How Did I Become an Alcoholic?

woman's hand with alcohol drink in glass with copy space
Credit: Getty Images

Biology? Biography?

Maybe a bit of both, though I fall through the cracks a little on both counts. My upbringing was pretty normal and “white bread:” Central Pennsylvania, lower middle class, loving parents, well-provided for, as long as it wasn’t too expensive, support, encouragement and lots of affection. Not a lot of alcoholism in the family, one uncle with a drinking problem, and parents who enjoyed a “highball” every night. My father was falling down drunk at a couple of summer parties, after which he would be forced to sleep in the armchair downstairs. These incidents both embarrassed and intrigued me.

I was a preposterously late bloomer, after the girls and boys, so late my parents were ready to take me to a doctor when I finally got my period at 16. I was chubby, with two broken front teeth after hitting the dashboard of our car at 10. My dad was a terrible driver—maybe that’s why I drank? And I was that pathetic last person in gym class to get got picked for every team—all moderately traumatic to my overdeveloped sense of tragedy, but hardly a setup for a long period of self-destruction. I did well in school, sang at church and discovered that I had talent, and had friends who pretty much ignored my preoccupation with sex, boys and “When am I going to get my period?”

God, did I want to be cool—to get attention and to get past the free-floating anxiety that kept getting worse as I grew up, a fear of being not-enough, of being found out as the loser I believed myself to be. My grandmother took me to a lot of movies, which I adored, and I fell in love with Doris Day, Susan Hayward, Barbara Stanwick. All those men, all that drama, all that booze…a wineglass in one hand, cigarette in the other. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be just like them.

Did I mention that I was attention-seeking and shy at the same time? I became more and more anxious as I alternately sought the spotlight and huddled in my closet sobbing because I hated my body, my shyness, my sensitivity. My junior year in high school, I finally bloomed, I did everything I could to make up for lost time with boys and teen drama, still maintained acceptable behavior through senior year, got the lead in the senior play, did well academically, part of the talented, over-achievers group, but washed out completely with the popular party kids. My innocent face said “goody goody,” but how I longed to be a bad girl.

I got my chance the summer after senior year when I got an intern position with a prestigious summer theatre group. I was horribly intimidated and played subservient little mouse till….they drank. I mean, they drank! On one of the first nights there I decided to get drunk. Vodka was flowing like water and that’s how I downed it. I remember dancing a little and then remember nothing, till the next morning, when I threw up and felt like death. Puking, I thought “I’ll never do that again,” but at rehearsal, I got lots of attention in my black turtleneck, blonde hair disheveled, hearing how funny, smart, sexy I had been.

I was hooked. It was the beginning.

I never did drink vodka straight again.

More from Our Sister Sites