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.

After school I came home to my mom for the first time in five days. I sat next to her and cried for an hour. She told me she was joining Alcoholics Anonymous and again assured me that she was committed to getting better. I went to a few AA meetings with her, especially in the beginning, when I was scared to be away from her for an extended period of time. I heard stories there from people with addictions of all sorts: stories about people spending all of their money on drugs and alcohol to the point of becoming homeless, people losing custody battles because they couldn’t put down the bottle, people who had been to rehab 12 times but always went back to drinking afterward. My mother’s suicide attempt had been enough to drive the point home, but these stories certainly reinforced my decision to stay away from substances of all kinds.

When I went off to college a year and a half later, staying sober wasn’t something I ever debated—I was too terrified of becoming an addict like my mother. I made a ton of new friends, some of whom drank and smoked weed fairly often, but no one ever pressured me to ingest anything I didn’t want to, nor did they ask why I didn’t partake (and I didn’t tell them). Real life turned out to be nothing like the scenarios I was made to play out in second grade: there were no “cool kids” who were going to bully me to smoke or drink. My new friends always asked if I wanted to party with them, but they didn’t pressure me—they just wanted to allow me the choice. And even though I said no every single time, they never made assumptions. I really appreciated that.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, gender-identity issues that I’d been suppressing for most of my life resurfaced, and I became really depressed. I returned to school in awful shape, and moved into a house with a group of strangers, a couple of whom I clicked with enough that I told them a bit about my past, and about my mother.

A few weeks later was my friend Michael’s birthday party. I had to drag myself there, through the heavy fog of depression. At the party I was surrounded by people who were drinking and laughing and having what looked like a lot of fun. I wondered what it would feel like to be so uninhibited, so weightless. And so when Michael came up to me with a bottle of Patrón, I decided to take a birthday shot with him. I was so distraught that I no longer cared if drinking was “bad.” I just wanted to know what being drunk felt like. Misery was resting heavily on my shoulders; I wanted to feel weightless.

As soon as I took the shot, I felt more relaxed. Even as I felt my old fears creep up (Was I throwing away my personal values? My future? Was I crossing over to the dark side? Would I become an alcoholic like my mom?), I was able to turn down the volume on them for once and have fun playing drinking games with my friends. For the first time in a very long time, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than the present moment. At one point, I remember, Michael tried to teach me to tap-dance, and I fell to the floor laughing. I felt like a kid again—everything was funny and distorted, and no one cared about grades, appearances, or anything that tended to held so much weight in our day-to-day lives. I laughed and played all night, and it was a blast.

Later that night, my new friends and I sat in bed talking, as one does after a particularly fun and raucous party. I don’t remember what we were talking about when one of my roommates said, “Hey, Tyler, are your parents really alcoholics?” Before I even knew what was happening, I burst into tears. All my worries, which had been on hold for those few drunken hours, came crashing back down on me: my gender-identity questions, my mother’s illness, my fear of becoming an alcoholic, my shame at having become the person who cries when they’re drunk (I really did not want to be that person!). My friends held on to me for a really long time, and promised me that it was OK to cry.

After that night, I relaxed my “no drinking” policy. I had been taught at a young age that drugs and alcohol were only for “bad people” who would try to bully me into doing them, and that anyone who tries them gets addicted to them and dies. But in college I got to know a lot of good people who casually drank alcohol and smoked weed, and who managed to do very well academically and socially—something I had thought impossible. I realized that drinking wasn’t always a bad thing.

Drinking at Michael’s party lifted the weight of my depression for a few hours, which felt good. Now, I was very aware that I was drinking to self-medicate (I do not advise this at all), but because I was drinking in moderation, I didn’t beat myself up about it. I’d occasionally drink in my friends’ rooms on weekends—usually one beer, sometimes two or three over the course of five hours. I got really drunk a couple of times (always at birthday parties!), but never to the point of blacking out or stumbling around. I had learned at my mom’s AA meetings what addiction looked like, so I knew what the red flags were, and I made sure I wasn’t exhibiting any of them (unlike some of my friends, who would excuse excessive drinking with phrases like “It’s not alcoholism if you’re still in college.” This isn’t true, by the way—you can be an alcoholic at any age).

I also learned in AA that addiction is often hereditary. My mother’s not the only addict in my family tree, so it’s possible that I’m prewired with a tendency toward those issues. But there’s always a starting point, and a bunch of signs you have to bypass to get to a full-blown addiction, and knowing that I may have a biological predisposition to have problems with substances keeps me alert to those signs. Any time I do something that would be unhealthy in excess (drinking, overspending money, eating tons of junk food, being online a lot), I ask myself, Why am I doing this? Am I doing too much? Do I feel that I absolutely 100% need to do this right now, or can I walk away? Is this becoming an issue? Should I talk to someone about it? And I answer myself honestly, which is key.

Today, my mom is five years sober, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s still going to AA meetings, talking with her sponsors outside of the meetings, and working the 12 steps over and over. She sponsors and advises a handful of fellow addicts who are just starting out in AA, letting them know that they are loved and important, and that there is always a chance to try and fix any aspect of their life they aren’t happy with. She never stops working on her sobriety, and never takes her sobriety or her life for granted.

I rarely drink anymore—not because I’m scared of becoming an alcoholic, but because since I started my medical transition to guyhood and dropped out of college, I just don’t feel the need or desire to do so. But if I feel like having a beer sometime in the future, I’m not going to freak out about it. I can’t escape the way I was raised, or what challenges my parents have thrown my way, through behavior or biology. But my mother also gave me many gifts; one of them is that I know what’s in the deck of cards I was handed at birth. Learning how to play with what I’ve got—which now includes what I’ve made for myself, too—is what it means to grow up. ♦

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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.