Struggling with alcohol

It’s been a whole four years since I gave a speech in front of my senior English class. We were in our public speaking unit, and I was allowed to pick any topic I wanted. We all chose topics that meant a lot to us. One friend spoke about the perception of beauty, another about eating disorders, another about her mom’s addiction to meth. We all have problems, concerns. They were coming to light in this class.

I chose to speak about my parents’ alcoholism. Not one parent, but both. I prepared my speech, letting out all my frustration and anger onto paper. I jotted down peeves and remembered hard times. I practiced in the woods so my family couldn’t hear.

The purpose of my speech was to let other teens know that they are not alone. I struggled with my parents’ addiction and I still do. It’s not always people that you expect.

For example, my sister and I had difficulty inviting friends over to our house because my parents will always be drunk. (For some reason, they like to drink more when we have friends over. I resent them for that.) One night, my sister had a get-together at our house, and my mom was really drunk. Mom kept trying to get involved with everything in an obnoxious way - slurring her words, stumbling around, intruding in conversations. Where sometimes we could ignore all of that, it was pretty bad. After some friends hastily left, it was just me, Aimee, and another friend. The others didn’t say why they left, but it was obvious why.

Aimee and I were honor students. We didn’t get in much trouble (well, maybe I’ll just speak for Aimee on that one). We were heavily involved with extracurriculars like the music program and sports. On the outside, it seemed like everything was OK for us.

But that night was just one of the awful nights we dealt with alcoholism. The three of us sat on the living room floor as my parents stationed themselves downstairs near the booze fridge. Aimee started crying.

"I don’t understand," she said. She cried for a long time. "It’s no fair." She doesn’t usually loose her composure in front of others, but as the friend moved toward her, she cried into her shoulder. The friend was much like Aimee - she was ranked near the top of her class, she was a great athlete and she had good friends. But what she said shocked me.

"People never know what we go through," she said. She told us how her mom is an alcoholic, how she struggles with it and how she doesn’t understand it either. That made me realize that Aimee and I weren’t alone.

During college, coping got easier. I didn’t see my parents often, so I got to ignore their bad habits. When they came to visit, we were a happy family, but even if Aimee or I came home for a few days, we’d be reminded of their constant need to get wasted. Aimee and I liked to schedule visits together so we could have each other for support.

In high school, I told all my AP English classmates that I would never drink. I had seen what it did, and I was not interested. In college, that changed. I had an awful alcohol poisoning my second semester where I woke up in the hospital, still drunk, stuck with an IV and severely dehydrated. I hadn’t really known my limits and still didn’t understand the effects of binge-drinking. I had never really seen how much my parent had consumed. They did it in private.

I invited the alcohol counselor I had been seeing during study hall to my speech. I reiterated his “three C’s” to my classmates, which I barely remember. The last C stands for “change,” as in “I can’t change this.” The counselor told me that the situation was out of my hands and the alcohol has to be open to help in order to change. I told him I understood.

Out of our counseling sessions, I took on a whole new understanding - that I could change them - that I just had to show my disgust with their actions. Since my 9th grade, I’d been lashing out at them when they were drunk, expressing my anger, but it didn’t seem to work. So, I started snooping around in the basement, finding empty and half-full vodka bottles in nooks and corners. My dad’s favorite hiding place was in the metal trim coils he used for work. I overturned the bottles in the utility sink, letting an entire handle down the drain. I wasted about $15 or so, but so were they.

Now, I’m a college grad, living at home for the summer while I intern in Buffalo and search for full-time jobs. Even though I’m staying with my family for a while, I still consider myself an adult - except I’m still struggling with my teenage problems. I still can’t understand how my parents can drink every day. Why don’t they know they are ruining their bodies? Why don’t they think about how much money they are spending on alcohol? Don’t they know they are pushing us away?

I calmly talked to my dad about it in the dining room during lunch last week. The night before had been awful - Aimee and I getting so upset that we locked ourselves in our rooms, my parents hurling “fuck you” around. I told my dad that he had a problem and asked him if he acknowledged it. He said he had thought about it, but the conversation ended there.

I talked to my mom about it in the car (we were driving back from a wine tasting, ironically). I told her that their drinking was pushing Aimee and I away. I told her it’s causing problems within our family. She knew, she said, and one day, it’s going to change. She told me that sometimes their drinking became an unspoken competition to see who could find the best hiding spot. One’s alcoholism was fueled by the other’s. I told her that everything she was telling me was childish and that I felt like the only adult. (Aimee has left for the summer, teaching at a summer camp in Michigan.) It was a really good talk, and that was Friday. I felt like I was really getting somewhere. Maybe I could initiate change!

Now it’s Tuesday. I came home from interning at 6 p.m., only to find my parents already drinking. It is more apparent with my mom, who gets chattier when she drinks. My dad just rolls his eyes and mumbles.

I felt so betrayed. I thought we had talked. I thought there was an understanding. I thought we had started to make progress. My mom had made dinner, which I’m always grateful for, but it’s hard to be thankful when she’s hammered. I ate silently as she dropped food on the table and hovered over her plate, slurping her saliva and lifting her head to stare at me. So betrayed. I want to puke.

So now I’m reminiscing about my struggle with this alcoholism, like when I first realized what “drunk” was. I was about 9 and confronted my mom about it after taking a D.A.R.E. class. “Are you drunk?” I asked. She said yes and cried.

I’m thinking about all the times I sat in my room instead of hanging out with my family, which seems to be about every night now. My dad just passes out on the couch most nights. I’m thinking about talking on the phone with Aimee, both of us at our respective colleges. “Don’t call the ‘rents,” she said. “They’re too drunk tonight.” Or one other time when I was giving her specifics on a drunken fight right before I came back to school from a visit. I rambled on and on to get it off my chest, but realized she wasn’t responding anymore. “Aimee?” I heard her sniffling and sobbing a bit. “Are you OK?” I asked. “Yeah, it’s just that I just know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Don’t think that Aimee has done all the crying in this alcoholic saga. I’ve done my fair share, too. I’m angry mostly, but I try to forget about it.

I wish my parents could just understand what they’re doing and how it affects us. I try to tell them, but I know it’s hard for parents to accept what their daughter tells them. I’m telling my parents that they are wrong.

They’ve told me I’m wrong a bunch of times. I think that’s OK, though, because I’m their kid. It’s kind of like their job. It’s not my job to tell them their wrong. After all, they already know it.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that nothing has really changed since that high school speech. I wish I could say that my parents have gotten better in those four years, but after coming back from college, it’s just like living in my high school life again. Even though I was taught I couldn’t change my parents, I still have some hope that it’s possible, but it’s starting to quickly dwindle. I wish there was some way to get through to them.