One of my favourite songs to listen to when I’m all angsty is Florence + The Machine’s Hurricane Drunk. Florence Welch’s big, wild voice is perfect for capturing the narrative of self-destruction in the songs lyrics. The song is about the pain of a break-up: “I’m going out…I’m gonna drink myself to death,” she wails.
It’s a “fuck it” song of first order. Unlike typically hedonistic “in-da-club-let’s-drink-and-shag” songs celebrating alcohol-fueled excess, Hurricane Drunk is dark and stormy: “You can’t save me now…I’m in the grip of a hurricane…I’m gonna blow myself away.”
Man, I love that song. It reminds me of those times when I was hurt or pissed off and thought I’d show the world a thing or two by drinking myself to oblivion. I mean that’s overstating it, as I was never an oblivion kind of girl. The occasional times I got “oblivion” drunk I’d just fall asleep. Hardly the stuff of an epic break-up song. But oh, the idea of cannon-balling into a sea of alcohol and emotion. That was good stuff. I still have this idea sometimes: the “fuck you world (or whoever, or whatever); I’m gonna drink myself to death.” Especially if I could be like Florence, or Hemingway and make art out of it. Heck.
Jane, a sober compatriot at my Buddhist recovery meeting got me thinking about this longing to go down in flames. She’s been hovering around some depression. “Everything feels flat,” she said. “I want to drink wine, and be miserable and just roll around it in. But it doesn’t work. But I want it to work.”
Jane said this with a combination of longing and resignation that I understood right away. Before I quit drinking, I’d noticed a growing gap between my expectations of alcohol and what it actually delivered: Not catharsis, but hangovers. Not urbane, joie-de-vivre “oooh didn’t we have a lot of laughs” nights out, but drinking at home so you don’t have to drive or worry about making an ass of yourself in public. Not penning song lyrics, but reading something before bed that I don’t even remember reading in the morning.
I still wanted alcohol to do great things for me, but it just wouldn’t. At some point, you have to stop banging your head against that wall. This realization isn’t readily accompanied by a rush of freedom or enlightenment. In fact, there is some grieving along the way. You grieve that part of you that wants to let booze help you to be an emotional train-wreck. You grieve the romance of self-destruction.
Sigmund Freud proposed that people have both a “life drive” (libido, or core sexual energy) and a “death drive” (aggression, which may be turned outward on others, or inward on oneself). There is no direct evidence that these drives exist, but they have nonetheless served as powerful ways to think about our motivations. In other words, they help Freudian analysts to ask important questions like “why do people do the same dumb shit over and over again?”
Maybe with age and sobriety I’ve just worn my death drive out. I don’t want to do the same dumb shit over and over again. Do I miss the drama of being led around by my reptile brain? Sure, sometimes. Part of me will always want to be Hurricane Drunk. Part of me will always see romance in nihilism. It’s just that I am liking stable and sober me more.