I always knew I was a little different. To be fair to Little Me, I didn’t realize all of the things that could be wrong with one person, but, regardless, I felt out of place.
I was a strange kid who lived in a house next door to a graveyard and would sneak Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark out of the school library. My sisters and I weren’t allowed to partake in any scary media, which included Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark. That didn’t stop me from coming up with my own horror stories and subjecting my Girl Scout Troop to them. Add my obsession with all things creepy crawly and my intensity about most things*, and you have a kid who others were fairly weirded out by.
(*The best example I have is that I learned about blood diamonds when I was about 7 years old – well before the Leonardo DiCaprio movie came out – and yelled at every newly engaged 20-something at church that they killed children when they excitedly showed off their diamond engagement rings. I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around…)
Everything changed when I started drinking and doing drugs. All my friends had been partying for years already so I was considered a “late bloomer” in that regard. From the moment I started drinking, I became more fun to be around. My undiagnosed anxiety melted away; I was outgoing and silly; I could sit through movies that had terrified me when sober.
In one very strong memory I have, I came out of a blackout to find a group of us were watching House of a Thousand Corpses. I panicked, demanding to know what we were watching. My friends rushed around trying to pack a bowl as I became increasingly irrate. In a few minutes I was nicely high and fully engaged, although completely annoying because I asked a million questions about who everyone was, why they were doing what they were doing, what happened before I came to, etc. Annoying, but fun.
Over the years, the fun stopped being fun. Everyone who has ever questioned their drinking can understand the moment when the expectations of a night out turns into a reality straight out of a horror movie. While everyone else in your life is watching and yelling “no! Don’t go in there! The killer is right behind you,” you’re totally oblivious to the whole picture while in tunnel vision. Good choices became fewer and all the red flags blended into blurry vision.
I don’t question why any character in a horror movie does what they do because I’ve been there and I know my actions made sense at the time. I know why it makes sense to get into the car with strangers who may or may not have good intentions. I’ve stumbled like a zombie on dark streets in Brooklyn totally lost while carrying my shoes and stepping my bare feet into god-knows-what. I’ve realized my phone only had 1% battery or no reception while I’m all alone in an unfamiliar place. Yet, it continued, partially because I never knew when I started drinking whether my night would turn out to be a romantic comedy or a horror movie. And partially because I didn’t know there were other options for how a 20-something could spend their time.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Horror movies have a way of showing what life is like when you’ve lost control of yourself. The first act of Barbarian outlines all the ways in which you can start out aware and fully in control, understanding the risks that exist around you and doing all you can to prevent anything bad from happening, just to have the actual horror come up from behind you where you least expect it when you let your guard down. It makes sense why Chris didn’t immediately run in Get Out; when you’ve had good experiences with a person, you start to question your own ability to make judgements when things go downhill. The bad moments sneak in and you gaslight yourself into believing you’re making it all up. The moment the drugs start kicking in for Dani in Midsommar, making the moments when she felt part-of more intense and literally blending reality and fiction in her mind was how I felt every time I forgot my traumas for a moment with the help of drugs and alcohol and truly felt wanted by the community I was sitting amongst. And, of course, all of Mike Flannigan’s Midnight Mass resonates in a way non-addicts won’t fully grasp. (I still haven’t been able to finish the last 2 episodes, not because of the gore and horror, but because the rest of the story hits too close to home in a terrifying way that rattled my soul.)
When you’re in it, it’s hard to determine if the door you’re standing in front of will lead to an exit or unknown horrors you won’t be able to escape.
When I turned 30, I realized I was unhappy letting life happen to me and not knowing what genre my life was playing out in. I didn’t want to be the helpless side character who constantly needed to be told by others that they should hide while everyone else with more abilities and stronger character arcs knew where the danger was and how to handle it. I was tired of going out looking like Carrie pre-dance and coming home looking like Carrie post-dance. I started working towards sobriety and was able to string together some consecutive days a year later.
End of Spoilers
One thing many people don’t understand about addiction and sobriety is how jarring it feels to try to get out of the mindset you’ve always had. I had14 years of expecting life to play out one way that I suddenly needed to relearn. You’re also learning how to spend your time and, honestly, who the hell you are when your vices aren’t a majority of your personality.
In the early days of sobriety, the thing that hit me most was the fact that it turns out I’m not someone who can sit and watch a movie. I had loved watching movies with a drink, either alone or surrounded by friends, and prided myself as someone who had seen a lot of films. Likely due to currently undiagnosed ADHD, I just couldn’t sit still to watch anything in sobriety. YouTube videos can often feel too long, even if their runtime is under 10 minutes.
I suddenly had so much time on my hands that had been filled by drinking and recovering from drinking, and no attention span to enjoy things I had previously loved.
Luckily, podcasts were becoming more popular during this time. I could do other things while listening, so my attention span could easily take in hours of conversations.
What’s more, podcasters are much more honest about their lives and quirks in a way that social media and YouTube influencers are not. I heard hosts of podcasts talking about their mental health issues in passing – not as an integral part of the story they were telling, but just a thing that is a reality for them and others. They talked about their trauma and made dark jokes like I did. And more and more often, hosts would make the statement that they don’t drink. They rarely go into detail as to why they are; sobriety is merely a portion of their life and doesn’t need to be explained away.
They just didn’t drink and thousands of people loved them anyway. Up until I started listening to podcasts, I had been seriously concerned that my lack of drinking would make me less fun and therefore less deserving of love. But here were these hosts who found their own voice and personality without drugs and alcohol, and they were listened to week after week. That fact was revolutionary to my mindset.
I was three years into sobriety and going through one of the hardest times in my life when I started listening to The Horror Virgin. I still hadn’t figured out who I was as a person and didn’t think sobriety would ever be worth it. In a last-ditch effort, I had suddenly moved to a state I had never been to during the first year of COVID in the hopes that a geographical change could help change who I was on the inside. It was a lonely and stressful time. Paige appropriately called that first year and a half of COVID “The Alone Times” in an episode, and that perfectly described that time for me living in a new place without friends or family.
I had also spent the last 3 years feeling bummed that I didn’t know what was going on in all these movies people talked about. I still didn’t have the attention span to watch a movie, and I felt even more left out from the general population when others would discuss movies I hadn’t seen. The Horror Virgin gave me a way to be part of the conversations happening around me by recapping the stories I hadn’t physically watched.
Then there was The Horror Virgin Facebook group. I hadn’t known a community could be so supportive and care about the silly things that pop into my mind. I would go days without speaking out loud due to COVID isolation, but I would share something that I thought was silly and would get so many responses that I no longer felt alone. It was the first time I really felt a part of something since I quit drinking, and the community helped me realize that there are other people who were like me. Little Me would be shocked to learn how many others like creepy crawlies and wouldn’t think she was weird for it.
Being part of this community for the last two years has been revolutionary for me. Podcasts have definitely filled a place that used to be dulled by alcohol – it’s a regular occurrence for me to start a sentence with “on a podcast I listen to…” Having those in the FB group respond positively to things I post has helped me accept the person I am, and my confidence in making friends has grown immensely. While I used to be scared everyone around me would hate me for who I am, that’s no longer a fear. Some people won’t and don’t like me, but many of you do, and that’s amazing.
So to anyone out there struggling with something, just know that you are loved, you are listened to, and you are a valuable member of the Horror Virgin community. And it does get better.