On Sept. 10, 2017, 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins was found dead inside a hotel freezer in Rosemont, IL. Although the autopsy hasn’t been released yet, and her death is still under investigation, the police said on the morning following her death that they believe she walked into the freezer because she was severely intoxicated.
That makes sense (slightly) because Kenneka was at the hotel with friends for a party on the ninth floor, and there’s a Facebook live video of snippets from the party where she’s seen drinking.
This has hit the Black community very hard. No one can figure this story out, and everyone is finger-pointing and speculating. We just don’t get it. Why would anybody leave a party and walk into a freezer?
In the early portion of the Facebook video, Kenneka comes out of the bathroom and mentions something to her friend about wanting to lie down. If you listen very closely to the Facebook video, in the background you can hear one of Kenneka’s friends say to her: “You have to get drunk to enjoy yourself and have a good time.”
Well…that just about sums it up for us introverts at parties, doesn’t it?
Now, I don’t know everything that happened at the party that night, but I suspect that Kenneka was an introvert. Everyone who spoke about her said she was a sweet girl, and in some party footage, she either kept to herself or stayed right by her best friend’s side throughout the night.
I also wonder if Kenneka drank significantly more alcohol than she could handle so that she could fit in at that party (she may have even been drugged). Because later in the night, she was seen with two cups of alcohol in her hands, even after she had reached her limit.
Kenneka’s death really hit a nerve with me, and here’s my podcast explaining why it’s affecting so many people this way. But for this article, I want to focus on what this tragedy made me think about as an introvert.
Why Introverts Might Drink to Cope With Socializing
Now, I drink at home… a lot. I love my wine before and after dinner, weekends and weekdays, with and without my husband. But when I think about how much I drink at parties, it’s almost always significantly more than I really needed to drink.
I do what I need to do to keep from being too quiet and making those around me feel uncomfortable. I do this when friends come over, too. And I’m starting to think that I’m not the only one who does this. Am I right, introvert family?
How many times have you pushed yourself past your limits for the sake of fitting in? How many times have you wanted to go home early but stayed way later because the person that you came with didn’t want to leave? How many times have you wished that you could enjoy yourself more at social gatherings because everybody else was having a ball?
That’s where the drugs and alcohol come in. You think to yourself: Let me just have another drink… take a hit of weed…try some ecstasy. It’ll help me lighten up. Introverts tend to need help socializing because socializing is not relaxing to us. On the contrary, it often stresses us out.
I was stressed out of my mind at my brother’s wedding, and there was no alcohol there — none. And I made everybody miserable with my mood swings and my isolation. But when I went to another wedding last month, there was an open bar and I had a blast! My husband introduced me to several of his coworkers, and they all loved me. So yes, drinking is my coping mechanism for the inevitable stress of socializing.
Stop Pressuring Introverted Teens to Be More Extroverted
But I’m 33 years old and irrelevant to this equation. What about the teenager who needs drugs and alcohol to cope with the demands of socializing? Their developing bodies and brains cannot handle the pressure from parents, friends, and society all at once, especially when you add drug and alcohol abuse.
When your parent voices concern about the fact that you stay in your room too much and never go out, as soon as you have the chance to go out, you’re going to go out. And when you get to the party, you’re going to be happy that you get to hang out with the cool kids, but everybody is drinking, so you start drinking. Once you start drinking, you have more fun.
You forget about the fight you had with your mom this morning, that C you got in biology, and that girl who teased you about your outfit last week. You keep drinking and drinking, you smoke some weed… and before you know it, you’re in a whole other world.
Your heart is beating out of your chest, your palms are sweating, and you’re really, really hot. You believe that your body can handle it because you’re young. You think your mind can handle it because you’re smart.
But no, your body can’t handle it because you’re still developing. And your mind can’t handle it because it is already overwhelmed with all the changes you’re going through and all the pressure you’re under. You’ve never been understood by anybody. No one has ever held you in their arms and said, “I love you and will always love you just the way you are!”
Nope. No one has ever said that to you without disappointment and expectation attached to it:
- “I love you, honey, but why are you always in your room?”
- “You’re a great student, but you should speak up in class more.”
- “You’re my best friend, but you need to loosen up and enjoy yourself.”
- “You’re a great catch, but you need to put yourself out there more in order to get a date.”
Your introversion is not accepted. Your best is never good enough for the high octane extroversion machine that is the world around you.
So you drink more than you can handle, laugh more than you want to, and dance to the music you’re forced to listen to. Eventually, you wander away from the party for just a little peace and quiet… and the next day you’re found dead in a hotel freezer.
This extrovert-obsessed society is killing our young people.
This needs to be corrected. We need to help young people find their inner peace by encouraging them to wholeheartedly embrace who they are. Our quiet teenagers deserve respect and unconditional love. They don’t need parents, teachers, friends, and society pressuring them to be more extroverted.
If we can help them understand that life will always ebb and flow, if we can give them the tools to love themselves and listen to their hearts, and if we can help them see that their perspective matters just as much as the perspective of an extrovert, maybe teenagers like Kenneka will see that they never have to overdo anything to fit in ever again.
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Image credit: @kayschris via Twenty20