I knew alcohol was going to be a problem for me the first time I tried it.
I was 11 and found some old whiskey, left neglected in the back of a cupboard at the farmhouse. My mother doesn’t drink at all, my father very rarely—so I’m unsure where it came from, perhaps a gift from a family friend. I unscrewed the cap & drank from the bottle that was sticky with dust. The first taste was like swallowing a lit match. I hated the flavor, the burn—but almost immediately after taking a few slugs of it, felt light, removed from my body. I liked it, wanted to stay in that feeling. I knew then I would find a way to envelope myself in that artificial numbness, like being cast in fire and ice. The abuse might still happen around me, to me…but not caring about it was a victory for me…So I drank.
Every time I came back to that whiskey bottle and drank from it, I refilled the bottle with water-just in case my parents found it and questioned its miraculous evaporation. Eventually, it paled from amber to just the slightest hint of color. At that point, fearing discovery, I dug a hole and buried it, like my problems—the bottle was full of them. But I never forgot about the lightness, the lift, the feeling of withstanding fire.
When I was a 14 year old, looking to escape from my fucked up home life, I began hanging out with some older girls from equally fucked up home lives. My best friend’s mother would let us spend the night at their house and she would ply us with alcohol. Because I would get loud & sarcastic, she thought it was funny to take us out and encourage me to make a fool of myself. I nearly started a fight with a redneck at a local pizza place once while hanging out drunkenly in her company. Another time I danced in the aisles of a Big Lot and harassed the store clerks about the difference between Cheez-Wiz products. That time I was so drunk, by the end, I eventually laid down in the middle of the snack aisle, watching the chips and pretzels spinning in a tornado above me. As an adult now, with my own children, I hate that friend’s fucking mother so much for lighting my escape-seeking brain up with booze. It seems those are the only neurological pathways I can still travel these days…those mental roads to pleasure by way of complete chemical detachment.
Later, in high school, there were many memories of stealing booze from parents of my friends. I had reinvented myself by this point & was actually hanging with the popular crowd. I think we all knew (but just didn’t talk about the fact) that this group was slumming it with me. Though everyone knew something was wrong, no one ever mentioned my circumstances, the abusive, poverty strangled household I lived in…or my dysfunctional family that didn’t want me. I was fun and sarcastic and spontaneous and wild, a novelty, so I was welcomed into the group. Most of my friends came from good, 2 parent family households, stable in suburbia…Their parents were always kind and accepting of me, if slightly pitying. I spent my graduation night with one friend’s family instead of my own, eating hot fudge sundaes & watching movies with them. Their daughter & I repaid them for this kindness by shoving beers down the legs of the over-sized overalls she was wearing for just that purpose…and smuggling the beers down to the beach we both loved…toes in the sand, stumbling about, water splashing our flushed faces.
I began drinking vodka from water bottles in school or showing up to music rehearsals drunk. I had a reputation as a brilliant student & was the top musician of the school. I was driven & smart & just enough class clown to get away with being drunk at school. I remember on one occasion getting so drunk at my friend’s house with her, that we had to call another friend to come pick us up for select choir rehearsal. We drunkenly used a campaign of obnoxious harassment towards our chauffeur to take us for McDonald’s fruit & yogurt parfaits, till she finally went through the drive thru to shut us up. She then dropped us off at rehearsal. I don’t remember much else from that day other than my friend & I loudly announcing our arrival by rolling down the stairs in the chorus room till we were by the choir teacher’s piano…and the teacher laughing at us, “What, are you guys drunk or something?” My friend, Cai, & I just looked at each other, said “oh shit” and burst out laughing.
Oh…and I believe I also took the lid off my parfait, joking held it on the back of my head and yelled that I had a yarmulke.
In hindsight, I wished that I hadn’t hid it. I wished that someone HAD asked about my occasionally erratic behavior and I had been honest…I wish that something had been done about it earlier…perhaps things would not be where they are now. The puzzle of my life would be put together differently. And more complete. At this point, I feel like people glance at me and see me as put together—but if they looked closer, the pieces don’t match, the parts violently jammed together.
In college, like most people, the drinking problem really became disruptive to my life. I didn’t try to hide it at this point…I spent 4 years in a drunken free fall. I think partly, I thought I would be happy when I got to college and that I would not need the alchemy found in alcohol to transform me into that carefree person. But, while I got away from my parents, the abuse, that environment—all of the toxicity of my past was still inside of me. I felt bloated with it. And it grieved me to no end. I drank more and more to the point that it kept me in a state of agitated suicidal ideation. While this obviously was difficult for me, I didn’t realize how my drinking problem had become a drinking problem for others too. I would take off at 3 in the morning to take walks across campus when I was very drunk & distraught-despite pleas from my 2 best friends not to do that. On one of these walks, I had the unmistakable creep of fear up my back….a feeling like I was being followed. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized there were 2 people behind me. I tried walking quickly back to my dorm, and turned my head to see if they were still there. I was relieved to recognize the form of my 2 best friends. They were following me from a safe distance to ensure I was ok, scared I would hurt myself or be hurt by someone else in my vulnerable state. I realized they had been doing this every time I did my distraught drunk walk routine. This realization made me sad. My friends loved me more than I probably deserved and it eviscerated me to know my self-destruction hurt them-but I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t stop drinking.
As college went on, the parties got wilder, my behavior more risky. I would stand on railings over the 2nd story of our apartment, laughing maniacally, while friends tried to talk me down like I was a kitten stuck in a tree. They eventually would come to physically pulling me down off the railing. Another time, I left a party I was throwing in a complete blackout. I came out of it only when a friend found me watching cars from an overpass, a mile from my house, with no shoes on. I told him stories about each car passing below till finally he talked me into returning to the party. I spent the rest of the night picking glass out of the bottom of my feet. At this point, concerned for my safety, friends went to the counseling center and tried to get something done about me, but no one would help. I was drunk in class. Drunk at my work study. I was drunk while I practiced my secondary instruments for my music ed degree. I would stash bottle after bottle in my music locker, thinking I would clean them out at the end of the year or I would be dead by then—either way, situation handled. (Ironically, my suicide attempt my junior year was one of the only times I was chemically sober…I was just drunk on my own madness by that point, that was the problem.)
After my suicide attempt, my junior year, I had to sign a contract to be allowed back into school. I had to promise not to hurt myself, to remain on meds & in counseling & to refrain from drinking. I tried. I really fucking tried not to drink. I had spent the summer drying out at my professor’s house and was actually sober at semester’s start. But it didn’t last. It never fucking lasts. Every time I try to get sober, I feel like I should be happy to be sober…that I should feel like I’ve gutted through an instinct. Instead all I feel is emptiness. Despair that I still feel lost. Then the violent dreams and flashbacks return, worse and more vivid than before….and, even though I try to white knuckle it through a couple days, I always cave to the elixir. I’ve never been able to go longer than a couple weeks sober…(aside from both my pregnancies where I stayed off the booze.)
Living with Alex, we both just went to hell. Jokingly called ourselves Junkie & Drunkie. We framed it as funny because the picture was sad. But Alex began to realize it was a problem when I couldn’t have sex without being plastered. At first, it could be excused as nerves. Even though, I’d been forced to have sex as a child, he was the first person I allowed to sleep with me as an adult & I was terrified..I feel weird even using the word ‘allowed,’ because I was never able to have sex without my alcoholic crutch. My inability to be intimate without alcohol was taken personally by Alex…as an attack on his desirability, as a negation of our love. Things deteriorated between us…crumbling to sawdust in our angry, clenched hands. As he worsened, I raced him-trying to get to the finish line, so he wouldn’t have to. He hated when I drank, so I drank more to punish him, to escape him. By the time we were done, I was reliant.
Things didn’t improve much with the father of my children….In fact, I only fell further down the rabbit hole. Too many convenient excuses. Too many reasons why. I’ve only become more afraid to approach nighttime without alcohol tugging me down into the quicksand of sleep. I wake up sometimes surprised to find texts of conversations I had with MC that I participated in but am only reading for the first time. And now here I am, 37, and drinking myself to forgetful stardust every night, stomach destroyed, eyes starting to yellow. Because I function at work and raising my kids, I have avoided looking directly in the mirror at my drunkenness. But…
I know it’s going to take me.
And I’ll let it just happen…because, I’ve discovered over the years, that, while the future may be changeable, unfortunately, I am not.