A guy once told me that I quickly go from bad-ass to vulnerable when I have been drinking, That after two or three whiskeys, I lose grasp of my typically substantive demeanor, only to become a self-destructive, emotional train wreck. In need of constant reassurance of both my self-worth and of my sexuality, I participate in unsafe behavior with men and find myself in dangerous, sordid situations – often soliciting attention from men that I wouldn’t if otherwise sober. And this is not an usual occurrence, but a regular struggle where the desire to drink to the point of escape outweighs the repeated consequences of doing so. In my life outside of drinking, these actions would be abhorrent. As a self-proclaimed feminist woman, I deliberately avoid typical forms of external approbation of femininity, especially the forms that stem from patriarchy and social control, and seek out appropriate venues for stress and self-defeating thoughts. But something changes after that first whiskey. After taking a critical look at the behavior I express when drinking, I started to question the origin of my actions: What motivates otherwise stable women to demonstrate behaviors that often lead to self-harm when drunk?
Drinking to the point of blacking-out is a form of self-harm. Not only is the act of blacking-out dangerous, but the behavior one often exhibits while under a black-out can be fatal. A study by the Journal of Adolescence, which was recently quoted on the web site Mind Hacks, examined the motivations behind self-harm. From the article, six forms of “magical thinking” take place that allow the subject to inflict self- harm. They are as follows:
1. Magic substitutions. This term refers to the magic belief in the transformation of one category of phenomena into another, e.g. emotional pain into physical, bad self into blood. For example, “I can’t handle mental or emotional pain, so I turn it into something I can handle, which is physical pain.”
2. Transanimation of objects. Scored if an inanimate object, such as the blood, body or cutting instrument, is described as an active subject independent of the self. For example, “the blade is always so nice, like with every cut it lets the pain flow out; it lets it flood like a river of blood.” This example would also be scored as a magical substitution, where blood magically substitutes for emotional pain.
3. Transanimation of processes. Scored as present if a behavior or phenomenon is seen as having autonomous agency. For example, “I still cut myself. Because to me that is my only true friend.”
4. Auto-relatedness. Scored if the narrator wrote about himself or herself as a separate person or a poorly integrated part. For example, “Don’t worry me, me will take care of you. It’s okay me, me is here now.”
5. Split between inside and outside. Scored if the narrator describes a metaphysical difference between the inside and outside of the body. For example, “I feel so ugly inside, so dark and cold, on the outside I’m not exactly warm, but I’m not as cold.”
6. Scars reminding and communicating. Scored if scars or cuts communicate with or remind the narrator or others. For example, “I feel better when I see the cuts on my arms, I don’t know why, I mean I hate them. But they seem to make me feel like I guess someone gets it, gets why I do this to myself.” (Bell)
Though the study focuses on cutting as a form of self-harm, I believe that it can be applicable to the degree of self-harm caused by drinking. Once I take that first shot of whiskey, my anxiety begins to dissipate. Regardless of the feeling – sadness, happiness, other forms of emotional pain – the introduction of alcohol translates the emotions into more manageable parts; I lack the proper mechanisms to process every day emotions, but I can handle being drunk. (Magic Substitutions) The whiskey bottle itself is a form of comfort and I immediately feel better when I know that I have one in my freezer or, better yet, in my hand. (Transanimation of objects) Despite the many, many consequences that I have accrued over the years, a shot of whiskey is still my closest companion. It is the only thing that I know will be there for me when I am too emotional overwhelmed. (Transanimation of processes) The empty bottles that I keep around my apartment are reminders of this relationship. (Scars reminding and communicating)
Living a life controlled by the social structures that dictate modern American life can be confining and leave little room for deviant expression. This forces feelings of depression, self-harm, and mental illness to the periphery where they can only be expressed in isolated environments and under certain social situations. An example of this type of environment is one that includes alcohol, along with the expectation for participants to get drunk, often to the degree of self-inflicted harm. Imagine the dynamics of a college party, if you will. In these types of environments, one must not only be willing to consume a large, and often unsafe, amount of alcohol, but to exhibit the appropriate behaviors that indicate inebriation. For women, these behaviors tend to range along the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Women are supposed to be either innocent or deviant. A virgin or a slut. This stereotype can become especially dangerous for women who lack productive, safe outlets to release self-destructive behavior outside of an inebriated state. Without a productive outlet to express these feelings of self-harm, it is not unfeasible that they would manifest in moments of intoxication and lack of control.