Boozing My Way Through My Daddy Issues

I didn’t start drinking because of my alcoholic daddy issues, but in spite of them.

Last week Jezebel ran a piece on women who drink like men, and I saw myself in it. Lisa Wade, commenting on why women overdo it with the bottle, pointed out that many of us drink competitively, to keep up with the boys. In America today, she says:

…women are expected to perform femininity, but when they perform masculinity, they are admired and rewarded. This is because we still put greater value on men and the things we associate with them.

I am, unfortunately, one of those competitive lady drinkers: I drink at least one whiskey neat most days of the week, alongside an afternoon coffee. At parties, when the Colombians are falling down after six shots of aguardiente, I’m usually finishing the bottle.

But I’m much too competitive about a lot of stupid things. Spicy food, for instance. And how strong I take my coffee. And cooking (well, hospitality in general). Chess. Academics. Porn. Bravado.

When I was 8, I won second place in a county cross-stitch competition. At 13, I was a Kentucky state champion Bible quizzer and the first-place winner in the national exam on New Testament Bible knowledge. At 14, I carried away the trophy for the American Association of Christian Schools National Spelling Bee.

When I went to college, I competed for a scholarship, then another, and then two more, to study abroad and then do a Master’s.

I won all of them.


I don’t particularly like this competitiveness, but I know how it happened. It’s because of my dad.

That’s not blame. It’s a multi-step causal inference.

Yes, I will openly admit to the thing that MRA trolls like to say about feminists, the thing we’re never supposed to acknowledge but that maybe for some of us is actually true: I have daddy issues.

As a kid I saw my mother crying a lot, saw furniture getting broken in drunken paternal rages, got sat down various times to hear about why Mom and Dad were getting a divorce. But that divorce—which I really wanted to happen—never happened. (Or at least not until it seemed much too late, for my mother at least.)

Why, I wonder, should it surprise anyone that the biggest critics of how patriarchy ruins women’s lives are those of us whose own mothers were so thoroughly caged by their men?

You want a world of women without daddy issues? Show me some better fathers and husbands, please.

I wanted my mom to rescue herself and her kids. When she couldn’t, I tried to figure out how to rescue myself—and other women like her, women who found themselves broken and helpless at the hands of men like her husband.

My strategy was to be better than him. On every metric that seemed to matter, I outdid him. He wouldn’t pick up any book that wasn’t the Bible—I read voraciously to feed myself ideas that he couldn’t control. He didn’t finish high school—I finished high school two years early. He couldn’t control himself—I became a control freak.

When he threw me out of the house, I was happy to be free of him, and I didn’t look back.


I didn’t start drinking because of my alcoholic daddy issues, but in spite of them.

Before I went to study in England, Mom, in the face of unholy European drinking ages, made me promise not to drink for the semester, and she was the one person I refused to disappoint.

But have you ever tried living in England without drinking? I made it through that first semester true to my promise, but then, after marrying a Brit at age 18 (my mother disapproved of fornication much more than she did of premature wedding vows), I took up the bottle with a vengeance.

England is a country full of exceedingly conscientious adults who feel comfortable revealing their vulnerabilities only when they are sloshed. In the upper-middle-class circles in which my in-laws moved, almost everyone I knew was a functional alcoholic.

After living there for nearly five years, I became one too.

At some point I realized I was turning into my father. I cheated over and over, then left my husband for another man, then left him for a series of other men until I managed to wrangle a second engagement ring out of another innocent English bachelor. I was clueless as to why I so resembled the person I’d structured my life in opposition to.

My dad walked me down the aisle of a Hampstead church for my second wedding. My mother was on my other arm, my brother a groomsman, and my dad’s tow-headed toddler from his new marriage delivered the rings. In 300 pricey black-and-white photos, a talented London photographer made it seem like our broken family wasn’t broken anymore.

A few months later, though, when my dad and I argued about his driving drunk with my little sister in tow, he told me I was a hypocrite if I said I’d never driven drunk myself and endangered other people’s kids.

I had.

We stopped speaking anyway.

Three months later, I left my husband for another man.


My relationship with the bottle bottomed out. I’d been drinking myself into blackouts, embarrassing myself in front of my co-workers, having public breakdowns, getting physically violent with my boss.

I awoke one morning after a night out with girls with no memory of anything beyond flailing wildly to “Highway to Hell” (my dad’s favorite) around 10 pm. There was a crust of cum on my chest and I had no idea how it got there, or even how I got home. A girlfriend reported that she’d left me in deep conversation about sacred geometry with a street hippie at about 3 am. My partner said I showed up, shoeless and staggering, at 4.

I didn’t want to lose him. I cut back on the heavy drinking.

It took getting through the initial trauma of a polyamorous relationship for me to understand the extent to which my unresolved daddy issues were fucking up my life. It took a healthy romance with an anonymous alpha male for me to realize how I put pretty men on a pedestal and treated them with near-reverence, how I exempted them from the rigor of negotiation that I usually expect of the men I date. It took seeing the extent to which I relied on men to care for my inner broken little girl to see how men themselves ask for care from their partners.

And for the first time, I found a welcome reason to mitigate my disappointment in my dad, who’d had me when he was 17 and is still trying to figure out how to be a father.


Several weeks ago, I sat down next to two guys in a café, American soldiers from Chicago on leave here in Medellín. I—the kid who’d campaigned for Obama in 2008—hadn’t talked smack about U.S. politics in ages, so we started knocking back tequilas. Five hours later, I was sloshed but still standing, after talking myself hoarse about Hollywood blockbusters, the U.S.’s various wars, socialism, capitalism, and on and on.

I’ve been away from the United States for, cumulatively, a really long time now. It can get lonely as hell down here.

For those five hours, our shared identity as Midwesterners mattered more—to my inner adult, not my screaming inner child—than how much booze a doctor would recommend I put in my female body.

Shortly thereafter, my dad and I argued about my siblings again, and he deleted me from Facebook. (Like both of my ex-husbands before him. Sigh.)

And here I was just starting to hope that maybe we were starting to understand each other.

Samantha Eyler is a freelance American writer, editor, and translator based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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