I always knew my drunk-texting habit was bad. In my mid-20s, I’d wake up once a week with a knot in my stomach knowing I’d texted something embarrassing to someone. If I was lucky, it was just a friend, my sister, or a guy I was casually seeing. If I was unlucky, it was a guy I actually liked or, on select terrible occasions, my boss.
I don’t think I ever made out with a guy without, at some point, sending him a drunk novel. Sometimes, it was simply nonsense (I once explained in detail why I’d be a good fit to write for SNL), but other times, I’d reveal too much interest too fast or ignore obvious cues that they wanted space. In no way did I understand the meaning of “playing it cool,” and I was, by all reasonable standards, failing miserably at maintaining a relationship.
Some of my dates found this amusing. One jokingly sent me a screenshot of his home screen with 33 iMessage notifications the next morning…all from me. I was embarrassed but grateful he seemed good-natured about it. Others, like my ex-boyfriend who would turn off his phone any time he suspected I was drunk, were not amused.
My drunk texts weren’t just silly thoughts though; They went so much deeper than that. I couldn’t express frustration while sober or in person, so it would spill out textually over the course of six cocktails. It seemed that, when sober, I didn’t know how to articulate anything meaningful.
My drunk texts ruined many would-be romances before they even began, but they also accelerated the ones that lasted. It was my way to get close to a man for the first time, to show him who I (thought I) was. They conveyed the parts of my life that I couldn’t speak about aloud, hand-delivered to his phone at all hours of the night.
Sometimes, they served a purpose. After the drunk texts came the real conversations. I once sent a new boyfriend a text about being sexually harassed by my boss. I needed him to know, but I had no other way of saying it. Another time, I said “I love you” for the first time via a drunk text. This certainly ranks among the worst ways to do it, but he said it back. Yes, the booze was talking, but it was speaking on my behalf.
For years, the pieces of me that I shared this way seemed the truest version of myself, the parts that were so real I had no other way to expose them. I had become stunted by the security of my phone and a bottle of wine—I was fully dependent on them both to have any semblance of a relationship.
For this reason, I quit drinking in winter 2018. I’d been trying to moderate my drinking for more than a year, but it wasn’t working. Physically, I felt miserable all the time (fun fact: constant nausea is unpleasant). The weekend I decided I needed to quit for good, I drunk-texted two former lovers and one new interest for sex (only the two former lovers said no, but I was too drunk to make it to the new guy’s apartment, which was certainly for the best).
It wasn’t the rejection that got me though—it was reading the drunk texts the next morning. I’d previously made a point to delete all of them before I had a chance to look in detail, but for whatever reason, I was curious. (If you’re struggling with drunk texting, I might recommend reading your texts the next morning too).
On that Monday morning (it was not a three-day weekend), I forced myself to read through them, and it was unbearable. There was no longer any denying how depressed I’d become and how much I’d been trying to sweep it under the rug with alcohol.
I assumed I’d develop a much better handle on my feelings and be able to speak rather than type them. Instead, I felt like my voice had been wiped away entirely. Dates with men I’d met in my first six months of sobriety were simply extended small talk. Sure, I could ask and answer basic questions, but I didn’t know how to push past that. I knew I wasn’t going to be sending them drunk texts, so I didn’t know how they’d ever really “see” me.
Then, around six months sober, I met a guy. A good one. My favorite thing about him was that he could admit when he was uncomfortable. He didn’t fill silences with meaningless chatter the way I did. He was openly vulnerable, and I was jealous.
At one of my comedy shows, I asked if he wanted to meet some people, and he said he was too nervous. I was floored—not because I was mad but because I hadn’t realized that was an option.
His discomfort, paradoxically, put me at ease for the first time in half a year. Why hadn’t I thought of just admitting I was uncomfortable? Why had I been going around for months crawling out of my skin, hiding in bathrooms with my head in my hand because I didn’t know how to be at a party sober? Why had I been so unable to admit that the reason I wasn’t communicating wasn’t that I didn’t have my drunk texts but that I was nervous I’d be rejected?
“I could no longer envision a life in which alcohol and joy coexisted. I didn’t know what sobriety would bring, but it seemed like the last remaining option.”
He once asked me why I quit drinking. It was an unremarkable question. I’ve been asked many times. I gave him an answer. A long, detailed, rambling, inconclusive answer, not unlike the type I used to send in drunk texts. And as I was speaking, I felt like I was coming back into focus.
The truth is that I quit drinking because I could no longer envision a life in which alcohol and joy coexisted. I didn’t know what sobriety would bring, but it seemed like the last remaining option.
For me, drinking had been a way to bottle up my emotions, and drunk-texting had been their means to escape (albeit erratically and often incoherently). Without alcohol, I don’t have fewer negative emotions (or positive ones), but I have a better understanding of what they are.
They’re not hidden from me anymore, and even if I don’t always articulate them to other people, I can better comprehend them myself. If I’m anxious, I know why, and if I’m happy, I’m better able to recognize what forces conspired to bring me joy and how to replicate it. I’d read a lot of people describe sobriety as making their life bigger, but I didn’t know if that would be possible. But today, 10 months sober, my life is much, much, much bigger.