“I was just on a quest for mood-altering drugs.”
I started drinking and using drugs at the age of fourteen or fifteen. My mom at this time was recovering from breast cancer, so it was just something that I found to be an escape from my life. I just really wasn’t sure who I was as a person and while I was very happy in school and making friends, I had just moved to a new private school where I was exposed to drugs and alcohol in a way that I had never been before. My best friend and her best friend that she had grown up with—both of their moms were alcoholics. They all smoked pot. It was just something that everybody did. My friend’s mom’s boyfriend had a grow room in their basement, so we had access to it. My parents were not prepared to tell me to not do drugs or not drink because they were not even aware what was going on. They were kind of in their own world in a lot of ways. My parents were great parents but they were struggling with adult things—I think they were just really preoccupied with that.
During my last two years of high school I got introduced to pretty much every drug that was out there: LSD, mushrooms, cocaine, speed, whatever. All of these drugs are pretty damaging, but I didn’t care. I was just on a quest for mood-altering drugs. I wasn’t thinking about my health. Crystal meth was a new drug to the scene and I remember having friends who were doing a lot of it. I never put a needle in my arm, but I tried pretty much everything else.
I was pretty surrounded. I was in a crowd of people that were always consuming something. To look back it’s hard to say exactly what that crowd consisted of, but these were the people in Seattle who were all in bands and would go on later to be famous, you know? This was the crowd that I hung out with—the musicians, the artists, the creative types. There was a really big strong underground culture that existed. I just thought, “Hey, I’m hanging out with these fun people!” But in reality it was pretty destructive.
Cocaine was huge in the eighties. There were a lot of cocaine addicts around me and in Seattle there was a lot of heroin. I was at parties where people would go in the bathroom and shoot up, but to me heroin was taboo—that wasn’t a drug I was interested in, thankfully. But I hung out with a group of people that, to them, this was normal behavior—and in this crowd there were people who were overdosing.
Basically the drug and alcohol use continued through high school and into my second year in college, when I decided to move back east to Washington DC where my brother was living. I worked in a little inner-city pre-school that was focused on the arts for the kids. But I hardly made any money and I found out that working at as a waitress in a bar I could make $100 or $150 a night—I was still underage but at the time nobody really cared. To me at age twenty that was quite a bit of money. It paid my rent, it paid my bills, but I was in this environment of mostly older people who were in a pretty destructive lifestyle. Alcohol and drug use is prevalent in the restaurant business—it’s pretty much a way of life for a lot of people. When you’re in the restaurant business in a big city like that you get to know the other proprietors and so you can go barhopping all night and get free drinks. And the culture of drinking is so strong in DC, because of politics. It’s just the kind of city that it is. People drink really hard there.
After a while I entered into a relationship with a man who was much older than me, and he was an alcoholic and we were together for about a year. Of course I thought he was the person with the problem, so I ended up attending Al-Anon at age nineteen or twenty. And some of the people there said, “Have you ever thought about your own consumption, your own use?” So of course I said, “Well, you know, compared to him I’m fine.” This is very typical for addicts, to compare themselves to others and say, “If my use is lower than the other person’s, then I’m good.” But eventually a bartender friend at work suggested that I go to Alcoholics Anonymous. He’d been sober for many years and helped a lot of guys—mostly guys—in the bar to stop drinking over the years, because they would hit bottom right there in front of him. So I started attending meetings.
It took me a couple of months to actually kind of stop drinking and I wouldn’t say it was easy, necessarily. But I was young and didn’t have thirty years of alcoholism ravaging my body. It was more of an emotional attachment for me, I think. It was two months before my 21st birthday and basically it involved a whole life change. I quit working at the restaurant because I needed to get out of that environment. I had to change all of my friendships. For me I had to really remove myself from that while I gained ground and gained confidence in my own choices. I had stopped using drugs by that point. And that’s where my life really launched. That’s where real changes started happening in my life.
I feel like I was definitely relieved of severe addiction. It could have been something that ruined my entire life or killed me. My mom’s side of the family is Irish and there are a lot of Germans on both sides and I have a lot of alcoholism on both sides from past generations. My grandmother was raised by her grandmother because her mom was such a bad alcoholic that she couldn’t raise her—she lived alone and didn’t raise her own kids. Now that I have a different perspective on it, it’s pretty scary. My youngest daughter is fifteen, and I look at her and I can’t even imagine her doing the things I did at that age.