Struggling Against the Binary of Alcoholism

by Jessica Myshrall, Storyteller for RU Student Life
Trigger warning for discussion of alcoholism

A drink is never “just a drink” when you come from a family of alcoholics. Instead, it’s embedded in years of seeing your relatives drink themselves into oblivion, of being chauffeured around by drunk drivers, of telling yourself you won’t be like that.

Like most children, I would scrunch up my face when my parents allowed me a sip of whatever they were having. I hated the way it burned my throat and didn’t understand why everyone liked it so much. All I knew was that it made people loud and stupid and no fun in the morning.

I wasn’t very old when my mother’s therapist prophesied that, in light of these continuous exposures, I would either not drink at all, or succumb to the same affliction. When I was younger, this didn’t concern me. Afterall, I didn’t need it to enjoy myself or to do the things I wanted to. But over the years, I’ve become resentful of the binary hanging over my head. Regardless of how valid her predictions were or were not, I have never been able to drink without wondering if I am going to become the person I promised myself I wouldn’t when I was a little girl.

I was eighteen the first time I got drunk. I was with a guy who blew me away the moment I first laid eyes on him. I had known him almost four weeks by that point and he was either drunk or hungover for most of it. We drank from dusk until dawn and I impressed him with my capacity to drink until I was blackout drunk without throwing up or passing out. It was a world I entered into that immediately felt familiar. When I later told my parents about my ability to hold liquor, my mother turned to my father and said, almost proudly, “I guess she got my liver.”

The possibility that I am a problem drinker by virtue of my DNA has influenced the way I drink. I’m precautionary in my habits. For the most part, I don’t drink alone, when I’m sad, or on weeknights. It seems excessive and it probably is, but while my booze-loving friends will likely slow down as their responsibilities and hangovers grow more serious, I feel as though I can’t gamble with my own fondness for alcohol. With the exception of my mother, no one in my family has ever slowed down.

It’s hard to have a healthy relationship with something when you have no idea what healthy looks and feels like. My relationship with alcohol is one I’m always questioning, along with my invariable attraction to problem drinkers. Their drinking puts me off and turns me on at the same time. They speak a language that I grew up listening to, one that has both hurt me and comforted me throughout my formative years. They seem exciting and dangerous to me in a way that the nonindulgent fail to. We swap stories that we find darkly funny — about how much we’ve drank on given occasions, the stupid things we’ve done while under the influence, the fun we’ve had, and the parts we don’t remember. As much as I try to — or at least want to — avoid them, they appear as recurrent tropes in the story I call my life. Maybe it’s my way of trying to reconcile my own demons; maybe that’s too meta.

Going #14DaysDry may seem like a no-brainer for some, and a struggle for others. For me, it is always both. I don’t want much from this life other than to be happy with the person I’ve become and to foster healthy relationships with those around me. In a way, that means being able to consume alcohol without letting it consume me.