This morning I woke up with a profound hangover. Not from drinking or drugging, thank God, but from lemon pound cake and the worst form of television ever, reality TV. I'm staying in a hotel for work, away from my family, relieved of setting a good example for my children, exempt from any self-imposed "house rules" about no screens in the bedrooms. And when left to my own “devices”, the mayhem that ensued appalled me. I binged watched a show called the Real Housewives of New York, eating a giant slice of lemon pound cake (with extra glaze of course) while lying in bed. What the actual hell just happened? This is not my usual behavior at all. I've never really gotten into these shows. I've maybe seen them once or twice while channel surfing. It always just seemed like a bunch of desperate, overly made-up women on the wrong side of forty screaming at each other, drunk and belligerent. Backstabbing and gossipy self-obsessed broads who like to get wasted, talk about penises and fight. And that's exactly what it is! How did I get sucked in? I watched three hours of this nonsense. And I wanted to watch more. So what was the appeal? There was something about those women that seemed so real to me, so painfully familiar. I was like that once. They are all so palpably uneasy around each other without alcohol, so uncomfortable in their own skin. Anxious, suspicious and unable to communicate. Circling each other like rabid dogs about to go at it. They crave absurd amounts of attention and are unable to ask for it unless they’re buzzed. They swing wildly between saying the most awful (and true) things about each other and then kissing and hugging and begging forgiveness, blaming the booze. Maybe I'm jealous. They have the freedom to just say whatever hilarious, inappropriate, cutting or vicious thing that pops into their minds. That’s the appeal. The not caring. The not caring fueled by drinking looks mildly delicious to me. It looks like freedom. But in reality it’s clear that the excessive alcohol intake has become a sad and increasingly necessary support system for these "ladies”.
The show has an even darker side. There is a woman who is clearly bipolar and unmedicated. I guess that makes for better TV? Her mania kept me hooked for an entire episode. In episode 3 of the 4 I watched, one of the housewives, who has a profound drinking problem, blacked out mid-show - and they kept filming. This fifty-something woman, fresh from her facelift, in a blackout, slurring at the dinner table "I am loved! I have friends!" was one of the saddest things I have ever seen in my life. Full disclosure however, the voyeur in me loved it, especially when she fell backwards off of her chair and had to be carried to bed. In the morning she awoke and despite a brutal hangover asked the cameraman in a very nonchalant way "so what happened last night?" She could remember none of it. And she seemed fine with that, as though a complete blackout was an everyday affair. And most likely, for her, it is. A few hours after awakening and taking several "aspirin", she was back at it, drinking once again as the cameras rolled. I was spellbound.
I feel sorry for these women but something in me is drawn to their chaos, their dysfunction, their acting out, their crazy antics and their addictions. How wonderful that I can watch it from the safety of my hotel room and not be living it in reality. Because I see myself in those Real Housewives. I could be any of them. Women concerned about themselves, their futures, their fading looks, their later years, their children and their loneliness. All the women are divorced (for quite obvious reasons) and their deep desire to find someone, anyone, to be with them is a subplot that runs throughout the show. All they ever talk about is themselves. For me this level of narcissism is mesmerizing. I just kept pressing "next episode", wanting more. I think maybe we are all narcissists on some level. "I’m not much, but I'm all I think about" is another classic A.A. adage that I love.
Watching Housewives I sometimes feel like I'm watching my alternate reality. One in which I got divorced soon after marrying, kept on drinking and doing drugs and never found A.A. I was "fun and outrageous" well into middle age, dancing on tables and throwing up my skirts. Jumping into strangers’ pools in my underwear, drunk and high at dinner parties in the Hamptons. That would have been me. Wild and offensive as hell and stupidly uninhibited. (We have inhibitions for a reason, people.) I’d think I was just a crazy fun gal having a good ol’ time when in fact I was a middle aged woman having a mid-life crisis, begging for attention and epically uncomfortable in my own skin.
And oh, the mornings. The mornings would have killed me. The shame of waking up, not sure of where I was, how I had gotten there or what had happened since 10 p.m. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. And the only solution for me to cope with that shame would be to drink more. A never-ending cycle of too many drinks, appalling behavior, shame, more alcohol to take the edge off of the pain, and finally the hangover that I would surely experience the next day, and the next.
So why am I hungover now? Because I know that watching grown women get wasted while screaming absolutely vile things to each other is a terrible use of my time. Also because when I fell asleep I actually had dreams about these women! These acutely nipped and tucked, well dressed, constantly acting out, extremely pathetic women are now stuck in my head. They have taken up space in my consciousness. That is where the hangover comes from. The acknowledgment that I still have trouble regulating. My feelings, my thoughts, my moods, my appetites, even my indulgences like The Real Housewives and lemon pound cake. Everything.
I hate to admit it but I’m hooked and I know I’m going to watch more. But I'll set a limit. One episode at a time, and not while lying in bed munching on cake. I'll allow myself a little watch and if I can pass that one-episode-no-more test I'll continue to watch it. If not, I'll cut it out until I can watch it responsibly. And maybe I can’t. Like alcohol. I have cut it out of my life completely until I think I’ll be able to "handle" it. Which is most likely never. The craziest thing about working a 12-step program is that the farther away from a drink I get the more convinced I am that I will never be able to handle it, to drink safely again. And I'm fine with that. Certain things are just not good for me, like alcohol and drugs. They are poison to me. I'm grateful to know that I am an alcoholic and that there is a wonderful place where I can go and meet other people who are just like me. Maybe we’re not alike on the outside, but we are alike enough between the ears, and in the heart, where it counts.
I plan never to become one of those Real Housewives of New York. Part of me hopes that maybe they are all just playing a part. But the show follows reality pretty closely. The broken families, the arrests and the hospital stays. The almost immediate drinking fresh out of jail or rehab. The quickie marriages and the quicker divorces. The fake friendships and sad endings. It’s not an act. But their shocking instability and dysfunction makes for great TV. They signed up for this, gladly and willingly. Fortunately I can keep the crazy on a screen that I can turn on and off. Knowing that I can watch the lunacy from a distance is comforting and now I finally see the wild appeal of this kind of show. It's the same reason people slow down to watch car crashes. Real life dramas can absorb our attention completely. So well done to all the Real Housewives participants everywhere and bravo to Bravo. I'll be back for more - hopefully next time without the lemon cake...or the hangover.