A Guilty Pleasure
Creative Nonfiction by Carey Cecelia Shook
My mom taught me how to make mixed drinks when I was eight years old. She likes White Russians: a quarter vodka, a quarter Kahlua, and the rest milk. She drinks them out of coffee mugs through a straw and only with crushed ice. As a kid, she never had to tell me not to drink out of it. Now that I’m in college, she’s happy when I’m home because I mix them better than my dad.
I was six when my dad broke his ankle. When he rang a bell, I would bring him a Bud Light from the kitchen. It started around eleven in the morning and didn’t stop until I went to sleep each night. After he would open the can, he kissed me on the cheek and thanked me for running up and down the stairs again and again and again.
I moved to Wilmington, North Carolina three weeks before my twenty-first birthday. I didn’t have any friends yet besides my roommates — not that we knew each other very well then. I asked them to go to dinner with me to celebrate my birthday.
“Ooh, are you going to drink?” one asked.
My roommates knew I didn’t drink because I had gone to frat parties with them as the designated driver. I danced with them and held a Solo cup and pretended to drink, but I would give them to my roommates when they were ready for another.
“No,” I said, solid on my answer.
When they asked for the tenth time why I didn’t drink, I told them I had a rough childhood with parents who drank a lot. That shut them up real quick.
The night of my birthday we went to a sushi bar and had a semi-awkward dinner. The conversation was forced, and there weren’t that many laughs.
“You know,” one roommate said, “the bar next door gives you a free shot on your birthday.”
“Yeah, you should go,” another one said.
I shook my head.
“I really don’t want to, guys,” I told them.
“One shot won’t hurt you,” the first roommate said. “It won’t do anything to you.”
“You can’t turn twenty-one and not take a shot,” the second one said. My roommates didn’t realize how much they were pressuring me.
“Fine,” I said, and they clapped and whooped.
I gave in because I wanted them to shut up. Once we paid, we walked next door. They IDed me, and we stayed at the outdoor bar. The bartender set a giant shot of Bacardi in front of me.
The shot went down way too easily considering it was my first sip of alcohol ever. I coughed once, then laughed as I slammed the shot glass on the bar. The bartender heard it was my first shot ever, so they gave me another one for free. After, one of my roommates offered to buy a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade for me, so we went back to our apartment to eat cake and drink some more.
That night, even though it was my birthday, I felt so guilty for drinking.
My parents joined a table pool league at a bar right across the neighborhood when I was in the fourth grade. My older brothers were busy with marching band and work after school, and my parents didn’t want to pay for a babysitter. I spent most weeknights doing my homework at the bar of the Knot Hole and getting free Dr. Peppers from Warner, the bartender. He always gave me the saddest looks.
One night after their practice, Mom and Dad decided they were too intoxicated to drive. One of my brothers came to pick us up. When we got home, Mom, who has rheumatoid arthritis but at that point didn’t need a cane to walk, stumbled inside the house. She hit her head on the edge of the table in the foyer, so Kelly took Mom to the hospital. She didn’t have a concussion, but she did earn a scar above her right eyebrow.
I got drunk for the first time ten months after I turned twenty-one with a group of friends who liked to get together every few weeks over summer vacation.
I started off the first party taking shots of vodka with my friends without any chasers. It wasn’t as gross as I thought it’d be, and I was proud of myself for being able to do it. After the shots, my friend asked me to make him a drink because I was closest to the counter. I filled the red Solo cup with half Bacardi and half coke. It was my first time making a drink that wasn’t a White Russian. I thought about how much alcohol my mom liked in her drinks and tried to make it about the same for mine. I finished my first drink within fifteen minutes. My friend didn’t finish his — he said it was too strong, so I drank it for him. I didn’t think it was too strong.
I was drunk after two drinks. I remember passing a beer pong game and swaying up to my friend David. He asked how I was feeling. Everyone at the party knew it was my first “real” time drinking, so they were watching out for me.
“I’m definitely drunk,” I told him, placing my hand on his shoulder for stability. “It’s not what I imagined it’d be like.”
“How much have you had?” he asked, looking down to my near-empty cup.
“Two? And a couple of shots?”
David looked confused. “How much rum did you put in?”
“Half maybe?” I giggled a lot, and I stumbled a bit even though we weren’t moving.
David snatched my cup and brought me to the kitchen. “We’re getting you some water. You’ve probably had, like, twelve shots worth.”
I remember feeling like a badass in the moment. My first time being drunk, and I had that many shots of rum? Plus the shots of vodka? It was awesome. I felt awesome. I felt happy and free. But I trusted David, so I drank water until the party ended and we all went our separate ways.
I woke up the next morning with no hangover, no throwing up, and all my memories of the previous night. I did, however, wake up with a vast amount of guilt. It was like my own personal hangover.
Before my first day of fifth grade, my dad drove his company car drunk and crashed it into his boss’s garage. When my mom and Andrew, my oldest brother, met him at the hospital, my dad’s blood alcohol level was two and a half times the legal limit — and that was hours after he supposedly had stopped drinking. My mom had to lie to the doctors and tell them that Dad’s dad just died, even though Pappy died three years earlier.
I was supposed to stay with my parents for the last month of summer vacation. I was nervous about staying with them for so long — the longest since high school — because of how triggering their actions were to my anxiety. My parents yelled at each other every time they spoke — it was like they didn’t know how to have a conversation. Since there was alcohol available, I drank to distract myself. Multiple nights in a row I drank by myself until I was tipsy. The more I drank, the guiltier I felt.
The last night I stayed at home before I decided to couch surf until school started, my mom had both almost entire fifths of vodka and Kahlua. By the time I was heading to bed closer to 10:30 p.m., she was on her fifth drink. I was tossing and turning at one point and noticed that the bathroom light was on down the hall, but I didn’t think anything of it. Another half hour later, and the bathroom light was still on. I had a bad feeling, so I rushed out of bed. I found my mother, who had been using a wheelchair for the past seven years, on the floor of the bathroom.
“Mom, how long have you been here?” I yelled.
She looked around the bathroom, threw her hands in the air, and laughed.
“I don’t know,” she said, the last word higher in pitch than the first.
I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her that drunk.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said, giggling.
I estimated that she’d been on the ground for close to an hour.
“Why didn’t you yell for me or dad to come get you?” I asked.
“I figured you’d come eventually,” she answered. “Why didn’t Andy come to get me? I’m not surprised. He’s an asshole. I don’t know why I married him.”
Whenever Mom was drunk, she’d always talk about how much she didn’t like her husband. I let it slide, and I inched closer to Mom.
“I’m going to pick you up now, okay?” I said.
As I tried to put my arms under hers, she started yelling and pushing me away. I tried to calm her down and reassured her I could lift her up, but she wouldn’t have it. I tried for over an hour and a half to get her off the floor and into her wheelchair, but all she wanted to do was complain and cry about her husband and anything else that crossed her mind.
“You know,” Mom said, “you’re so naïve for thinking you can make it in New York next year. You’re a Shook. Shook’s don’t go places.”
I stared at her, not sure how to respond.
“Am I wrong?” she continued. “Look at your dad. Look at his brother. Look at your brothers. Nobody has done anything. Why do you think you can?”
I knew if I stayed in front of her I would have started yelling at her, so I left the hallway and grabbed my phone. My dad finally came out of his room, and they started fighting. I knew I couldn’t stay at home anymore, so I texted some friends and asked if I could stay with them for a few days. Then I called 911, and closer to 2:30 a.m., a few EMTs came to help get Mom into bed.
D.A.R.E., the drug and alcohol abuse program for middle school kids, came to my class a few months after my dad lost his job. They were there for a full week of health class. At the end of the week, we had to write an essay on why we won’t say yes to drinking and drugs. It was how we “passed the program.”
A month later, the fifth grade had an assembly. My essay won an award with D.A.R.E., and they wanted me to read it. I was presented with a certification and a medal. My parents and brothers came and videotaped it on the giant handheld recorder. After the assembly, my family came up to me. Dad left to go to the bathroom, and my brother asked my mom if she thought Dad knew my essay was about him.
The essay was about what happened the night of my first memory, which was when I first understood what alcohol was.
My best friend let me stay on her couch for a few days. Some of her friends asked us to come to their beach house down at Oak Island, about forty minutes away.
“I can drive if you want to drink,” I told her.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “You’re the one who’s of age. I don’t mind driving if you want to drink.”
I shrugged, considering her offer.
“I don’t think I want to drink anymore,” I told her. “After what happened with my mom, and how guilty I drink every time I drink…I just don’t think it’s a good idea, you know?”
My best friend nodded.
Despite what I said to my best friend, I ended up getting drunk with another group of friends two weeks later. While I didn’t get sick like my friend did, I woke up with my own personal hangover again.
No matter how hard I tried, the guilt never stopped.
I was four years old the first time I understood what alcohol was. It became my first memory.
My parents came home fighting after a night out. Andrew must have sensed something was up because he immediately grabbed me from the couch and took me upstairs. Kelly followed suit. Andrew locked us in a closet while he called the cops. I remember hearing a large crash. It turned out that Dad pushed Mom down the stairs.
Andrew came back, and I instantly asked what was going on. He pulled me into his lap and told me that Mom and Dad drank alcohol.
“It’s bad for you,” he said.
As we waited for the cops to find us, I swore I would never drink.
I had a huge group of friends to go with me to my twenty-second birthday dinner. We went to a hibachi place where the chef puts on this huge show and cooks right in front of you. Throughout the night, he encouraged me to take a good ten shots of sake. I got drunk real quick, but I also sobered up real quick, too. Because of that, I didn’t wake up with any guilt for the first time ever.
The weekend after my birthday the same group of friends from the summer threw me and another friend a birthday party. It was the first party where we were all back together since the school year started, and we knew it’d be huge. I bought an entire handle of Bacardi for myself and two two-liters of Coke. I knew well in advance that I was going to be drunk. I was excited to be drunk.
I like being drunk. I like how free I feel, and how I’m not anxious or depressed or worried about anything going on in my life at the time. I feel careless. I laugh a lot more. I get friendlier and more open with people. I feel happy for the few hours of non-sobriety.
I also like the feeling of waking up the next morning without a hangover no matter how much I had to drink the night before. I feel triumphant that I didn’t throw up. It’s a certain kind of adrenaline rush to be able to say No, really, I’m fine the next morning when my friends are worried about me. It’s a certain type of pride.
It’s the alcoholic in me.
The night of the party, however, I did not like being drunk. I pre-gamed with some of my close friends, playing my favorite drinking game. Ring of Fire, or some know it as King’s Cup, can get people drunk quickly — especially if you’re playing with a lot of people like we were. By the time we left the pre-game to go to the party, I finished two cups of half rum/half Coke. The liquor didn’t hit me until we got to the party closer to 10:45 p.m. I remember saying hello to a lot of my friends and making myself another drink.
One of my friends made me sit down with him and drink some water, and I laid down on the couch a few times before getting up and talking another friend, Harrison. After talking with him for twenty minutes, he told me he was going to throw up, so I brought him outside. We sat down behind a fence and talked for another ten minutes before he started throwing up. I was lying down because the grass felt cool to the touch and it was making me feel less nauseous. By the time Harrison was done throwing up, my other friends started looking for me because I’d been gone for a while.
Then, for the first time ever, I threw up from drinking too much. When I was done throwing up, I sat up against the fence. My best friend was running her hand against my leg to soothe me because I started crying. The guilt set in because I had one friend holding my hair back while I threw up, another rubbing my back, and two others standing around making sure I was okay. I had all these people worried about me, stopping their fun for me. I felt horrible. I started crying. I wanted to talk to my brother Andrew, who’d been dead for nine months. He’d know how to calm me down and how to end the guilt.
I picked up my phone, pulled up his contact information, and asked my best friend, “Do you think someone else has his phone number now?”
My best friend said she didn’t know.
For some reason, that upset me more. I started crying harder and louder because now I didn’t just feel guilty; I missed my brother. Out loud, I talked about how it was so hard to fake to the people in my life that I was okay with him being gone. I said something along the lines of, “I hate letting my guard down. I feel bad being honest about how much I miss him and how I’m still really upset about it.”
I was crying for a while with one of my friends and my best friend still there. When it was just me and my best friend, I was reminded of the night with my mother just a month and a half earlier. I felt like I was just like her — sitting on the ground, yelling and crying in a drunken state.
I stopped crying. I sniffed and wiped my nose.
“You okay?” my best friend asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, nodding.
As we waited for my roommate to come pick us up, I swore I would never drink again.
Carey Cecelia Shook is a senior studying creative writing and publishing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is the Editor in Chief of Atlantis, the campus creative magazine. After graduation, she plans on moving to New York City to work in the publishing industry and writing to raise awareness for mental illnesses.