This post was originally published on August 10, 2015.
Here’s something you don’t hear very often from an alcoholic or drug addict: I grew up with two loving, married parents who rarely fought around me. I never witnessed violence between them. I suffered no emotional or physical abuse. It was all quite the opposite. My childhood was so idyllic and all-American it’s almost nauseating.
My father, mother, sister and I ate dinner as a family every night. I safely walked to school my entire life. We went to church almost every Sunday. We had a beach house the majority of my upbringing and a great relationship with all four grandparents. My mom and dad always told me I was smart and talented. They never stopped encouraging me to pursue my dreams and paid for every ridiculous extracurricular activity I insisted I needed to get into a good college—from Presidential Classroom, a week-long trip where high school students from all over the country head to Washington, DC to meet their state leaders and tour the Capital to the summer drama program in North Carolina, where I took dance, music and acting classes while living in a dorm on the campus of Brevard College. The folks who raised me were my biggest advocates and told me they loved me constantly.
And I’m still an alcoholic. Maybe to some this doesn’t sound that surprising, since alcoholism is considered a genetic disease and not one you get from your experiences. But I have met few, if any, alcoholics who did not suffer some form of trauma during childhood.
Actually, I still struggle with the word “alcoholic” and rarely use it. I prefer Alcohol Use Disorder or just Home Girl Can’t Take a Sip of Booze without Cuing Afroman’s “Let’s All Get Drunk Tonight” in her head. But none of that really matters. What matters is this: for whatever reason, I developed a need to suppress any and every emotion with something that takes me out of myself. I have a really hard time liking and accepting me, despite a reality that’s always suggested otherwise. In addition to my family, I have been lucky enough to accumulate a shit ton of friends throughout my life (sorry, I was popular in high school) and I can’t recall one single “falling out” with any of them. There has always been a solid amount of people who love me and constantly demonstrate that. I just wasn’t one of them.
Part of this is because I’ve always had this inner drive to achieve and if I don’t measure up to the level of perfection I deem acceptable, I tell myself I’m a piece of shit. It’s that simple. This sentiment reverberates into every aspect of my life. “You’re so hard on yourself” is a regular refrain I hear.
I experienced some relief from my constant obsession with achievement and perfection when I started drinking regularly at 17. My first Smirnoff Ice buzz, I was like, “Ohhhh, shit, now this feeling? This is nice.” And I chased that euphoric feeling for 13 years. I chased it until I realized it no longer existed. It had gradually morphed into fear, anxiety and insurmountable self-loathing.
My parents don’t really understand why I quit drinking. I never had any sort of public humiliation or extreme legal trouble. I actually did get arrested for an open container in Myrtle Beach right before college graduation but every other student out that night did too. When I called my Dad crying, saying I needed money to repay the friend who bailed me out, he just calmly responded, as he always does in times of crisis, in his lovely Southern drawl, “You’re not pregnant and you didn’t get a DUI. I think we can handle this.”
I used to love drinking with my parents, something that was completely encouraged and acceptable the minute I turned 18. And when I moved to California after college, their visits always involved boozy parties at my apartment, trips to wine country(s) and multiple rounds at the nicest restaurants in town. But my parents are normal. They can throw back booze without suffering severe consequences and they almost never experience hangovers, those lucky fools. So when I try to explain the crippling anxiety and sickness I’d have the day after drinking heavily, and how it was getting worse with age, they just couldn’t relate. And they don’t have to because it’s not their life and it’s not their fault. A good childhood is a gift but it certainly doesn’t make you bulletproof.
They don’t get it because I don’t fit the image they have of alcoholics. They picture a hobo with a paper bagged 40 lying in a ditch. They imagine multiple drunk-driving accidents, aggressive or violent behavior or stumbling all over the place at social functions. Of course, all these things potentially could have happened if I’d kept drinking. In my early 20s, I had a brag-worthy tolerance, always remembering everything and happily recapping it all for my friends who didn’t but by around 26, things had started to get patchier. Conversations were lost and portions of the evening were foggy at best. By the end of 2013, I honestly couldn’t tell you whether a sip of wine would lead to a blackout.
I look back on my last drink (it was a Blue Moon draught—very, very true to form) less as my final alcoholic beverage and more as my final hangover. The hangovers were what I hated the most. My last boozy weekend wasn’t particularly crazy but I felt like shit at the end of it. I was visiting dear friends I rarely see in Atlanta and too sick to enjoy significant portions of time with them. And I was exhausted by the amount of headspace I was dedicating to how much or how little alcohol I was consuming. So when I flew back to LA, I decided I couldn’t be miserable another second, found a sober support system and haven’t had a drink since.
Because my parents have such a normal relationship with alcohol, I’ve had to tell them gradually and not with some sudden come-to-Jesus about why I stopped drinking. I’ve used the phrase “might be a high-functioning alcoholic” to soften the blow, and because, truthfully, the book Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic did sort of change the game for me and really set the desire to quit in motion. It goes in one ear and out the other when I talk to the ole’ parentals about all the reasons I love being sober. “I sleep so much better!” “My face is so much skinnier!” “My skin is clearer!” “My anxiety has lessened so much! I mean, come on, when was the last time I called y’all crying about the state of my life? It’s been a while, right?!”
Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter what they say or don’t say. They’ve loved and supported me through everything and my alcoholism is no exception.