To get and stay sober, I had to break up with my cultural identities for a while.
I was born in Colombia and raised by a Colombian dad and a French mom. I grew up bopping around between countries, bouncing between two entirely different cultures. Like many kids who grow up in two different cultures, I was never French enough for the French, or Colombian enough for the Colombians. Still, my parents did a wonderful job of teaching me to stand at the nuanced intersection of my existence. Whenever the world questioned my belonging, my parents and I would simply laugh because which part of my thigh belonged to which country, and which arm preferred Brie over fried plantains and rice? What a silly and impossible exercise. I was both, I am both.
For twenty-eight years, I have always been both French and Colombian. But what I didn’t realize was how much these identifiers would dictate my drinking.
When I first began writing this piece, I thought I would write about the ways in which my sobriety directly threatened the traditions I was so proudly raised in. France and Colombia are both renowned for their joie de vivre. That the simple phrase exists in English is a perfect example of just how much French living has been romanticized the world over. And that Colombia is unfortunately synonymous with cocaine, coffee, and beautiful women gives you insight into the other part of my existence.
My entire house was shaped by celebration and tradition — all of which are deeply rooted in food and drink. Not to mention the humans and culture that uphold them; by definition, we are joyous, bombastic creatures, ready to consume life by the plateful. In a lot of ways, getting sober felt like a threat to both of my countries — a kind of erasure of my cultural expression and tradition. Getting sober meant I would erase in me the very things my grandmothers were hoping to pass down to their great-grandchildren; that tradition and celebration with food and drink. But if I wanted to stay sober, I had to deconstruct what my cultural performance was rooted in. It turns out that, for me, this was about so much more than food and drink.
Getting sober meant I would erase in me the very things my grandmothers were hoping to pass down to their great-grandchildren; that tradition and celebration with food and drink.
I discovered that, at the heart of my French-Colombian expression, was sexuality. In Colombia, I was raised in a household of men. Not only men, but hombres, machos. Dad was a politician, my brothers were older and giant basketball players (I’m not kidding, at 6’8” a piece), and my nanny was a three-hundred-pound police academy cadet my father hired when I was one. I was raised by men, in a house full of men, and taught how to be as ostensibly powerful as men.
However, the size of my female hips changed the rules of my personal household curriculum. In order to achieve the same levels of power as the García hombres, I was to be sharp, well-read, well-mannered, of delectable etiquette, cultured, cultivated, an eloquent polyglot, a proficient debater, a skilled negotiator, a master barterer, and possess a wit so razor sharp I could disarm anyone with a single comeback… But, unlike my brothers, I was also to possess undeniable sex appeal.
More than once, I was told to “lead with sexuality and then drop in your intelligence like a bomb.” My intelligence and drive were to be hidden in the Trojan Horse of my sexuality. In adulthood, these lessons became my shield. Sex and sexuality were how I coped and navigated a world fueled by machismo, no matter how stereotypical its premise.
Everybody loves the “spicy Latina” on a night out on the town, and I’ve yet to see a vision board online that doesn’t include a crisp bottle of champagne with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
The implications of stereotypes are real — even more so when the world over romanticizes your cultural existence. Everybody loves the “spicy Latina” on a night out on the town, and I’ve yet to see a vision board online that doesn’t include a crisp bottle of champagne with the Eiffel Tower in the background. That vision board might also include a mysterious French girl to go along with the bottle. As a French-Colombian person, I know these are stereotypes, that the experience of being both French and Colombian could never be watered down to a vision board cut-out.
But in my drinking days, these notions became my playing cards, my shields. In my drinking days, I successfully navigated spaces as a high-IQ’d polyglot with an uncanny ability to also be the “spicy-Latina-late-night-in-Paris-French-girl-of-your dreams.” In my drinking days, I was not only the chica with the je ne sais quoi, I was now your wine drunk joie de vivre, the sazón of your white powder embodied. I was prepped and primed to be your French-Colombian dream destination and no part of me wanted to let that go.
It took years, but finally, that French-Colombian fantasy version of me turned a nightmare and I had to get sober.
My French Girl-Hot Tamale existence entirely drove my addictions. In order to stay sober, I had to stop romanticizing these aspects of myself and of my cultures. If I really wanted to stay sober, I had to demystify the very traditions and thought patterns that shaped my cultural experience as a child. Basically, French-Colombian sex appeal and I had to break up for a while.
In more ways than one, I had to redefine what being French-Colombian meant for me. And just as I did when I was a child, I had to learn to stand at the intersection of that nuance.
Today, instead of fearing that my sobriety has erased a part of my cultural expression, I simply accept that I have just added to the understanding of what it means to be French-Colombian. Today, I can be sober and still be the French-Colombian woman of my own dreams.