Updated: Jun 11, 2021
I have things to say but I’m afraid. Afraid of being judged before I can even begin to explain. Afraid of being seen as a failure, of losing the respect of my peers and of strangers, afraid of consequences. I’ll say it anyway, and hope my words won’t change what the people I care about think of me.
I’m an addict. By nature, I mean. It really doesn’t take much for me to fall into anything. In fact all it takes is 3 times in a row. 3 cigarettes, 3 drinks, 3 anti anxiety pills. I’ve been trained that way.
I fell into alcohol not out of my own will, but because my father decided when I was a kid that I needed to learn to enjoy wine. He would put some wine in my water, despite my refusal. There was no other glass. I had a choice between drinking wine or drinking nothing at all. I must have been 4 years old when he started doing that, and by the time I was 12 I had tasted rum, whiskey, bourbon, grappa, several kinds of beer, all kinds of wine, diverse fruit liquors. At 7 I had my first shot of vodka. At 13 I was drinking everyday.
My dad would take me out to play pool and get drunk on Black Russians, and the waiters not once refused to serve me. He had so many bottles at home and was there so little, he never noticed when I took a glass out of any of them. The day I told him I was an alcoholic he was surprised. That’s how disconnected my dad was.
When I was 13, for other reasons, I was sent to a psychiatric facility. No alcohol there of course. It only took me 2 days before I begged my dad to smuggle some vodka in. He was almost responsible this time and lied, saying he couldn’t find a small enough bottle. Instead he brought me a pack of cigarettes. I replaced one addiction with another, even harder to get rid of. I still smoke about a pack a day. I’m 28.
I know the blame is mine. I’m the one who chose to drink alone, I’m the one who decided to open that pack and take a puff. But both of my parents indulged me, and whenever they could visit me in the ward they brought packs of cigarettes with them. The other kids got chocolate and candy. And the worst part is that it didn’t cure my alcohol addiction, it only pushed it back a bit. As soon as I was out and school started again, I crawled back to my dad’s bottles like an infant to its mother’s breasts. Except I kept the cigarettes and medication too. I was a wreck, and too high to care.
I knew it was wrong. I knew I was hurting myself and the damages would last my entire life. I knew I should quit it all and get my shit back together. I was intelligent and educated, fully aware of what this mix of crap was doing to my developing brain and body. I wanted to stop. But when I tried, the shaking and the mood swings were so bad that it made me impossible to live with, or even to talk to. I could barely walk. I couldn’t even think. So I kept going, taking pills, drinking, smoking, looking for a way out. As if there is any when you’re 14 and alone.
Alone, except at school. See that’s the thing, too. Drinking and smoking while underage is strictly forbidden, especially where I grew up. So in the eyes of my schoolmates it made me cool. I was the tiny weird metalhead girl who wore big biker jackets and open shoes in winter. Being cool was something I thought I could never achieve. It fed my addictions.
Life at home wasn’t easy, be it at my mom’s or my dad’s place. That, too, fed my addictions. I needed to escape. To dream. I couldn’t bear to face another day of being alone at home with nobody to talk to, or in a toxic and violent environment. I couldn’t afford to remember my own story, the things that had happened in my short life. That were happening. I couldn’t stand the truth. So I pretended to be a cool, carefree kid, and I drank and I smoked and I mixed it all with medication I should never have been given. But it doesn’t even end there.
My dad was a pothead. He smoked joints, and he did it next to me. At some point he decided that I would do the same anyway and he might as well teach me how. So I learned how to roll a joint with my dad, and I became even cooler at school when I showed up with some hash I had stolen from him. I didn’t realise at the time, but all my friends except one were indulging in the same vices I did.
We skipped school to go to the park next to it and smoke ourselves stupid, with a guitar and a djembe and a couple of beers. And I knew deep down this wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But I couldn’t help it.
The high came down faster and faster as my body grew used to it. I needed more and more. More alcohol, a fuller joint, a higher dose of sleeping medication, a bigger pack of smokes. It was the only way for me to smile. To laugh. To sing. To exist, not as the victim of all the horrors I’d lived, but as a person. At least that’s what I thought. In truth I was nothing, floating in a bubble of lies, running away from life.
One day my dad told me “I have no reason to live. Not that I want to die, but if it wasn’t for you, I truly wouldn’t give a shit.” That’s the day I took all that was left in my sleeping medication bottle, added a full glass of vodka and a joint, and went to sleep crying. I couldn’t stand to know that truth, not after all he had done, not with all my addictions in full bloom, not at fucking 14. I tried to overdose but couldn’t even manage that. My body had grown so used to all of it that I just slept a full day and woke up feeling like the biggest pile of shit in the world. I decided, that day, that if I ever managed to quit I would never fall back.
This hurts to write. It really does. I’m ashamed. Not only of myself, but of both my parents who let all of this happen and even encouraged it. I barely talked about my mom here because her role wasn’t as obvious, but the situation she was in and her constant dismissal of anything I had to say fed the beast just as much as my dad’s carelessness. I’m not writing all this to beg for pity. I don’t crave validation. I’m telling you all this as a warning.
I am a white woman. I grew up in Versailles and Paris, France. Both sides of my family had enough money to have a roof and food and afford a decent school for me. Even go on vacation. Yet I was an addict. And because I didn’t look or sound like one and I was so young, I had nobody to turn to. There was no available resource for me. No help. The therapists didn’t believe me. The teachers didn’t see. My parents were the cause, and very much in denial. My friends thought it was cool. I was completely alone to deal with a monster that a lot of full grown adults with a help network struggle to defeat. It happens. It happens everywhere, all the time. To anyone. Addiction doesn’t discriminate.
In the end I managed to get rid of most of them. Smoking hash coupled with hard water caused kidney stones, and I thought I wouldn’t survive the night. As soon as I could move I threw what was left through the window along with the rolling papers and even the ashtray I used exclusively for that.
One night my dad and I had gone to visit friends of his and he’d gotten mightily drunk. When we got home, he forgot I was his daughter and tried to kiss me. I spent the night in the bathroom with a towel as a blanket, door locked. Every single time I see a bottle of vodka I’m reminded of that night. The next day when I saw my friends and they offered me a beer, I was so disgusted I emptied it on the grass when they weren’t looking.
As for the medication, I simply ran out and didn’t tell anyone so they wouldn’t refill the prescription. I shook for days, but it was worth it. For the first time in years I felt clean. Really clean. Not like “oh I just took a shower I smell good” clean, I mean able to enjoy the smell of rain on the pavement and the feeling of the sun on my skin clean. Awake, if you want.
Did it hurt? Yes. Was it easy? No. Do I regret any of it? No. It gives me stories to tell. If I had the choice, would I change this part of my past? Yes. Just name your price.
Most of my addictions weren’t my fault to begin with. I’m proud of having been strong enough to rid myself of them, even if the way it happened was really not the healthiest safest way. I’m proud of being able, today, to say I only have one beast to defeat left. I’m proud of being aware enough to say “no, thanks” when offered a joint or a beer. I’m glad I went through all that and came out of it alive. And yes, I know, the fight isn’t over. It never will be. There are days still when I really, really want a drink. These are the days when it’s most important to refuse. Because all it takes is 3.
I still have a beer with friends sometimes. Not often, and I usually don’t finish it, but I do. I am learning to drink for pleasure instead of need. But I warn people beforehand: when I say stop, it means stop. Don’t push. Don’t go “just a last one”. If you do that I’ll get up and leave, immediately.
Sometimes there are people who don't believe me. They push. And they look surprised when I do exactly as I said I would. No means no, my friends. If I feel the craving, I leave. At once. No delay. I don’t take a last sip, a last puff, a tiny little bit of a pill. I don’t wait for the shaking to calm down. I’ve been through too much to let others decide my fate. It’s a matter of self-care, self-love, and self-respect. I will not fall into this trap again. I’m stronger than that. Hell, I’m better than that.
I still have people around me who struggle with addictions. I know there isn’t much I can do to help them. I can talk about my own journey, explain why running away from reality is only going to come back to hit you on the head, show them how much money they spend on it, or how every single person in their life is related to said addiction. I can try to shock them out of it, to talk them through fits, to refuse to give them money for it. Most importantly, I can be there to listen without judgement. With respect and understanding. To let them know they aren’t alone, and there is a way out. The choice is theirs.
I said I was writing this piece as a warning. It’s true, but there is more to it. I need people to understand how easy it is to fall into the sweet and sour trap of addiction. How hard it is to escape it. I need people to respect the humanity of addicts, to hear their struggle, their pain, and their needs. I need people to realise that it could be them, too, or someone they love. Some of us are very good at hiding it. But all of us need help and support to get out of it. And after we get out of it, too. We need to be seen as human beings. Just because we struggle with an addiction doesn’t make us trash. It doesn’t make us any less than anyone else. It only makes us vulnerable and ashamed.