This is a tough one, my biggest regret in high school. As I type this, I have to take a break after a couple sentences and sigh. Don’t get your hopes up. It isn’t that dramatic. I never killed anyone or allowed something to happen that resulted in the death of someone I loved. This embarrassment didn’t make the news or affect anyone’s life to a great extent. It is still my biggest regret. This is the story of the time I gave a speech in class about living with alcoholism in the home.
My senior year I was struggling. I gave up trying to get attention from my peers that I wasn’t getting at home and I gave up acting out to get attention from my parents. I felt very alone. My brother had just gotten a job in town and moved into our house with his fiancé while they waited on their house to be built. We didn’t agree on how to handle our parents drinking and it made me feel even more isolated. He thought my dad’s drinking was fine because my dad didn’t drink and drive and had a stable job. My brother didn’t connect how my dad’s daily drinking was contributing to my mother’s decline AND how just because he kept a job didn’t mean he wasn’t an alcoholic. We got in screaming matches about it regularly and he always won. He was older, smarter, and less emotional than teenage me. It was infuriating.
On top of his arrogance, he brought his fiancé into our mess and she was mortified by our family. She stayed in her room most of the time and I hated her for it. I hated her for knowing everything that was going on and for never reaching out. I hated her for not understanding. I hated her for coming from this wonderful family that didn’t have these issues. It was completely unfair of me. How was she supposed to know how to handle it? I know these things now but then, I was just a pissed off 17 year old. I was coming to a snapping point. I could feel it.
I was in a speech class that year. Most seniors took it because it was kind of a joke of a class. As long as you spoke out loud for the allotted time, you pretty much got an ‘A’ on each speech. We had “How To” speeches, debates, speeches about pet peeves, and my biggest embarrassment to this day…the persuasive speech.
The instructions were simple enough, you had to persuade the class to do something. I had a week to prepare. My classmates prepped speeches about persuading people to wear seatbelts, to not drink and drive, to join a sports team, etc. These were all normal, boring speeches. These are the speeches you want to give because you and your classmates will forget them, even if they are terrible.
I was in a different state of mind than my classmates though. I felt unwanted in my own home and I still had not found anyone to relate to my problem in school. I started looking online for Alateen programs. There weren’t any in my town (small town problems). There were Al-anon meetings but I felt like I really needed someone my age and I was too nervous to go to an Al-anon meeting alone. I looked up online and there was a website where you could request startups for Alateen meetings. You just had to persuade a number of people to make the request. Bingo.
I got my persuasive speech ready. I was excited for it. I was ready. The words flew out of me onto the paper faster than anything I had ever written. It was the first time I had been passionate about a school project. Everybody in school already knew my mom was an alcoholic. What’s the harm? Maybe it would help me find someone to relate to even if it was slightly embarrassing. Maybe someone would think I was brave. Maybe someone would give me a hug. Maybe not.
My mistake was that I was giving this speech to high schoolers. Adults maybe could have appreciated and empathized with my situation but not 17 year old kids. Most high schoolers did not know how to handle what I was about to bring to them. My expectations were unrealistic. Looking back I wish I could shake my old self and tell this to her before the speech.
The day of the speech comes. Two students speak before me. Their speeches are boring but get polite applause afterwards. I barely pay them any attention. I have completely lost my nerve. All my confidence, all my hopes that this would teach people to understand, all of the steadiness in my hands, and all of my breakfast was gone. What if people were embarrassed for me? What if someone called social services? What if someone TOLD MY PARENTS? I never thought about any of this before now. I had only been thinking about getting someone to understand. I just wanted to stop being so lonely. I didn’t think about the negative consequences until right before it was my turn. Figures.
The teacher calls my name and I go up to the front. I have no choice. I have nothing else prepared. I take a deep breath and I start talking about the story I have shared with you in my first post, the moment I realized my mom was an alcoholic. I talk about how I love my parents but about how lonely I am. I talk about Ala-teen and how to make a request to have it brought to our town. In my head, I was very persuasive. I have the full attention of the class. I write down the website on the board and I finish my speech. I didn’t cry and it went by quickly. I was proud of myself for a millisecond.
My hands are shaking and I am looking out at a blank crowd waiting. No clapping, just kids looking down and away. No one will make eye contact and that’s when I realize I made a mistake. My heart drops and I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. I feel like I can’t move. My teacher thanks me and asks me to sit down. I nod and with all of my energy, I return to my seat. I sit down and…nothing. No looks from my friends, no pats on the shoulders from those sitting around me. I sit there and wonder…was it that bad? Am I that ridiculous? Has no one ever gone through anything like this in their life? Or even heard of someone going through this? I reached out for help and there were no hands extended. Just awkward kids with wide eyes and nervous glances.
Class ends and I leave slowly. I was ashamed and felt worse than I ever did about my parents alcoholism. No one, and I mean NO ONE ever mentioned my speech to me. No one said it was brave, good, or smart. No one said they were sorry. No one said they were there if I needed it. Nothing. It was never brought up again. To this day, I have not had anyone comment about that speech but there is no doubt in my mind that everyone in there remembers it. Nobody could forget a silence that tense.
Looking back, I still cringe. It doesn’t hurt as bad but it still is embarrassing. It will creep into my mind at night before I sleep and I will have to physically shake the thoughts out of my head. I understand now that those students had no idea how to respond and it was unfair of me to expect them to know what to say or to do. I didn’t bring up my parents drinking to anyone for a very long time after that. I realized that this invisible disease was invisible for a reason .There is a reason that there is a stigma and that it makes people uncomfortable.
This blog is a platform for me to break that stigma. Screw those kids and screw 17 year old me. I had no guidance on how to handle my parents alcoholism and I did my best. I could have become an alcoholic. I could have gotten in trouble with the law. BUT I DIDN’T. Instead, I made a stupid heartfelt speech. I just desperately wanted some empathy. I just desperately wanted a real friend. There was nothing wrong with that! If you’re a parent, teach your kid some damn empathy. If you’re an alcoholic parent, find your kid an outlet for their anger with you so they don’t make the same mistake I did. End rant.
I stopped looking for Alateen meetings after a few weeks and I stopped making requests online. I sunk into being a wallflower. I didn’t make any gossip for the next few months as I tried to hide in my shame. My brother and his fiancé eventually moved out and I was back to being alone with my parents. I never told them I gave that speech. I just went back to focusing on getting away for college and encouraging my mom to go to AA meetings. Did I mention she started AA? She did. She had a mean sponsor who I loved but she lied in the meetings and to her sponsor. She wasn’t ready for change. It was a start though! There was a tiny flicker of hope that change was possible one day. She just had to keep going back.
As I got ready to attend (I made up a name for this college) South City College, I realized that embarrassing moments didn’t matter in high school. I would be leaving them for good. I would be going out of state and out of their lives. I was not just going to survive…I was going to thrive outside of this small town.
My next post will be about my trip to South City with my mom. I hope you are enjoying my awkward blog! Please subscribe if you are interested in reading more 🙂