When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, no little girl living in a magical world of ballerinas and ponies has surely ever been heard to answer, “Oh, I’d like to be an addict…I’m not sure at this stage what substance I’d like to abuse, but I’m thinking alcohol might be a romantic choice.” Quite simply, it’s just not going to be the words that escape from a six-year old’s lips. Not even when she realises that her mother was wrong when she promised her, “You can be anything you want to be!” Well almost anything except maybe a prima ballerina or a tightrope walker. The first because she just simply wasn’t nearly graceful or petite enough and the second because she had an inexplicable fear of heights from a very early age. In fact the closest I’ve ever come to a ballerina is the one in the pink music box that played the saddest tune I can remember from my childhood. But that being said, things don’t always work out how we plan and lo and behold an adult with a predilection to alcohol was exactly what I became. Not that I was ready to admit that for many many years even though I was “never going to drink again” almost every Saturday from the time I left school. The truth of the matter was that I simply didn’t have a problem…according to myself anyway.
I started drinking when I was a tween (around the age of twelve) and from the very beginning I was a convert. I always loved the sensation that alcohol created as the first drops slid down my throat. But more than that I adored the feeling of escape that the elixir gave me from within minutes of it hitting my digestive system. I’ve always felt a little socially awkward, but the effects of alcohol on my interactive inelegance were astounding. It allowed me to feel self-assured and calm, unruffled by the geeky advances of teenage boys and completely at peace with the hormone-charged world around me. It just felt like harmless fun at the time. Stealing nips from our parents liquor bottles was what any self-respecting teenager was doing at the time and nobody seemed to be paying too much attention anyway. Mix ’em all together, add a little coke (of the cola variety) and we were set for an evening of loquacious festivities. My first run-in with my parents over the misuse of alcohol happened in my first year of high school, but it was definitely not the last. When I look back at the time now I shudder to think how my mother must have felt. She definitely reacted with all the venom of a lioness whose cub has been threatened! I was grounded, banned from ever returning to the scene of the “crime” and bombarded with all the silent treatment and utterances of disappointment any thirteen-year old could handle. Yet never one to be deterred, this had little long-term effect on me and I continued to drink sneaky wine coolers and stomach-curdling concoctions with my friends when we thought our parents weren’t looking.
The fact that my parents were embroiled in marital troubles of their own and the booze cabinet was always filled to capacity made this a somewhat easy endeavor. And at that stage in my life I was oblivious to the genetic crap shoot that meant that there was a history of an alcohol abuse diorder on both sides of the family. Yet my story is not an unusual one. It’s no sadder or more traumatic than millions of others just like it really. I was a teenager in a relatively normal middle-class family, plagued with all the trappings of mediocrity such as unhappy parents, a government school education and an annoying younger brother. I was never physically abused by the adults in my life and I was never bullied by my peers at school. In fact, if anything, I was something of an achiever, mildly bored by the constraints of nationalist education and enticed by the marginally rebellious antics of my friends’ older siblings. School was not overly challenging and I was smart enough to avoid the watchful eyes of my elders. I was even contemptuous of the outwardly disruptive people I associated with preferring to “fly under the radar” and not attract too much attention that would land me in any sort of lasting trouble. And as I progressed through my high school years, and my father was relocated to another far-off city, taking us all with him, I became somewhat reclusive, preferring to stick to myself rather than make new friends.
There were to follow a few years of abject teenage misery until I was introduced to the competitive world of show jumping. And along with the horses came what would be considered rather heavy drinking for someone in their mid-teens. Most other weekends were taken up with events where there were always social gatherings and there was always booze, plenty of it. So as it happens the romantic idea of “ponies” did materialise, but along with that came the reality of a future that I had never envisaged and that was my slippery slide into alcoholism. It seems so obvious to me now that the dye was cast the first time I partook the “forbidden fruit” and that it was to start a personal battle that lasted for more than half my life until I finally put down my last drink, but that is a story for another day. If you’ll be so patient as to read on over the coming weeks I’d like to share my story with you in the hope that it may help at least one experimenting teenager, a young adult struggling on the fringes of a substance abuse disorder or a hardened binge drinker such as I was to become out there in world. That someone who is in some stage of the battle with this physically destructive, emotionally-paralysing disorder will be able to turn their life around and discover that the joy of life lies in living it with a clear head and an honest heart.
Today I am grateful for the gift of my recovery even though my journey to this point has not been what every little girl in a black leotard and pink tights wishes for.