Losing My Shame Over Alcoholism

By Tracy Fo 04/10/17

I was in a category all my own. I was a sloppy-fall-down-crying-drunk. I started off drinking energy drinks and by the end of the night I was being peeled off the floor.

A doctor looking at a chart
"But you don't look like you take drugs."

I never know what to say when I get a new Primary Care Doctor and he asks the question “Do you or have you ever taken recreational drugs?” The question is most commonly followed with the inevitable “Which ones?” At my reluctance to answer he/she begins to list drugs.

  1. Marijuana
  2. Cocaine
  3. Opiates
  4. Heroin
  5. Hallucinogens
  6. Alcohol

The timid nod of the head to any of these drugs and the following question is unleashed: “How often?”

There is never a truthful answer to such a question.

I stare at two photographs searching for an understanding of how I came to be the young woman that I am. I try to slip into the body of the little girl who, one day, was there with her friends in a D.A.R.E. t-shirt and the young adult addict I was to become. If I hadn’t seen these pictures before, I would have thought it was a Photoshop job. I would never believe that either girl was me.

The two pictures were taken years apart. The first one, I believe, when I was 11. One shows me as a childhood crusader against drugs. It is difficult to understand the expression on that face. Contentment is foreign to the college-aged woman in the second photograph, never mind who I am now.

In the picture of my younger self in the D.A.R.E. t-shirt, I am smiling. The black shirt has a nice contrast to my caramel skin. There are beads of many different colors in my hair. (This was before drugs. This was when I thought drugs were bad. This was before I ever knew just how good they were.)

In the other photograph my eyes are bloodshot, it is my sorority sister’s 21st birthday party. I am wearing a dress two sizes too small and my hooker boots, the kind of black leather boots that should never be worn in polite society. In my hand is a red Solo cup, the evidence of an addiction in full bloom. (That night began with a lemon drop shot and ended with my ass passed out on the frat house couch.)

These were the acceptable levels of drinking in my sorority:

  1. even keel drunkenness ( when you can still walk in a straight line past the security guard)
  2. tore up ( when you’ve played a little too much beer pong)
  3. fucked up ( when you’ve graduated to Jack Daniels or Svedka or Four Loko)

I was in a category all my own. I was a sloppy-fall-down-crying-drunk. I started off drinking energy drinks and by the end of the night I was being peeled off the floor.

When drugs were introduced to Greek Life, there was only a moment’s hesitation. I looked at the joint with trepidation but noticed the casualness with which everyone else was doing it. I finished my drink and took a hit. I felt nothing. I didn’t want to seem uncool so I pretended to be high.

When I reply “Crack” to the Primary Care Doctor’s question, there is always a stare of disbelief. These are the characteristics I possess that one does not attribute to crack heads:

  1. I speak and write excellent formal English.
  2. I speak and write in two languages.
  3. I come from a relatively well-off family.
  4. I am in graduate school and graduated undergraduate with honors.

The characteristics that one expects in a crackhead are:

-slovenly appearance

-person of color

-wide eyes, chapped lips

-currently high or presently looking to get high



I do not fit these characteristics.

The first time I smoked crack is a scene that could come from any seedy R-rated movie. I was:

-in an alley

-with an unkempt man

-unaware of what I was smoking

I did not think to ask what we were smoking. It never occurred to me that it could be crack rock. By the time he confessed what it was, I was already high. I couldn’t well return the polite gentleman’s crackpipe.

I keep a wine stopper from those days. It is a metal cork with a metal blue and orange butterfly at the other end. I have it hanging on my wall: a certificate of achievement to the lives I’ve lived. (It was given to me by an older married man with whom I was having an affair. He thought that since all I did in his company was drink and fuck, the best gift would be a wine stopper. He also offered me metal cubes for whiskey.)

Addiction is such a funny thing. It just shows up on a person like a surprise. I attend my daily AA meeting with the fervor of a choir boy. I have recovery books of all kinds. They serve as artifacts to my current life (my life as a recovering addict/alcoholic). I have several AA books (two of the one AA’s refer to as the “big book,” just in case I lose one or throw one out the window in a fit of rage). The books serve as a testament to all I do as an AA member. I comply with impossible demands like listing every person I’ve had sexual contact with or making a list of all the people I have harmed in my life. I argue about silly things (like whether anonymity was broken or not or whether or not this or that is in compliance with our primary purpose, which is to stay sober and help another alcoholic to achieve sobriety).

I am no longer ashamed of the word alcoholic (or drunk or alky). I wear it proudly on my chest like a badge because without that label of truth I don’t know which gutter I’d be crawling out of or which alley I’d be unconscious in right now. Or God forbid which cemetery people would be visiting me at.

Tracy Fo is a  pseudonym.

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