According to my sobriety app, which I fondly refer to as the Dry-Ometer, I am 104 days into this journey. It’s highly likely, although only God has the numbers, that (except during pregnancies and breastfeeding) this is the longest I’ve gone without alcohol since I started sneaking Baby Duck and Strawberry Angel to sleepovers in Grade 8. It was only on occasion at first, but surely it was more than once every 3 months so I think I’ve crossed a new marker here.
Even to me, drinking at 13 sounds awfully young. Not “marrying-your-cousin-Jerry-Lee-Lewis” awfully young. Not “raising-siblings-alone-because-parents-died-tragically” young. Not “Doogie-Howser-MD” young. But still. Young.
To my adolescent horror, at 13 I still woke up occasionally with my thumb in my mouth. Technically, there was a transitional period around that age where I had both habits of smoking and thumb sucking, although never simultaneously. I was in a hurry to grow up and didn’t have time to quit one before starting the other.
I’d always been an old soul and thought it a terrible injustice to not be taken seriously. I knew I was smarter than most adults, yet they were in charge. Tsk. By the time I started drinking and smoking in junior high, I’d already been working on my adult image for many years.
For my Grade 3 school photo, I wore a turtleneck and a broach. A broach. I gazed thoughtfully into the distance and smiled in what I hoped was a self-amused way. If I could have brought in a Virginia Slim and a martini glass for props I would have. I was going for the “book jacket” look. I still think I came pretty damn close.
The following year I grew to full adult size, including size 9 feet. At only 9 years old I had the height, weight and feet of a woman but none of the curves. I felt man-ish and unattractive. Pants were never long enough and my mom refused to buy me those cute ankle socks with the pompoms on the back to keep them inside my boat-like sneakers. Tall, gangly and awkward. Flood pants, ugly old socks, and big-ass “Sonic” runners from Sears clearance table. Only one thing could complete the picture: a retainer.
None of this was helping me to be taken seriously. I needed an image intervention and since I was the smartest person I knew, only I could help myself.
I threw myself into research, watching Charlie’s Angels and Love Boat with devotion and focus. I studied magazines carefully. Ads for Chic Jeans, Breck Shampoo, and Candies Shoes were my guideposts. I spent hours in my room trying out the hairstyling techniques, postures, and facial expressions of the models and actresses I admired. Since my clothing resources were limited to the hand-me-down from my aunt’s foster home, my sisters’ cast-offs, and one annual trip to Sears for a back-to-school outfit, I honed my mix-n-match skills.
By 10 I was crossing my legs and saying “actually” a lot.
At age 11, I had moved on to helping friends improve their maturity index, since it was hard to be considered an adult when kids surrounded me.
It took to age 40 to really feel comfortable with myself. Probably because I’d spent my whole life trying to seem, well, 40. Now people listen because my opinions are backed by experience. Because I’ve messed up and recovered. Because I have lines on my face of both worry and laughter origins. And yes, sometimes even because I have great hair and clothes. Thank you Farrah, Kate, and Jacklyn.
I was wound up tighter than a top all these years, trying to be something I never quite was. Instead of enjoying the journey, I rushed past it all.
Changing my life and taking charge of all the alcohol I was drinking has helped me to see things through a new lens. I am picking at the knots I’ve tied so tight. Control. Perfection. Appearances. I worked so hard to get myself to a place I was headed for anyways.
Maybe my success in life was because of all that effort. Maybe not. Either way I am here now and what I saw when I arrived was a desperate need to change. I was tied up tight and pouring alcohol over it to help feel better. I soaked up more and more as time went on, but that never helped loosen me. It just set things firmer in place.
Now, as I start to free my life of an addiction that was decades in the making, I trace the resentments and heartaches back to their roots. Just a little voice, trying to be heard.
When my parents moved to a retirement condo recently, they sent me a box of artifacts that included that old Grade 3 picture. I wanted to reconcile with that face, to set that little girl on the mantle and let her see that life had taken her just where she hoped she’d go.
As I adjusted the frame, my husband came along and said cheerfully, “Is that you? What a little cutie!”
I stood a little straighter and answered indignantly, “I wasn’t cute. I was stunning.”