edges. A glass in my hand was like Dumbo's feather. It gave me the courage to fly.
The first time I kissed someone as an adult, it upended me. I wasn't ready. It was too much too fast and too soon. I broke up with the person—we'd only been dating a few weeks; he was bewildered but ended up with someone extremely physically affectionate and outgoing, no alcohol necessary. I didn't realize it then, what I was doing and why, but now I think it set me on the path that led me to where I am now. Every time I've kissed someone after that freshman-year foible, I've had a few drinks in me. Sometimes more than a few. So it's only scary the day after and the day after that. When I wake up hungover and missing details. But it's not just about boozing up to dull the anxiety of kisses, of touches. I've come to realize that having a few drinks has been my social crutch in general. So I'm not afraid to just talk to people, to just be myself.
I haven't had a drink in 28 days. It'll be 30 by Monday. I'm not going to tell you what led to the break. Let's just say that it was a really good wakeup call. One I heard loud and clear. And so I've been loud and clear. Hearing my own voice, speaking to other people, with nothing more than a club soda with a splash of cran in my hand. Learning who I am, learning to love her, without being drunk. My favorite bartender calls my new drink of choice The Incognito, because it looks like vodka-cran but isn't. It's ironic that a drink named for hiding, for subterfuge, is allowing me to actually show my truth. I'm not terrible, unlikable, or unlovable. I haven't been afraid of what I'll say and what I'll do. I'm not afraid of not being funny. Or of not being cool. Or of not being pretty enough.
The secret of Dumbo's feather is that it was never necessary. The power was in Dumbo all along. It's been really empowering—but still a little terrifying—to let myself soar.