Taylor, I Was a Functioning Alcoholic, Too (Until I Wasn’t)

functioning alcoholic
Photo courtesy of Taylor Swift/Beth Garrabrant.

“I didn’t go to bed until 4 a.m. because I was up listening to Taylor Swift,” my friend said at the gym yesterday morning. “Literally the first thing she said was, ‘I’m a functioning alcoholic,’ so of course I had to hear the entire thing. It was SO GOOD.”

WHAT? I was floored. I love Taylor Swift. While I don’t consider myself a diehard Swiftie — I didn’t attend her Eras Tour and watching the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour special on Disney+ is still sitting untouched on my to-do list — I can appreciate her lyrical genius. I’m also Kansas City born-and-raised and love the Travis Kelce/Taylor Swift dynamic; I wholeheartedly defended her going to NFL games and lived for the moments when the camera panned in her direction.

READ: The Taylor Swift Obsession Explained: Why Moms Are Swifties, Too

Also being a big Post Malone fan, I immediately had to listen to the song. And there it was.

“I was supposed to be sent away but they forgot to come and get me / I was a functioning alcoholic ’til nobody noticed my new aesthetic.” –Opening lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Fortnight”

Photo courtesy of Taylor Swift/YouTube.

And the feelings took over. Triggered. Why would she call herself that? I’ve seen video footage of her chugging a beer at a Chiefs game and photos of her drinking white wine while celebrating her Eras Tour. And she’s allowed to do those things! She should do those things. If I were her, I would do those things, too.

But I can’t. Or… I shouldn’t. You see, I was a functioning alcoholic, too. Until I wasn’t. I’ve written about it before. Outsiders could say I was functioning. I had a good job — minus that time in college when I got fired from Applebee’s for being wasted — and a roof over my head. But I wasn’t truly functioning. I was losing friends and second dates like Taylor drops hits until I woke up one morning mortified again of whatever thing(s) I’d done the night before. Final cocktail straw. So I went to my first A.A. meeting, where I whispered, “Hi. My name is Tina. And… I think I might be an alcoholic?” That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say. I went on to say it hundreds of times over the years, replacing “think” with “am” in the affirmative sense.

It’s still a really hard word to say unless I’m in a meeting with other people like me. While some “of us” beautifully embrace it, I don’t want that to be my label. As much as folks tell me to be proud, I still feel shame. (But on some level, I must be proud because I find a way to flex my sobriety to the few who care every October 2. The irony.) But as Taylor likes to say, “Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it.”

Photo courtesy of Taylor Swift/YouTube.

So, for her to say that so effortlessly in her track and then seemingly drink with impunity left me questioning the last two decades of my entire life. Dramatic, yes. It’s not Taylor’s fault. And it’s not new. The doubts creep in every time a sober friend relapses, whenever I’m presented with one of those alternative sobriety programs that promise moderate drinking, or when I see my once-sober dad drink an occasional Corona. Could I drink a glass of white wine, and then move on with my life, too? Quell the anxiety, quiet the thoughts. Please. Just. One. Sip.

But I’m of the old-school sobriety. When I got sober back in 2004, A.A. was pretty much it. I grew up on the outdated Big Book that still has a chapter called, “To Wives,” written in 1939 for the partners of those who drink. (My husband who drinks normally is “the wife” in this scenario.) I was also taught, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” There is no cure.

functioning alcoholic
My decades-old Big Book. Somewhere along the line, I covered it in clippings in a bid to hide the bold gold words (behind a casual silhouette of Kirsten Dunst, no less). Oh hey, Adam Brody.

Now here comes the endless question that has plagued me for the better part of 20 years; the Alice in Wonderland of choices: What if I’m actually like Taylor and can have a French Blonde gin whatever? Or a glass of white wine? But if you knew me then, you’d know that one glass of white wine won’t be enough. Actually, one sounds pretty f*cking pointless. So, when those thoughts creep in, as they always do, I know I’m better off here. Sure, maybe I’d be okay if I do it slowly and with folks I feel safe with, but… maybe not. What if I run those folks away and ruin my marriage and lose my kids? WHICH PILL DO I TAKE?

READ: My Drinking Story: When a Nice Glass of Wine Simply Isn’t an Option

So, I stay put. I still find value in meetings. In the literature. In the community. After all, as a Swiftie friend put it when I mentioned my feelings about that phrase, “She was not doing well when she wrote that. She cried through all of her concerts last summer.” If I’m being honest, I suppose “I was a functioning heavy drinker” doesn’t quite have the same lyrical ring to it.

After I moved past my drinking doubts, I listened to Taylor’s entire The Tortured Poets Department album (the first one) in its entirety — the first time I’ve ever listened to any of her songs that weren’t hits. And it’s good. It’s really good. “So Long, London.” “The Alchemy.” “Florida!!!” “thanK you aIMee.” Genius. I’ll let my more qualified friends do the album review, but maybe I can proudly add “Swiftie” to my laundry list of self-inflicted labels.

Tina Smithers Peckham
Originally from Kansas City, Tina relocated to Jacksonville, FL with her dear husband, feisty cat and sweet-natured corgi mix in 2016. After eight years working various gigs in New York City from magazine publishing to digital marketing, Tina joined the world of freelance, writing and reporting for a variety of publications and websites including MTV News, ET Online, Glamour, Us Weekly and more. Tina has also assisted with social media, editorial and content strategy for brands and personalities such as Britney Spears, Jordin Sparks, Beauty Brands, truTV and WE tv. When she’s not plugging away on her laptop, she can be found exploring the Jacksonville beaches, reading a good book or enjoying a local coffee shop with her cherub-cheeked little boys, Archer and Austin.


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