Leah Odze Epstein, co-founder of the beloved Drinking Diaries blog, recently wrote a wonderful article entitled “What the ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Taught Me About Women and Drinking.” If you’re not familiar with the cultural artifact that is RHOBH (and if you’re not, I’m truly impressed), it’s a reality television show about a group of impossibly rich and pampered women from Beverly Hills who are thrown together in various staged situations that inevitably generate conflict. In the show, alcohol is the ubiquitous but unacknowledged character that somehow seeps into much of what draws viewers – DRAMA!
In one enviable setting after another – a day spa built into someone’s mansion, a party in which everyone is wearing white, or the Hawaiian islands – the women suck down drama-coladas. And, as a result, they either bond sloppily or attack one another with venom and gusto.
While most of the Housewives manage to bounce back from these booze-soaked encounters, one has not escaped so easily. Kim Richards has drawn great attention and criticism for her odd behavior and for often being missing in action, spurring rumors that she might be “on something.” Between the end of Season 1, when she was awkwardly “outed” as an alcoholic, and the end of Season 2, when she checked herself into rehab, some of Kim’s most conspicuous contributions to the show were when she wasn’t on screen, her absence an indication of something surly going on off-camera.
While watching the ladies raise their champagne glasses at the reunion show, I too worried about Kim, who was again absent. The reality is, when you’re struggling with something like alcohol addiction, eventually you become isolated and end up missing a lot.
Before I stopped drinking more than 4 years ago, I also missed a lot. Many a night was spent home alone nuzzling a bottle of wine. I am convinced that most of my friends and family members didn’t think I had a problem because they just didn’t see what went on behind the scenes. As a result of quitting, I miss things in a different way. Girls’ night out without Cosmopolitans. No unwinding at the end of a workday with a glass of wine. No eggnog at Christmas, champagne on New Years Eve, green beer on St. Patrick’s Day (OK, I don’t really miss that last one). This is my new reality.
A few nights ago, I went out with a good friend and two friends of hers to celebrate one of their birthdays. As I got ready for the evening, familiar anxieties addled my brain. Would they like me? Would I say something stupid? Would I feel left out? Would they remember I’d only had sparkling water when it comes time to split the check?
At the restaurant, my awareness of alcohol was as heightened as ever. The three bottles of wine ordered by the table to our left to loosen up an awkward double date, the shots delivered to the rowdy table of 22-year-olds to our right, the three rounds enjoyed by my friends. I, on the other hand, sipped greedily at my Perrier, wishing it possessed the same transformative powers of the elixirs of yesteryear.
As we finished up and paid the check (which they graciously adjusted for me), my friends discussed where to go next. My destination was already decided. Going to a bar at midnight after a lovely dinner used to be my favorite way to spend a Saturday night. But now it’s simply lost on me. Instead, I hugged my friends goodbye and jumped in a cab. Shortly thereafter I was in bed with two cats, compulsively watching downloaded episodes of the Real Housewives of Downton Abbey (my new addiction). My reality.