Last night the Youth Council in my community sponsored an event about the current laws and issues surrounding teen drinking and driving. They had several speakers, the head doctor at the local ER, a defense attorney who explained the legal and financial ramifications of serving minors and the local police officer assigned as the liaison with the schools. But the most enlightening speaker was a girl named Rachael. We weren’t told her last name, we only learned that, at 26, she is a recovering alcoholic.
Rachael admitted that she never prepares a speech for these events, she just speaks from the heart. And everytime she does she’s scared to death. But she needs to do it, she explained, because all of us need to hear her story. Rachael told us that growing up she never dreamed she’d be an alcoholic. The image in her mind of an alcoholic was some disheveled guy living on the street and drinking out of a brown paper bag. When she was in kindegarten this was not the picture of who she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted to be a ballerina. She came from an extremely normal home – her mother is a writer, her father a lawyer and they live in an extremely affluent area of Westchester County, NY. Her parents are not alcoholics she quickly told us. And to this day her mother continues to blame herself for Rachael becoming an alcoholic at 16 years of age. But Rachael believes this is something your born with. She was an extremely normal kid but she always wanted more of everything, more TV time, toys, candy, whatever.
The problem, Rachael explained, was that at some point, she began looking in the mirror and hating what she saw. She felt she wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough or well liked. She hated herself and felt everyone around her hated her. She equated her alcholism to her love of Oreo cookies. She loved every kind of Oreo cookie but especiallly Double Stuff. She would sit there and eat one sleeve of cookies and then, hate herself for doing it. She’d feel fat, ugly and depressed and so, she’d eat a second sleeve of cookies. Then, feeling even more depressed, fat and ugly, she’d eat the third sleeve of cookies.
She said that’s what alcoholism is like. She’d take a drink and hate herself for it, feel stupid and even more depressed – so she’d take another drink. What Rachael explained is that when she was in school there would be the lectures from the local police department and doctors telling kids not to drink – how they would end up dead or in jail. But whats she said was never explained to her or her friends is that drinking won’t make you feel smarter, prettier or happier. It won’t make the problems go away. No one ever told her that blacking out wasn’t normal. Rachael explained that she’d wake up in the morning after drinking and look at her Facebook page to find pictures of what she’d done the night before to “fill in the blanks.” She and her friends thought it was funny to not remember things from the previous evening.
What Rachael learned the hard way, and she wanted the teens to know last night, is that drinking doesn’t make everything better. It doesn’t make your problems go away and you don’t feel better about yourself. Sadly, it just keeps making everything worse. Finally at 20 she gave up drinking. She said that she’s never had a drink since she’s been of legal age. Pretty scary.
I’m not an alcoholic but Rachael’s story gave me a different perspective on what goes through the mind of a teen when they drink. It made me stop and think about the anti-drinking lectures they get at school. Is anyone telling them the simple message that drinking and drugs aren’t going to take the pain away? Do they know that they’re not the only kid that feels stupid, ugly or not popular enough? Are they being told that they can talk about this because almost all of their friends are feeling the exact same way? This is the message we need to get out to our kids.
Alison Rhodes is the founder of Safety Mom and Safety Mom Solutions, the premier baby proofing and child safety company in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. Alison is a family safety expert, TV personality and consultant.