The Beauty of the Breakdown is a long-form three part series by Zara Barrie. This is part one.
Last weekend my friend Violet, called me on the phone. It was a Sunday morning around 11 am. I was staring into the mirror picking at the zits peppered across my chin. My Sunday morning ritual. I had left Violet the night before in a divey little bar in Williamsburg called “The Woods.” The last time I saw her it was 1 am and she was stumbling around, clutching a glass of blood red wine, her white teeth stained a deep maroon. Her wild blonde hair had expanded twice it’s usual size. Her face looked teeny tiny in the puff of platinum curls that circled around her head like a demonic halo.
I looked her in the eyes. Her usually sparkly, engaged, bright blue eyes were totally vacant. Violet had left the building. Or been evicted, who knows. I tapped her on the shoulder. She didn’t respond, she just smiled at me dumbly with those empty eyes. She was wearing a cashmere sweater, a pretty little number by Ralph Lauren. Its primness juxtaposed cinematically against the grungy bar décor.
I watched a sliver of drool slowly ooze out of the left corner of her mouth. She was definitely a woman in the throes of a wine blackout. It’s a real treat for me to see a woman during a blackout because I’ve spent most of my life too blacked-out to ever be cognizant enough to witness anyone else’s blackout.
I grabbed her by her lifeless arm. “I’m going home and you’re coming with me!” I roared.
“Nooo. I’m STAYING. I met a boyyy, Zara” She slurred to me, not so subtly pointing her bejeweled index finger to a lame looking boy creature to her left.
I took a long, hard look at this dude. He looked like your typical, harmless, boring white boy from Connecticut, who maybe like, graduated from $50,000 per year art school and had moved to Brooklyn, much to the dismay of his parents, and was toying with the hipster look. He looked like he was in hipster drag. He would’ve looked much better if he hadn’t resisted his WASP-y upbringing and instead wore khakis and a pressed shirt from Brooks Brothers.
“Don’t worry I’m not going to take advantage of your friend. She’s gorgeous!” He smiled at me sweetly. He had perfect teeth.
I gave the WASPy boy one of my classic, bitch stare downs, the kind of cut-throat gaze that blows holes right through the brains of boys from Connecticut. I’ve been perfecting this stare since high school. It’s a blinkless stare, that’s equal parts deranged and equal parts seductive. They don’t know if you’re going to kiss them or kill them. They’re turned on and terrified at once.
“Listen, mother fucker.” I purred to him, batting my long, spidery lashes in his face. “I’ll fucking kill you if you fuck with her.” I took a dramatic step backward. “Kill, as in murder,” I whispered as I slithered away from him.
“Of course. Of course.” He squeaked, raising his eyebrows trying to convince me he was good.
“ZARA. I’M FINE.” Violet screamed in that belligerent drunken way. I turned back for one last look at my darling friend: She looked both impossibly stylish and like a complete maniac at once.
I sighed. I knew there was no convincing Violet to come home with me. As much as it’s “girl code” to drag a friend kicking and screaming through the bar when she’s wasted out of her mind, it’s often a fruitless effort. Especially with this one. When Violet’s sexuality has been sparked, nothing will stop her from going home with a dude. Had I brought her home the bitch would’ve crept out of my bedroom at four AM and ubered back to Brooklyn to get it on with this dumb looking prep.
I didn’t feel good about it, but I did it. I Left My Friend Wasted At The Bar. Which is why my phone was ringing at 11 am on a Sunday. I quickly dashed to my phone. My friend in trouble alarms had been going off since I taxied back into Manhattan the night before.
“Are you f*cking alive?” I asked Violet, guilt wrapping its wicked little arm around my waist.
“Oh my god. No. I’m having a nervous breakdown. A bad one.” I could hear her rapid heartbeat pulsing through the phone.
“Tell me everything.”
“Well, I was thrown into a sort of bar prison last night for drunk people. They wouldn’t let me leave the bar because I was so wasted I was some kind of liability. The last thing I remember is wearing some FUR coat that wasn’t mine because it was real FUR. And I was crying to a bouncer. Who mentioned something about calling the police on me, I think.” Violet wailed. “This is a new low, Z. I truly hate myself.”
She was really starting to cry now.
I imagined her in this restricted bar jail of The Woods. Standing all alone, probably puffing on a bummed American Spirit, cranberry-colored lipstick smeared across her sunken cheekbones, her hair a wreck. Looking like a gorgeous nightmare with over-priced black leather over-the-knee boots kissing the tops of her pure-barre thighs. Draped in fur. Real. Fur. A lone tear slowly working its way down her beautiful face. So glamorous. So tragic. So cinematic and so cliché.
My heart felt heavy in my chest. I knew how she felt. It’s not like anything BAD happened (that she knows of at least) but I know all too well how harrowing that crushing disappointment in yourself can be. “Shame shudders” my friend Owen calls it.
“It’s OK, babe. We’ve all been there. Honestly, this is what needed to happen.”
“Ugh, why?” She spat. “Why do I need to be in a BAR JAIL at 30 years old? Why can’t I control my drinking? Why do I end up in stranger’s FUR coats? Why am I such a royal f*ck up? Why do I not remember getting home? WHY DO I PUT MYSELF ON THE LINE TO GET KILLED, ALL THE TIME? WHY DO I NEVER LEARN,” She paused for a moment. It was a pregnant, heavy pause. And then she fired off a series of “WHYS.”
“WHY, WHY, WHY?” each why was bigger and more dramatic and more emotionally loaded than the next.
I was riveted by the intensity of her performance and deeply concerned for her well-being at once. Nothing is more interesting than a complicated woman confronting her demons.
“It’s going to be OK. I know it sucks right now, but you know I’ve been waiting for this to happen for awhile now. You’ve been long overdue for a breakdown, Violet.”
“You’re nuts. What do you mean? ‘Long overdue?’ Can we just meet up and find me a therapist and cry our eyes out and take a Xanax and watch a marathon of Housewives?” She moaned. “I Can’t Be Alone.” Her voice quivered.
“Duh.” I answered, combing through my ratty hair extensions with my fingers. I stared at the cracks in the ceiling. I hadn’t been in actual bar jail before, but I had been in proverbial BAR JAIL, many, many times before. And if you’ve made it this far into this essay, chances are you have too, babe.
The truth is this wasn’t Violet’s first nervous breakdown. Violet has panic attacks and post-drinking meltdowns regularly, but this was that special kind of nervous breakdown. The one that shifts the direction of your life. The one that propels you to look in the mirror and say to yourself “No More!” Obviously a lot of stuff happens and leads up to that moment, that super intense moment of wild epiphany, but it never ceases to amaze me, that it takes a tiny instant, a side-glance at your troubled reflection in the mirror on a hungover morning, to decide it’s REALLY time to make that massive life change.
Violet and I are a lot alike; we’re terrified of feelings. And Violet had been drinking her feelings for a long time now. She had been lightly buzzed off of wine for about six years. Sober only when her anxious little mind was occupied at her hectic PR job, and buzzed when the clock struck 5 pm right up until she woke up the following morning. She had been living in Chicago up until recently and occasionally when she would get really, really hammered she would skype me and cry. Her swollen face taking up my entire computer screen. Fat, salt-water tears rolling down her puffy cheeks. I was going through my own “drinking to numb feelings” ordeal at the same time and Skyping with Violet was like looking into the mirror. And I didn’t like what I saw.
“What’s wrong?” I would ask Violet, running to the kitchen to fill up my own glass of wine.
She wasn’t sure what was wrong with her. Her head always hurt she said. Her life was AMAZING, her boyfriend was AMAZING, Chicago was AMAZING, but her head was just killing her.
Her head only didn’t hurt while she was drinking so she drank as often as she possibly could without getting fired from her job. Like most people on the emotional run, Violet decided to move to New York. The city of emotional fugitives. The moment I picked her up at JFK airport I could feeling the rumblings of a breakdown brewing within her. As time went on it was more than just a feeling. She possessed all the classic symptoms of a breakdown. Oh, you know. Never wanting to go home. Being the first girl at the bar and the last to leave only to go to an after-hours party where everyone is younger than you but you don’t care because the thought of going home to your suffocating apartment gives you suicidal thoughts. Laughing a little too loudly, a little too excitedly about things that aren’t f*cking funny. An obsession with the gym. An all-consuming fear of NOT going to the gym. Like if you don’t go to Soul Cycle at 4 pm you’re going to spiritually unravel and wind up snorting methadone in a parking lot in Paramus, New Jersey.
Picking at the tender skin around your nails, peeling zits off your face that were never there to begin with. Pills thrown into your tattered designer handbag at all times. A wild look in your eye. Like you’re an animal trapped in a small cage in a Russian zoo. A vacant smile plastered to your face all the time, even when you’re sleeping. Because we all know the worst thing you can do when you’re stuffing down a breakdown is to let your facial muscles relax. The moment you drop that manic, stiff, over the top smile, you’ll start to feel things. So you hold your breath, clench your fists and smile, smile, smile. Game is over when you start breathing and stop smiling!
Oh and the biggest symptom of all: Subsisting off a diet of white wine.
But here is the problem with living off the white wine diet. The white wine diet, works until it doesn’t work. You’re blissfully buzzed off the sweet, soothing, velvety-ness of oh- so-innocent pale yellow wine, for a while. White wine softens the razor sharp edges of the world, at first. You don’t feel like you’re really drinking when you’re tossing back white wine.
“OH, it’s just a little glass of WHITE WINE. The French drink it at lunch!” You’ll giggle, clinking glasses with a girlfriend who is also running from something. I mean it’s not like you’re shooting heroin. You’re drinking white wine! And nothing bad happens on white wine.
And then you find yourself, an animal rights activist sporting a real fur coat that isn’t yours, weeping in bar jail, at divey little f*ckboy bar in Brooklyn. Not remembering what happened to you ten minutes prior. Not quite sure why you’re crying or why the big scary security guard won’t let you leave even though it’s FOUR AM and the fluorescent bar lights have clicked on and the staff is furiously wiping down the sticky tables.
Bar jail was Violet’s breaking point. Some call it a bottom, but I like to call it a “breaking point” because it isn’t as vulgar as the word bottom. The word bottom just makes me think about gay sex, if I’m being honest.
When she woke up the following morning, hungover as f*ck, as she’d been a million, zillion times before, she knew that this time something felt different. This time she knew she had to make a change or she was going to die. I don’t know if you believe in God, or The Universe or Lana Del Rey or any higher power for that matter — but it feels almost spiritual when you reach the breaking point. You have mini little breakdowns that often lead to the big breakdown, but this one feels different on a cellular level.
I’ve had several nervous breakdowns. Some have led me to make drastic changes in my life — packing up my things and moving to another country, quitting my job, and leaving a toxic lover, others have just made me realize, oh damn I Need To Get Back Into Therapy Or Else. The breakdown is always a harrowing experience but it always leads me to better things. Which is why you’re never to ignore the breakdown, little sisters. You must honor the breakdown. You must fiercely listen to the breakdown. The breakdown is there to tell you something vitally important.
And the truth is, it’s divine to reach your breaking point in life. You’re in the most powerful place in your life when you can’t bring yourself to fake it anymore. In fact, I’ve learned, through personal experience and through closely observing the powerful women I deeply admire, that losing your damn mind is actually the best thing can ever happen to you! If you don’t lose your mind you don’t ever go looking for it. It just slowly creeps away over the years until one day you realize it’s gone for good.