Not Always Cooking On High Heat by Tae Yoon
The only thing I really knew how to cook as a kid was instant ramen. For Koreans, instant ramen is like our version of fast food in a way. It's convenient, unhealthy, and oh so crave-worthy---which is everything a youngster wants when they're hungry. And whether it was while sleepy-eyed during breakfast or as an afternoon snack, it never ceased to quickly assuage an appetite.
No one really taught me how to make instant ramen when I was younger, but it wasn't difficult to figure out. I would turn the flame on to high heat and then stand there, watching to ensure I'd know the exact moment the water was ready. Then I'd drop in the noodles and flavor packets without wasting even a second of time. After a few minutes when the ramen was cooked, of course the best way to eat it was straight from the pot as soon as the gas was turned off. I would blow furiously into the first heap of noodles dangling from the chopsticks to avoid burning my mouth. And when the last spoonful of soup was devoured, that feeling of satisfaction came not only from my full stomach, but in a way, also how promptly I'd gotten there.
And for much of my life, this wasn't just how I cooked ramen. But basically how I did anything that wasn't good for me.
Drinking until I black out. Eating to the point of feeling physically ill. Smoking weed incessantly to never not be stoned. These three activities have honestly been way too big a part of my life for the past decade. And it's been a long and earnest journey to have a better understanding of why.
Alcohol has always been a big part of my life. The combination of growing up in New York and being Korean-American resulted in the excess of two big drinking cultures ingrained into my everyday norm. Going out to get hammered wasn't just for fun, but a way of being. The first real experience I had with alcohol was with a cousin and his friends at an old club on 32nd Street called News. We were 16-year-old sophomores in high school back then, ordering bottle service of Johnny Walker with fake ids and money we had all carefully saved up. It goes without saying that drinking the whiskey was only done in shots. This fast pace of imbibing felt welcoming and natural. Whoever it was initiating the next round to toss another one back, it was never an issue with me. Even then, I knew what state I wanted to be in, and was determined to get there as fast as possible. And as we all got wasted throughout the night, the rest of the guys focused on scoring phone numbers from girls while I aimed to get more drunk and dance my feelings away.
When college came around, my drinking patterns had already pretty much been set. From that early age, I was proud of the fact that I could handle a lot more alcohol than my friends. But the problem was I didn't know when to stop. Even at my 18th birthday party at a Flushing bar that let in underage drinkers, forcing everyone to clink glasses with only short breaks in between was my right as the birthday boy. Naturally, I ended up getting smashed off beer and soju. And ultimately began barfing into the empty beer pitchers on our table that night while simultaneously farting loudly as my friends looked on with enjoyment.
Being the comically drunken mess was obviously not something I was embarrassed of, because it sort of became my thing. I just liked getting fucked up. Since I was pretty closeted and was never in a relationship, I wasn't ever the one in the group who was dating so-and-so or having romantic drama. I was the guy who liked to have a good time and get wasted instead, deeming me neutral and harmless to others. Sure, I partied fast and hard and blacked out all the time. But I still kept my life together for the most part. Yes, I drank excessively, but so what? It wasn't a big deal. I mean I wasn't bothering anyone with it... except for myself, that is.
When I started this blog ten years ago at the age of twenty-three, this style of drinking was the only thing I knew. While I also slowly came out during this period, I was still always the single guy. And being so made it easy to continue partying this way into my early thirties. But now at the age of thirty-three, it's only within the past year or so that I've become truly exhausted of this pernicious cycle.
This much needed change of perspective is long overdue and a buildup of so many things, especially from a few events that happened in the past couples of years. The first is I lost my iPhone on a night out, and didn't even notice it until the next day. If I factor in the $800+ I paid to replace it, my stupidity from that evening literally cost me over a grand. The next incident happened on a night some friends and I went to a club in Brooklyn to see this big DJ spin. I got really inebriated early before any of my friends did. The DJ's set hadn't started, but I had to leave the club first because I could barely function. As I stumbled out of the venue alone to go crash at my friends' place, I got lost and couldn't find the nearby subway station. After I did eventually get on the G train, I was so drunk that I knocked out on the subway and woke up at the last stop of the train. I'm not even sure how long I was passed out on the G, because my friends who left the club hours after me got back to their apartment long before I should have. I remember opening my eyes at the Church Avenue stop to missed calls and frantic texts from my friends asking where I was. It took all my energy to stay awake in my drunken stupor when the train started moving again so I wouldn't miss my friends' stop. But to think about being trashed and passed out by myself on a Saturday night close to 5am where I was completely incapacitated, I'm just really grateful nothing happened. Another thing I've become acutely aware of during booze-filled sessions are these reoccurring moments where I actually haven't blacked out yet, but know I've had too much to drink. My brain will seem functional, but when I attempt to talk, everything coming out of my mouth makes me sound like a drunken idiot. I'll try to have a conversation or engage with someone, but my sentences emerge slurred and nonsensical. It's like what's happening in my head doesn't match how I'm directing my body, as if I'm no longer in control. All I can think at those moments is, holy shit, I totally sound like that drunk guy who needs to go home. I essentially make bad decisions when I drink, with the worst being that I'll order another.
These episodes are just a few of many that have made me re-evaluate my behavior, and has me fully accepting, "Tae, the party's over."
At this age, my hangovers are unbearable as well. The day after a late night out renders me totally useless. Not remembering how I got home or what dumb shit I said the night before has became more of a mental liability too. The stakes seem be higher now, and I've become hyper conscious about all the wasted time, money, and energy I've dedicated to this hobby. How many more times can I go out and get shitfaced like this? How much longer can I tell myself that I'm still actually having fun?
And it's not just with alcohol that I've been going at full speed with for the last ten years, but my issues with food have never left me. This dysfunctional relationship I've had with food is something I constantly struggle with. Eating provides this mental relief where nothing else matters. It's a goal that's so easily achievable and that I'm good at. Sometimes I just feel like I have to keep eating and eating until there's nothing left, or I'm full to the point of feeling gross. Providing nourishment to my body is the least likely reason I ever eat. Instead, I eat because it keeps my obsessive thoughts preoccupied. I eat because it's fulfilling on so many messed up levels. I eat because I deserve it, god damn it. I eat because sometimes I really don't like myself. But I know this has got to stop, and is something I need to truly gain control of. If I add up all the time spent in the past ten years of me being self-critical about my weight, it would be enough write a self-help book about how to be happy in life.
Smoking weed goes hand-in-hand with my immoderate drinking and eating. I'm the type of person who would rather be stoned all day everyday if possible. Life is straight up more interesting that way. And whether it's walking down the street or grocery shopping, even the most mundane activity transforms into something with layers and dimension. Marijuana has always relaxed me in a way where I stop overthinking everything, and I can just simply be. That feeling of liberation allows me to go about my day and not focus on things that can be emotionally draining. And that fuzzy warmth, I just love it so much. I get out of my head and become social. Why wouldn't I want to feel like that all the time? And that's where the problem lies. I've been toking up regularly since college, and have gone through years of doing it almost daily. But I can't just smoke one bowl. Like Ariel sang in the Little Mermaid, "I want more." And rolling joints nonstop or continuously packing another bowl to keep the party going became my routine.
The consequences of always getting stoned like this didn't hit me until about a year-and-a-half ago. I began to notice that whenever I ate, my food would taste really muted. I would be eating something I love, such as instant ramen, but its flavors I was expecting just weren't there. Then a week later, I would be having the same thing and everything would be fine again. My taste buds hovered on and off like this for some time, until one day they just seemed to disappear altogether. Yes, I could still tell the difference between things like ketchup and mustard, but there would be no discernible characteristics for either. Food literally lost its flavor, and I started eating more off texture, temperature, and appearance. When I finally went to go see an ear, nose and throat doctor, I was truthful about how much weed I smoked. My doctor advised me to stop my habit to see what changes. And lo and behold, my sense of taste fully returned months later.
The past ten years haven't just involved this trinity of bad habits though. There's definitely been way more of an abundance of good. I've been fortunate to have matured and grown into my true self. I've proved to myself who I really am and what I'm capable of. It's been an adventurous trip filled with humbling lessons that have allowed me to make a million mistakes at the same time. But I'm glad to have gotten a lot of them out of my system, and have no regrets about anything.
So much of the unhappiness I used to have back in 2006 dissolved with every subsequent failure I went through, struggle I overcame, and accomplishment I achieved, many of which are chronicled here. The ups and downs of this past decade have always existed over a foundation of growth, and that's what I'm most grateful for. Discovering something new everyday and keeping that nugget of knowledge to use during another high or low in life, that's what it's all about. And one important tip I'll always have at hand for myself is to simply chill out. Life doesn't always have to be lived like I'm cooking on high heat. A drink or two is enough for a fun time. A satisfying meal doesn't have to involve feeling stuffed with regret. A singular joint is plenty in providing the pleasure I'm seeking. And instant ramen can be cooked with patience at a boil and still taste great.
Looking back on the past decade of this blog, I now truly believe that everything in life will always be okay. Because I am the author of my own story, and I choose to write a happy one.