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Grapevine : February 2011
SOBER AND OUT GROWING up in rural In- diana, I never planned on being an alcoholic any more than I planned on being gay. I had a relatively normal childhood. I was the next to last of five kids. My dad worked in a factory and my mother was a homemaker. When I was 2 or 3 my mom would lie down with me for my nap. After I got her to sleep I would get up and do all the things she wouldn't let me do. One day I had a cough. She was asleep but I remem- bered her saying I could have some cough syrup. I couldn't reach it, so I climbed up on a chair and onto the kitchen cabinets until I could get to that bottle of cherry-flavored codeine cough syrup---yum. I drank the whole thing. My memory fades after that, but I'm told my grandparents had to help take care of me because I talked non- stop for three days and nights. Because my dad had not gone to college, we were told early on that to be successful in life we needed a good education and that going to college was required. Fear was my constant companion. I remember making my- self sick with worry every year when school started and I would think of all of the possibilities for things to go wrong. What if the teacher hated me or nobody talked to me? What if sup- plies cost too much, or I didn't get good grades? I was painfully shy but wanted to be the center of attention, and I al- ways strove to be the teacher's pet. I needed that; I wanted to feel special. Other kids seemed happy and confi- dent and I wanted that, but I didn't know how to get there. I always felt as if I had been dropped into the wrong household. My interests seemed out of sync with my siblings and almost everyone I knew. I had realized I was gay somewhere between ages 10 and 12, but I knew I couldn't tell anyone. Around that time, there was a party at our house and my siblings and I were allowed to drink. My parents thought that if we drank at home we would learn to be respon- sible drinkers; it sounded like it would work. I got very drunk, vomited and was hungover, but I liked it. However, I didn't really start drinking heavily until I was 18. I got in trouble when law en- forcement friends of my father told him what I was doing. I tried to quit but I couldn't. My parents asked, "How could you do this to us?" I didn't see that I was doing anything to them; I just wanted that comfort- able numbness. I had realized I was gay somewhere be- tween ages 10 and 12,butIknewI couldn't tell anyone. Grapevine 11