My mother never drank, and for my dad, it was an extremely rare occasion. My dad worked on the railroad, and since he was always on call, he couldn’t really ever risk being drunk. When we were on vacation, there would be the occasional twelve-pack of Busch light that would last the entire trip, but I’ve never considered either of my parents drinkers. Even in retirement, my dad gets excited for one margarita, which I find endearing, as I do not have many people in my life now that can get excited over the prospect of one drink and stop there. My mom is a non-drinker for a variety of reasons, one being she got pregnant with my brother in high school, another being she was a stay-at-home mom, and the final being the fact that she is a diabetic. She often times regales me with the story of that “one time” she got drunk at the bowling league 40 years ago and got sick. Several years ago on Christmas Eve, she asked me to make a recipe for sangria she found, but she had just a sip or two. I’ve probably been drunk more times in a week than she has been in her whole life.
I don’t remember anyone else in my life really drinking in front of me when I was younger, either. My dad’s parents passed away before I was born, so I only had my mom’s grandparents, of which only grandma remains now. Grandpa passed away of lung cancer in 1999 when I was 17. Grandpa collected some alcohol trinkets (kitsch bottles, etc.) but I never remember him drinking much. Maybe he did, I just never seemed to notice. We went to Florida with them for a few weeks every February (I was lucky enough to be allowed to get all of my homework from my teachers to take with me – we did this every year from the time I entered school until the time I graduated high school), and drinking was never a part of the equation. At Christmas time, it was always a joke as to who would bring the bad wine, but it would be one or two bottles for a toast, which split between over 20 people, really was more of a formality. That was how drinking was viewed by the leadership in my family, a substance that should be used to commemorate a special occasion, not a recreational activity. I wonder where/when the use of alcohol developed those meanings, but that is best discussed in another post.
However, two very important people in my life did drink alcohol – my brothers. You might not think that would be a big deal, but we are not what one would consider a “normal” family. My brothers are sixteen and fourteen years older than me, meaning that as I was growing up, they were in the prime of their rebellious, teenage/young adulthood state. The alcohol that my parents abstained from drinking, they more than made up for. They threw parties, they got into trouble, and they drank. It became more than teenage angst for my youngest, older brother, though. He began to get in trouble with the law, and before you knew it, had multiple DUIs.
I remember being really young and my parents being very upset at his whereabouts, behaviors, and actions. I constantly saw my parents struggle with the impacts of his choices. My mom and I spent a significant amount of time together since she was a stay-at-home mom and was always involved in my activities. My mom is not known for handling situations calmly, but even the calmest mothers in the world would not have been able to handle the situations he put her in sometimes. His last DUI would be the most concerning, and he ended up spending a considerable amount of time in work release. I do not know the details, as I was merely a child, but I do remember the sadness in my mother’s eyes, a stay-at-home mom, who did not have her high school diploma, or pump her own gas, with an elementary aged-child, picking up her son from jail to take him to work, each and every day. I vowed then that I would never do that to my mom.
For what it’s worth, my parents tried very hard to not let this impact me or for me to see this anguish, but children are intuitive. I knew that something was not right. I always enjoyed school, competition, and being among the best, but from that point forward, I always wanted to be THE best. I wanted my mom to be proud of me, because I did not want to cause her any pain.
I did one really bad thing when I was young; I had a party in middle school while my parents were out of town (the old, I say “I’m staying with a friend” and she says she’s, “staying with me” routine). I was really coerced into having the party, as I was impressionable and wanted to be liked at that age, but I did it, regardless. I hid the one twelve-pack of beer we had in the house (leftover from a vacation, months ago, no doubt) in the oven so no one would drink. We were caught by my friend’s mom anyways, and I had never been more thankful in my life to be in trouble. The anxiety and stress from my wrong-doing allotted me no enjoyment at my “party.”
After that, it was straight A’s, home by curfew, PG rated type stuff. I was also the youngest in my class, so coupled with delayed puberty, social awkwardness, and a fear of boys, I never really quite “fit in.” The problem was, I was so busy trying to be what I thought everyone else wanted me to be, I never figured out how to be myself.
I had what I really can remember as my first drink in the summer of 1997. I was 15 years old and Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind was the song of the summer. I had no idea what that song was about at the time, but my life did feel pretty semi-charmed. My best friend practically lived at our house, and my parents allowed her to come on vacation with us. We went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as we did every summer (like our customary Florida trips in February), and I was excited to take her with me so she could see one of my most favorite places on earth. Left to my own devices on that trip, I would have caught some sun, some waves, and quality family time, but having her with me was just more exciting. We were together, we were boy crazy, and the summer was filled with endless possibilities.
The first day we arrived in South Carolina, we went to a local grocery store and gawked at a cute employee, who, coincidentally, we would run into while he was cruising for girls with his friends 6 hours later. They provided me with my first sip of alcohol: Vodka and Sprite. Still tentative and naïve, I tried to be very careful. I was concerned about how much would be “too much,” though we drank a drink or two daily with our new “friends” for the two weeks we were there. We “wrote” a song about it, actually. It was to the tune of this Deana Carter song that was out at the time, “Strawberry Wine.” It pretty much uses the exact same words and it went:
Vodka and Sprite
He was working through college at the grocery store
I was thirsting for knowledge and he had a car
I was caught somewhere between a woman and a child
When one restless summer we found love growing wild
On the shores of the ocean on a well beaten path
It's funny how those memories they last
Like vodka and sprite and fifteen
The hot July moon saw everything
My first taste of love, oh bittersweet
Hickeys all the time.
Like vodka and Sprite
I still remember when thirty was old
And my biggest fear was August 1st when we had to go
A few cards and letters and one long distance call
We drifted away like the leaves in the fall
But year after year I come back to this place
Just to remember the taste
Of vodka and Sprite and fifteen
The hot July moon saw everything
My first taste of love oh bittersweet
Hickeys all the time.
Like vodka and Sprite.
The sand has blown over now
Years since they've the tow
There's nothing time hasn't touched
Is it really him or the smell of his Gravity
I've been missing so much
Like vodka and Sprite and fifteen
The hot July moon saw everything
My first taste of love oh bittersweet
Hickeys all the time.
Like vodka and Sprite.
It was the edgiest thing I had done until that point. I liked the way it made me feel – like I was unstoppable and an adult. Looking back, though, I get really creeped out. I’m not sure what kind of asshole 22-25 year olds pick up girls, who CLEARLY look well underage (I looked 12 until I was 19), and hook up with them (no sex, I wasn’t that stupid). At the time, I felt really cool and old, like for the first time I WAS somebody. But now, I just feel grroooooss.
Anyhow, after that vacation, and one other time with some wine coolers at a friend’s party (where I felt like the expert on alcohol after my vodka drinking days), I stayed the course in high school. I graduated twelfth in my class, ran cross-country & track, was in a musical, worked on the newspaper, took every AP class I could, and got into all the colleges I applied to with scholarships. Ironically, vodka would go on to be my drink of choice in college, just minus the Sprite, plus a Coca-Cola chaser. Because in college and after college throughout my twenties, I wasn’t interested in getting tipsy, I was always interested in getting wasted.
Despite those two experiences, my life had left me wholly unprepared when I went to college for what I was going to experience. Finally, I had freedom, but I had no idea what to do with it. I had a boyfriend when I went to college, and I actually chose my college based on proximity to his college. But eventually it wouldn't matter, because I chose partying over him, anyways. I loved the feeling of being on my own, where no one knew who I was. I loved thinking that I could be whatever I wanted, that I could reinvent myself. I didn't have to be good, or the know-it-all, or the perfect child, or the straight-A student. I didn’t have to be the girl that everyone though was 13, even though she was 17. Alcohol gave me that confidence, and alcohol gave me that attention I had been seeking. I finally felt pretty enough, funny enough, and exciting enough to like me for me. Young and stupid, I believed alcohol was what made me into this person. The more wasted I got, the more superhuman I felt. In my mind, when I was sober I was boring, and when I was wasted, I was the most interesting, funniest, confident person in the room. I didn’t know who I was, but I sure knew who I became. And I was the girl who was always ready to have a good time.
And I was always having a good time, but looking back now, I feel kind of sad for me. I gained almost 80 pounds in college due to my lifestyle of heavy drinking, heavy hangovers, and the even heavier laziness both of those things caused. Alcohol was the elixir that allowed me to be “the me” I wanted to be, so I thought I could use it to make other people like me, too. I was hooking up with random people all the time and putting myself in dangerous situations with strangers often. I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t be in a relationship, though it was clear I was using alcohol to speed up the get-to-know you phase. I still graduated with honors and produced great school work, but it wasn’t the best work I could have produced. It wasn’t the best me I could have been. I look back at that time fondly, and one shocking thing is that the relationships I forged then, I still have now. I hope it’s because many of those friends saw something in me that someday I might become, other than the girl who was always down for a party. The party was not over once I received my diploma, though.
I spent the years after college trying to catch that elusive buzz that had been so great in my younger years. The buzz evolved from Wednesday night frat parties, to dollar beer happy hours and margaritas with dinners while I was in grad school, to 4am bars and Sunday Fun days after I moved to Chicago. I could easily spend a whole blog on the years between college and Chicago (and even parts of Chicago) that I like to call the “wasted years.” Jeff and I met, wasted, at a bar. This was the happy ending I had always envisioned in college and it finally came true, after nine years of using alcohol as a social lubricant and primer, I happened to meet someone who used it in the same way I did.
As I grew out of my twenties and into my thirties though, I finally started to settle down and mature (true to my late bloomer form). Just like everything, it was a rough transition. I still wanted to hold onto the past rather than an unknown future. I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids, and my friends tended to be getting married later and also pushing off having kids themselves, so I never was confronted with the fact that everyone was growing up. I never wanted the “good times” to end, but I was still maturing and growing, despite my conscious objections. I quit smoking, became a vegetarian, and even had a sober 6 weeks last winter to get a head start on preparing for a 10 mile race I was running. I was growing up, and it wasn’t so bad.
Still, I would find myself getting sucked in to the occasional all day drinking affairs. I love the excitement that comes with planning a fun event and the camaraderie of having a shared experience. St. Patty’s day? I was organizing the bar crawl for thirty of my friends. Pride Parade? I was figuring out what we were going to carry drinks in down to the parade. Bears game on? I’ll be there. New Year’s Day? We’ll pop some bottles. Softball team? I’ll bring the beer! The problem is, that while my drinking became more focused around fun social events and hanging out with friends, Jeff’s became more and more isolationist and secluded. At the beginning, I didn’t notice Jeff’s alcoholism because of my own drinking. But when my patterns and habits started to mature and change with age, the differences between us really started to surface.
Sadly, for many people ages 18-30, this story might not sound too unfamiliar. In our culture, binge drinking, centering socializing around bars and clubs, sowing wild oats, and developing relationships are all a part of growing up, finding yourself even. Reading it in writing is BRUTAL. I never felt like what I was doing was wrong or any different than any other person my age, but it sounds, just exhausting.
Since Jeff has become an alcoholic, my relationship with alcohol has changed further. I tried for several months to continue socializing with my friends, planning girl’s nights to drink wine, and drink alcohol with my friends out at the bar where Jeff and I met, while Jeff started to navigate his sobriety. No stranger to learning everything the hard way, it took me and Jeff a lot of trial and error to realize that our system was not working. Jeff needed a sober home, and while it is completely on him to choose to maintain his sobriety, I started to realize that maybe he also needs a sober partner.
I decided on January 1st, after Jeff relapsed on New Year’s Eve, that I would take my own break from alcohol. Because of the impact that alcohol has had on my life, it’s no longer the fun activity it once was (but wasn't always) for me. And while I initially decided to have just a sober January, here it is, almost the end of February, and I am still sober. I've had ample opportunity to drink, but it’s just really lost its luster. I went on a trip, by myself, to see a close college friend in Dallas a few weekends ago, and I chose to remain sober. Right now, I just don’t like what alcohol has became to me. I don't like the power it seems to have over people, the allure that it creates. There is something extremely off putting that in order to have a good time, alcohol is necessary or that in order to cope with things, alcohol is the remedy. I don’t know if I want to experience life with my senses and emotions dulled anymore. It seems trivial to me now.
I don’t know if I will be sober forever. Through this process, I have learned that despite my abuse of alcohol in the past, I know that I am not an alcoholic. However, I do know that in taking a step back from alcohol, I have realized that I still don’t have an identity. I really hope that this time around, I can find it, without the aid of booze, or someone else, or the idea of what I “should” be. It feels really good to have a clear head and heart as I start this new journey. For the first time in a really long time, I’m finally figuring out who I am, fully awake, alive, and present. Though it is hard to move forward from the concept of who I once was, I’m finding I like this person a lot more than I ever thought I could. I can't wait to get to know her better, and it feels good to know that I don't need alcohol to make the introduction.
Want to read Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/1/post/2014/02/alcohol-my-old-friend.html