Live Through This

Out From Under the Influence

The first time I got drunk, all I could think about was ending up like my mother.

Illustration by Cynthia

Illustration by Cynthia

The first time I got drunk, I ended up sobbing for an hour in the arms of four people I barely knew. The five of us were huddled together on a twin bed in a dorm room after a birthday party. I collapsed into the birthday boy’s chest while the others took turns hugging me, patting my back, and murmuring words of comfort. I had known these people for just a few weeks, but I had already shared with them one of my deepest fears: would I become an alcoholic like my mom?

When I was a kid, the D.A.R.E. program came to my school and scared the hell out of me. Their weekly visits to my elementary school taught me that drugs and alcohol were terrible things that would kill me if I touched them. During these lessons, we role-played in pairs: one of us would be a “cool kid” trying to peer-pressure our partner, who would have to refuse the offer to smoke, drink, or buy drugs. “Yo!” the seven-year-old drug pusher would say. “You wanna be cool? Smoke this!” It was the partner’s job to respond, “I think reading is cool! Smoking isn’t cool!” and then, under further pressure, to start reciting statistics about lung cancer or drunk-driving fatalities or what have you.

After our very first D.A.R.E. session, I came home and saw my mother smoking a cigarette outside our apartment. Remembering my lines from that day’s role-play, I yelled at her, asking why she wanted to die. “Don’t you want to be around for my future?” I pleaded, actually shedding tears. After all, I’d just learned that smoking kills and that if you didn’t “just say no,” you were a dead man walking.

Those lessons were powerful and long-lasting: I stayed far away from drugs and alcohol throughout middle school and high school. I truly believed they would ruin my life. Little did I know that they could do that anyway—even if I was the most straight-edge kid on the planet, I couldn’t outrun their effects.

On Thursday, January 3, 2008, when I was 17 years old, I woke up to the sounds of my grandparents screaming. I jumped out of bed and ran to my mom’s room to find her in bed, covered in blood. She had slit both of her wrists, and was yelling at her parents, “I tried to kill myself! Can you believe I tried to kill myself?!” I remember feeling paralyzed for a moment as I stood in the doorway watching all this, trying to make sense of what was going on. Then I ran to the bathroom, grabbed some towels, and brought them to my mother’s bed. I wrapped them around her wrists and squeezed hard, trying to slow down the bleeding, and yelled to my grandparents to call 911. They refused, saying they wanted to give my mother a shower and then take her to her regular doctor—they’d come over that morning to take her to an appointment that she was too sick to drive to on her own.

I’d soon learn that “too sick” meant she’d been on a bender, drinking to the point of vomiting for three days straight. In fact, she’d been drinking heavily for a year at that point. I had no idea—she had always been a casual drinker and drug user, but she hid her drinking from me. It couldn’t have been too hard—I spent 10 hours a day at school, summer camp, and winter camp, so a lot went on that I didn’t see.

I was outraged that my grandparents wouldn’t call an ambulance. After arguing with them fruitlessly for a few minutes, I asked my grandfather to take over the bleeding control, then I grabbed my phone and made the call. I stood in the dining room talking to the dispatcher, who asked me if my mother was taking any medications (I didn’t know), then told me to look for a suicide note. I ran through the house, scanning every surface, looking on and under furniture, in drawers, on the bathroom mirror, where my mother often taped notes to herself, and on my bedroom door in case she’d taped it there. The whole time I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m looking for my mother’s suicide note. This feels like someone else’s life. (I never found a note, because she didn’t write one.)

Before I knew it, there were at least six firemen and paramedics in my house. They put my mother on a stretcher and carried her out of the house. I chased after them with a pair of socks, because I knew her feet were going to get cold in the hospital. My grandparents decided to stay behind and clean the house, so I insisted that the parademics let me ride to the hospital with them and my mom. When we got there, I was forced to go in through the front entrance while they took my mother in through the back. I sat alone in the empty waiting room, numb and scared. The hospital receptionist called me over to fill out insurance paperwork, which I had no idea what to do with—how was I supposed to know my mom’s Social Security number? I was so anxious that all I could do was alternate between curling up in my gigantic Ravens sweatshirt and pacing around the waiting room. By the time my grandparents got there, I was too overwhelmed to speak to them, or to anyone.

We waited at the hospital all day before we were allowed a brief visit with my mother, who had sobered up by that point. She confessed to me that she was an alcoholic, and promised to get help. That calmed me down a bit, but I wasn’t ready to return to our house, so I had my grandparents drop me off at my best friend’s place, even though she was out of town. Her parents answered the door and I heard my grandparents’ car drive away. Then I broke down and cried for the first time all day. I spent the rest of the night zoned out in front of their TV, holding my favorite stuffed animal, Spot, a dalmatian my parents had given me when I was two years old.

My mom spent the weekend at a detox center, where I only got to see her once, for about five minutes. She came home on Monday, my first day of classes after winter break. I went to school acting as though nothing had happened. Everyone around me was chattering about all the exciting stuff they’d done over break. “OMG, how was your break?” they’d say. “I went to [insert fancy destination here]. It was amazing. What’d you do?” Hmm, well, my mom slit her wrists, I helped stop the bleeding and sat in the hospital for a full day, then I spent the weekend searching my house for secret drug or alcohol stashes while my mother was in a detox center that I was allowed to visit only once, for five minutes. Happy New Year!

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29 Comments

  • takebackyourpower April 15th, 2013 11:49 PM

    I loved this Tyler.

  • The_Idler_Wheel April 15th, 2013 11:52 PM

    YAY for live through this and everything tyler writes!!!!

  • elinoir April 16th, 2013 1:10 AM

    I can totally relate to this. My father is an alcoholic so I’ve always been a bit weary of alcohol. This past weekend, however, I got really, really drunk. I really beat myself up about it. I put myself down, regretting my behavior, I felt so ashamed and I felt like I’d taken a step in the wrong direction. Thank you for this article, now I feel a lot better about it, I’m just a teenager having fun. I don’t binge drink often, and doing so once in a while doesn’t make me a bad person, so long as I don’t become addicted or let it negatively affect my life.

  • TessAnnesley April 16th, 2013 1:34 AM

    Everything Tyler writes is amazing

  • sugarmilz April 16th, 2013 2:08 AM

    This is amazing

    Sugarmilz.blogspot.co.UK

  • NF4awesome April 16th, 2013 2:42 AM

    Sometimes these articles hit way closer to home than I was expecting.

  • Lola Bo April 16th, 2013 4:19 AM

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you Tyler for writing this. My mom has been about six years sober right now and I’ve recently realized I feel like I’m somewhat predestined to follow her same path if I picked up a drink. But I’m starting to understand now that I have the power to choose how I react to “my cards,” What you’ve written here has emphasized that. It really hit home. Thank you so much.

  • HollyMargaret April 16th, 2013 4:46 AM

    This is fantastic. :)

    I’ve never been drunk I and I don’t ever want to be – two members of my family are alcoholics and it’s terrifying how destructive it can be.

    Glad your mum is doing so well :)

    P.S. If anyone from admin reads this – my display name seems to have change to my full name – is there any way I can change this?

    • Anaheed April 16th, 2013 8:32 AM

      Fixed!

      • tessajane April 16th, 2013 1:17 PM

        Mine is the same- my full name. Could you fix mine please? :)

      • HollyMargaret April 17th, 2013 4:14 PM

        Thanks – you guys at Rookie are great! Can you believe that my MALE English teacher who’s in his-40s introduced me to you??!!

  • lylsoy April 16th, 2013 6:52 AM

    My mother was an alcoholic and died. I still don’t drink, because I’m afraid.

    • poetess April 16th, 2013 11:24 AM

      I’m very sorry to hear about your mother. I also don’t drink because of my family history. I hope that you have resolved (/ will in the future resolve) your thoughts and feelings on drinking and alcoholism so that you can have inner peace.

  • zari April 16th, 2013 7:27 AM

    omg I loooooove this!

  • Maddy April 16th, 2013 11:53 AM

    Sorry to comment on an unrelated article, but I keep waiting for someone to mention Boston, and no one has. I hope everyone is okay or is going to be okay. I don’t know anyone who was injured, but I am 2 degrees of separations from people who were. It’s pretty shocking to me right now: terrorism, so close. I’m just reaching out to console other Rookies who are closer and more affected than I.

    • Anaheed April 16th, 2013 3:31 PM

      Yeah, please check in, Boston Rooks. Is everyone all right out there?

  • Violet April 16th, 2013 2:16 PM

    Tyler, one thing that moved me apart from the story itself – beautifully shared -, is that you seem to have really good people as friends, and that is sooo precious.
    It made me think that knowing what to look for in friends is a life-saving skill, it makes all the difference in the world during tough moments.
    Love,
    V

    • Violet April 16th, 2013 2:18 PM

      btw, the unfolding ad banner on the homepage = not great. It the feeling that advertising is conquering Rookie space!

  • chawi April 16th, 2013 4:42 PM

    This was so unbelievably touching and lovely to read.

  • GlitterKitty April 16th, 2013 4:47 PM

    Tyler, you’re such an amazing writer. You express everything in such an understandable and emotional way and I think it’s great. Please keep writing more.

  • Tyler April 16th, 2013 7:33 PM

    I love all of you.

  • Sheeni Saunders April 17th, 2013 8:06 AM

    Thank you for writing this, Tyler! It was so wonderfully written. I’m so glad your mom is in recovery now and that you’ve been able to create a healthy path for yourself.

  • runningfilm April 17th, 2013 6:35 PM

    The summer after my freshmen year, I got drunk at a gathering (it wasn’t a bonfire or a party, just some older people I vaguely knew hanging out and watching TV). I hadn’t eaten anything all day and was on heavy anti-depressants, so I got wrecked. I went home and got caught and was hysterical for hours, writhing on the floor and blacking out back and forth while my parents yelled. I was a straight-A student, honor roll, in all advanced classes- but I was mentally ill at the time and dating an abusive boy who didn’t turn out to be who I thought he was. That was almost three and a half years ago- I’m a senior in high school now. But because of that one bad choice one time, despite going through intense therapy before and after, and eventually working out of my mental illness, and being 110% a happy, functional, “good” girl, still on honor roll… my parents still have no trust in that regard. I messed up and that’s it. They suspect I’ve drank and smoke since then, when I go to things like house shows (I haven’t, and don’t want to). I just don’t know how to work out of this mindset now- that I did it one time and I literally never can again because it made me bad forever. I was sick, and I’ve acknowledged it was a horrible decision and I really fucked up- but they don’t care. I’m going off to college next year, and it’s still a major issue to them- they hate my older friends (different ones than before- I haven’t seen any of those since) because they can drink and therefore they “know” I will, too.

  • hannahandyes April 18th, 2013 3:30 AM

    Tyler, you are so inspiring. Everything you write feels so incredibly honest and it always makes me feel better and not so alone, even if I haven’t been through exactly what you’re writing about. So thanks for that. Thanks for being really awesome.

  • Mary the freak April 18th, 2013 5:21 PM

    my mom used to scare me away from alcohol. her father (my grandpa) is an alcoholic. She doesn’t speak with him, unless the two times in the year when he wants to speak with us children ( christmas and easter). She always told me that I can easily become an alcoholic. I was terribly scared of ending up like him – almost homeless, always drunken, being hated by one’s daughter. Then there was a party with some friends, and I drank a little bit too much – I wasn’t drunken! But I was shocked and scared about my behaviour, and my friend an I promised each other not to get drunk until we graduate. I broke this rule last summer, and I don’t care. I am not scared of alcohol any more, it can be so funny and cool – if you don’t drink too much.

    I loved this article. and I love how relatable that is.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • barbroxursox April 19th, 2013 9:40 PM

    Wow, what a heartfelt and well-written piece! Thank you, Tyler, for allowing us to peek into your private life. I love the bit at the end about playing the cards in your own “deck.” I’ve struggled with self-pity, but acknowledging what was given to me and knowing that I can do things to break past their restrictions really helps.

    http://lizard-onawindowpane.tumblr.com

  • Graciexx April 20th, 2013 2:26 AM

    That last sentence was so beautiful. A perfect way of summing up life :)

  • Cruicked July 19th, 2013 10:40 PM

    Thank you for this, Tyler.