Season two of HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant opens with Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco), the eponymous member of cabin crew, on a new path. This is not the chaotic, booze-dependent party girl from season one. The new Cassie is two days away from completing a year sober, and in her words, everything is “pretty great”.
She has moved to LA, found herself a new boyfriend, goes to AA meetings, and has what her long-suffering best mate Annie (Zosia Mamet) describes as a “perfect, I-have-vegetables-in-the-fridge life”. There are throw pillows on her couch – it’s a different ballgame.
Like Cassie, my relationship with alcohol was problematic. I used drinking as a crutch, a comfort blanket and an anaesthetic. It was a coping strategy that became the issue in and of itself – like repeatedly pouring neat bleach onto your hands in the hope of killing germs. It definitely gets rid of the bacteria, but you should stop that because you won’t have any skin left either if you keep going.
This autumn, I will have managed a year alcohol-free. Also like Cassie, I have taken steps to transform my life and distance myself from the person I was when I was drinking. I understand Cassie’s desire to put as much space between her season one and season two self as possible – the need to erase that messy person, because they were embarrassing and in pain and causing pain to others.
The Flight Attendant garnered praise for its depiction of a high-functioning woman with alcohol dependency issues in a thriller – something that’s usually the preserve of male chacters. The show really shines when it examines Cassie’s inner world by putting multiple Cassies on screen together, and the writers continue to draw on this in season two.
“Party Cassie” – in a plunging, gold sequinned dress with a tumbler of something suitably boozy in one hand – mocks her present moment counterpart for her questionable decisions with a sarcastic “here’s to making better choices”. Party Cassie suggests that present Cassie might as well have a drink, because if things aren’t absolutely perfect, then f*** it, right?
I have my own Party Cassie in my head. It tells me every time I’m less than saintly that I haven’t really changed at all, despite the tangible and significant differences in my life now and the steps I’ve taken on my journey towards being, if not completely well, then at least better. Each mistake – however insignificant – is more fuel for the fire of shame and self-hatred. Why haven’t you learned? Why are you still a stupid, thoughtless, clumsy person? Why hasn’t giving up the booze made you perfect?
Party Cassie’s jibes about a new flight attendant that present Cassie has been chatting to – “Your new friend Grace seems cool – like you used to be cool” – also felt familiar. One of the reasons it took me so long to do anything about my deeply unhealthy relationship with alcohol was that I didn’t want to become “boring” by not drinking. “Oh, don’t bother inviting her, she doesn’t drink,” I imagined people saying. “It won’t be her scene. She won’t be any fun.”
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I was certain no one would want me around, and I worried about how I’d cope with socialising. How could I possibly be fun or spontaneous or silly without a pint in my hand? In the context of our boozy British culture, how weird and uncool would I seem?
Sometimes these concerns still feel urgent and painful, but more often, I think it’s sad that I delayed making the necessary and healing decision to give up alcohol because I was worried that I wouldn’t be as loud and chatty in the pub anymore. And the people who really matter to me? After going alcohol-free, not once did they make me feel excluded or unwanted or less than. Newsflash to my teenage self – getting hammered doesn’t make you cool, no matter what too many episodes of Skins makes you think.
Human beings are not perfect, and sobriety isn’t going to make you Jesus. Journeys of recovery, like Cassie’s, can be filled with missteps and relapses and moments of despair. Recovery is a process; something in motion. As an extremely impatient person, this is often a source of frustration for me. I want to be there already. I want to arrive.
Making the change and finally putting down the whisky-flavoured comfort blanket was huge for me. It’s a massive deal for anyone has experienced alcohol dependency. I did it to be kinder to myself and those around me – that kindness should be extended further, to counteract the impatience and self-criticism that too often surface during recovery.