I was too obsessed with my skincare routine
My skin was my card from the day before. The next morning, I checked my eyes first. I rubbed them, squinting against the harsh morning light. If there was mascara or foundation on the back of my hand, chances were I was in someone else’s bed. I struggled with cystic acne in high school, a special type of angst that only other survivors can understand, so even in a black stupor my brain was wired to wash my face when I returned to my own bathroom. bath. The smeared makeup meant the night had taken a different turn.
I was a black drinker: I didn’t drink every day, but once started, I didn’t know how my evening would end. I woke up to missing portions of my memory, the events of the night before a twisted blur. Despite a Brooklyn ZIP code conducive to my lifestyle, I felt my drinking might veer into problematic territory. My friends seemed to know when to get in the water and go home while I usually got up to go on at night. And my hangovers seemed to last for days, choking me with nausea and anxiety. So when I turned 28, I made the decision to get sober.
People tell you that giving up alcohol has a magical effect on your skin, hair, and overall well-being. This is mostly true. During my first six months of sobriety, I was less bloated, more hydrated, and slept better. Even still, not everything transformed overnight. I used to think I was kind to my skin: I used to cleanse, moisturize, and take birth control pills to control my hormones. But now that I was no longer drinking, I had to face certain realities that alcohol had helped me ignore.
Without the haze of alcohol, I saw myself clearly for the first time since high school. When I woke up in the morning after binge drinking and eating greasy pizza, it was easy to rationalize dry skin or a new pimple. Everything was temporary, like a messy room or an unreturned email; something my future self will have to deal with later. But when my future self got sober, she became too aware of every flaw. I no longer camped in dark bars; in the bright light of cafes and city parks, it was harder to hide that I had sensitive, acne-prone skin.
I was worried people would think I was less fun without alcohol, so I decided my exterior had to be perfect. If I wasn’t going to be Carrie Bradshaw sipping a cosmopolitan, I’d be Rory Gilmore in all his fresh-faced glory. I’ve had monthly facials and bought serums with fancy ingredients. I exfoliated, applied clay masks and studied my pores.
I became appalled every time I woke up and saw a spot on my face, like it was a personal failure. On my first weekend with a new boyfriend, I woke up with a pimple on my chin. It was objectively not a big deal; I covered it in concealer and we went to breakfast. But I couldn’t help but ruminate on it, glancing at the bump on my phone’s dark screen. I snuck into the bathroom and ordered five new products in a panic. Was my boyfriend looking at my pimple too? Did he think I was hideous now? Had he changed his mind about going out with me?
I knew it was self-centered and ridiculous, but panic shot through my body. Of course, it wasn’t my boyfriend. Without partying as a defining trait, I adopted impossible beauty standards and they made me as sick as my drinking.
As I recovered, I worked to uncover the deeper reasons I drank excessively, such as my fear of abandonment and a nagging worry that I was unlovable; many of these concerns overlapped with my desire to have flawless skin. If I could control my face, maybe I could control how other people see me and treat me. My twisted logic has left me at the mercy of a lot of self-imposed cruelty and impatience. Ironically, when I saw someone else with a pimple, I thought none the less. On another face, imperfections told a story and reminded how humans can connect through shared flaws and vulnerability. Perfection could be boring; real skin texture provided.
Today, after four and a half years of sobriety, my skincare routine has transformed. I still use serums and moisturizers, but instead of applying full makeup every day to hide my blemishes, I try to let my skin breathe. I give my inside the space to heal – and for the first time, I give my outside permission to do the same.