A Night of Drinking Uncovered My Past Abuse

By Shannon Dorrie 08/02/16

I should have been angry at my abuser; instead, I felt abandoned and wanted him to come back, and that feeling produced intense shame.

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Hands covering woman's face.

I had my first drink at 27. I’d grown up in a teetotaling family, with my mom, grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins never taking a sip of alcohol. We kept a bottle of brandy on a high shelf in a kitchen cupboard and used it only to light the plum pudding on fire at Christmas dinner. Everyone in my family feared alcohol, because we all had close relatives who had wrestled with addiction. For me, it was my absent father, and I remember pouring his hidden stash of vodka down the drain as a young teen. He was a charming sober father but a dangerous one when he drank.  

While many teens experiment with drugs, alcohol or sex, my high school rebellion involved becoming a born-again Christian, and my first dorm experience was at a bible college with a dress code. When I got married, I wouldn’t let my husband drink. I had no gauge for what constituted responsible drinking. I came home after a weekend away to find five empty bottles of beer under the sink, and my mind flashed back to those instances of seeing my dad’s brazen alcoholism. 

By age 27, I was recently divorced, recently agnostic, and in a 21-and-over dorm at a state college. I chose the dorm not because I wanted to drink, but because I didn’t want to bunk with 18-year-olds fresh out of high school. On Friday nights, my dorm mates and I sang at the Wild Goose karaoke bar—them with their beer and wine coolers, and me with my Coke. Watching them drink responsibly led me to slowly question my previous stance on alcohol. They didn’t get out of control, and they (mostly) didn’t do things they regretted the next day. Maybe, I thought, not everyone who drinks becomes an alcoholic. 

I became a social drinker after about six months, within the protective confines of my group of trusted friends. I never drank alone, because alcohol never changed my emotions. If I was already happy, the alcohol raised that happiness by pleasurable yet reasonable degrees. If I was already sad, it raised my level of sadness. If I was bored, well, I was still bored. Alcohol never made me forget my troubles, and it never felt like a Band-Aid. It seemed the only thing I’d inherited from my father was an inability to have a hangover, but even without a hangover I never wanted to drink again the next day.

While alcohol and I had a pretty amicable relationship, I’d occasionally drink to what my grandmother was sure were dangerous levels—five or six drinks for my small frameand the previous night would be a bit of a blur. I usually saved times like these for special occasions, like my birthday or New Year’s Eve. However, no matter how much I drank and what the occasion, I’d almost always return home from the karaoke bar, the party, or the club feeling unfulfilled. Getting ready for a night out, I’d have this overwhelming feeling that something amazing was going to happen, and more often than not, nothing did. This expectation was never something I discussed, and it never even fully reached my consciousness. But if I were to truly visualize what I hoped would manifest, it was a love interest who wanted to protect me without desiring anything physical. 

About five years ago, a close friend and I walked to her neighborhood club after drinking a glass of wine. We’d been discussing my recent crush on my step-cousin. It wasn’t the only time I’d felt romantically close to a family member. In fact, it seemed a common theme for me, and one I was quite ashamed of. Recently, I had learned where this propensity for familial love came from after a revealing conversation with my mother about past abuse. Her words connected the dots of my own scattered memories, but it all had yet to touch me emotionally, or so I thought. 

That night at the club, my friend and I had about five shots as part of a half-off special for some new green concoction. On our walk home, we returned to our previous conversation, and my friend said, “You have to stop going for members of your family.” My friend said this in love, but she was right, and something about the combination of her phrasing and the alcohol turned the rest of the night into an out-of-body experience. 

I remember crying on her porch as she got her keys out of her purse. I remember wailing on her couch while she tried to offer me food. I remember puking in the toilet as the wails continued. Then I remembered being in the emergency room as someone gave me a shot of Ativan. My panic attack lasted hours.

The next morning, my friend drove me home. I stayed relatively immobile on the couch, curled up in a robe. I hadn’t eaten anything since before the club, but food felt like it would only be making the monster inside me stronger. I didn’t feel like I was a monster, rather it felt like I was being inhabited by something dangerous—something that would take advantage of my strength if I had any. 

A day or two later, my friend asked if I remembered what I had said over and over again in her apartment. I had no idea I’d said anything. “It was like you reverted back to your five-year-old self, and you kept saying, ‘He left me.’”

Suddenly, what spurred that night’s meltdown became crystal clear.

Even after my mom told me about what happened to me as a child, the only consistent feeling that remained was one of abandonment; this person eventually went on with his life and left me behind—or so it felt to me. I should have been angry with him, but I wasn’t. Instead, I wanted him to come back, and that feeling produced intense shame. I never knew just how ingrained this feeling of abandonment was until that night with my friend after the club. 

I haven’t been as emotional about what happened since that night. However, I’ve continued therapy and have had breakthrough tears on the couch. I’ve talked with family, and I’ve even had a frank conversation with the abuser, who apologized for his past actions. In fact, he encouraged me to share my story as part of my own healing process.

My subconscious seemed to know there was something I needed to uncover and begin to work through on an emotional level, and I somehow knew I was safe to express those emotions under the protection of my longtime friend. Now that I have, I don’t expect social drinking to transform any night into one I’ll never forget, and I can count the number of drinks I’ve had over the past year on two hands. When I go out at night with friends, I know I’ll be coming home alone, and for the most part, I’m okay with that. My relationships have never magically materialized due to social drinking, and the ones that may have were fraught with their own impossible expectations. 

For my 40th birthday this year, I’ll be celebrating in Vegas with my best friend from college and the dear friend who encouraged me to rethink my romantic choices. I’ll probably have a drink in my hand on the dance floor, but I’ll also enter into my forties with a greater sense of self-awareness, and I’m thankful for the transformation. The rest of my family has transformed as well: we don’t fear alcohol the way we used to, and most of us now enjoy a glass of wine with our plum pudding. 

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