One of my favorite songs, “The Hills” by The Weeknd, came on while I was cruising down PCH. I belted it out as best I could (some parts I just made up) when a line in the chorus made me pause: “When I’m f*cked up that’s the real me.” That’s not true for me. After a few cocktails, I become every one else except me. I become the world’s best liar.
As a kid, I’d heard, “In vino veritas,” or in non-Latin, “With wine comes truth.” I panicked, imagining myself a CIA agent being tortured by the Russians with vodka. I’d spill it all, everything I knew. I’d be a rat (because aside from being a Cold War kid, I also grew up during the heyday of mafia movies.) I had a colorful imagination and in no way was I going to let booze make me give up the goods.
I had my first drink at age thirteen, on the beach. It was Bacardi 151 offered to me by a boy whose dad managed The Rolling Stones. He liked me, but I wasn’t into him. With the booze, instead of becoming an easy mark, I became the girl who had a guy in the next town over. I was cool, aloof, and not interested in giving him the time of day. I was devoted to my George Glass.
Over time, a few drinks in, I’d become someone else born deep in my imagination. I never planned it and didn’t always do it. It mostly happened when I was bored and feeling creatively stifled. I’ve been an oncologist, an ER doctor, a publicist, and a former member of the CIA. As an avid reader, I had a wealth of knowledge to draw from. I’m convincing enough for my audience to introduce me as, “Ramona, the oncologist.” I’m so convincing I convince myself. When I return to my friends under the influence of my own identity, they’re like, “Kerry, you’re not a doctor! Stop it!”
“But aren’t I?” I’d say confused. Or just to confuse them. Who remembers.
I don’t know what possesses me to pretend. It’s definitely not to trick anyone or out of malice. I think it’s a creative outlet. At the height of my identity pretending, I worked at advertising agencies in account management. I was surrounded by creativity all day, but I wasn’t necessarily being creative. I was what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls a shadow creative. I was also stressed out, burned out, and miserable. I stuck with my job for the paycheck and lack of a clue about what else to do with my life. I didn’t realize my drink-induced identity stories were my brain’s way of giving me the answer.
I wanted to be someone else, but not necessarily any of the identities I was choosing. I simply wanted to create characters and stories from my imagination. In some way, alcohol would drop all of the cynicism and let my creativity run around to act out the stories I wanted to tell.
My playing took a turn one night when I was in Dallas for a client meeting. We went out to a bar at the top of a hotel most famous for being frequented by Jessica Simpson. After a few margaritas, I jumped into the lap of a six-foot-five Texan in a cowboy hat. I informed him I was an oncologist, which piqued his interest. We chatted for about an hour when my team and I decided to call it a night. I awoke the next morning with a wicked hangover and a furrowed brow. My cowboy emailed me asking me for expert advice about his friend’s cancer treatment. It was all fun and games in the bar, but this was too real. I immediately fessed up, apologized and vowed to get to the bottom of my compulsion to pretend I was anyone other than me.
As a psychology major, I could quickly peg others, but had trouble pinning myself down. I knew I had a vivid imagination and little outlet for it. I tried writing here and there, which alleviated some of the pressure. I also quit drinking because there comes a point when the party needs to end. But I couldn’t quite crack the code.
It took a layoff for me to finally let my imagination loose and embrace writing, or as I like to think of it, finely-crafted, imaginative, non-harmful lying. I was petrified to do it. But I convinced myself it was just playing, at which I clearly excel. And now, a few years later, I’ve written several books, hundreds of blog posts, and a few articles. I’ve never been happier or more honest with strangers. I don’t need to imagine the life I’d want to have because I’m already living it.
I occasionally have a stray glass of rose here and there. But I don’t pretend I’m someone else. That’s reserved for my computer screen and the characters who live there. Booze made me the world’s best liar, but it was my brain’s way of showing me my absolute truth. Maybe “in vino veritas” after all.