Gabbie LeVario joins the discussion in this interview. She shares her story of growing up in an abusive environment, being exposed to alcohol from a young age by a priest, surviving rape and the impact these experiences had on her abuse of alcohol. We discuss sobriety and parenting. (Note some of the subject matter may be considered graphic, the ideas expressed are not necessarily those of Open Discussion Apparel).
In your words, can you explain what happened?
I went to a Catholic middle school so I went from a class of thirteen kids to Heritage (a class of roughly four hundred) and I didn’t really know anybody. My first hour was guitar class, and I quickly became friends with this guy. He knew what he was doing with guitar and music and came off as a really awesome guy. Throughout the years we became close, spending quite a bit of time together and became friends. Shortly after we graduated (in 2008) I was at another female friends house, we were looking for something to drink. Since we weren’t of age yet, neither was he but he could access it, we invited him over. He ended up bringing three bottles of wine over, one of them I specifically remember the label saying peach. I remember it because peach was my favorite wine drink at the time. He turned around, faced the table, and made our drinks. I didn’t think anything of it, I trusted him, and I’d known him so long. He handed me half a glass and said, “this shit is gonna kick in really fast.” Which I remember thinking was weird, it should have been a red flag for me, but I just wanted to drink. I blacked out, it’s so blurry though. I remember going into the bedroom with my friend and we were getting ready to go to bed. That’s when I blacked out, I woke up and that’s when he was on top of me. My underwear were around my ankles and he was sexually assaulting me. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t yell I looked over and saw my friend next to me and I just froze.
Was she conscious?
No she wasn’t. I don’t remember, something could have happened to her too. I have no recollection of it, I just remember I wanted to scream so bad and I couldn’t. It’s more common than we think. When I finally could make noise I screamed for him to get off of me. He gathered his things, acted like nothing happened, and left. After that, I went to her bathroom and screamed my face off. Finally, I tried to wake her up, she called her boyfriend. He came over and tried to find the guy, because he left on foot. He never found him. Ever since then I haven’t spoke to him. We’ve crossed paths in malls and at different stores. Every single time I see his face, even to this day, it triggers me. Knowing he serves for our country and is being highlighted as a hero, really upsets me. Really, he’s a rapist. Not many people know, at least not before I came out and said something.
What made you decide to say something?
I saw him at the YMCA, it was a different kind of trigger I got pissed this time, instead of fear. I didn’t fear him, I wanted to beat the living daylights out of him.
What sort of reception have you gotten?
I’ve gotten a lot of support and I’ve actually had other females come to me and tell me he’s done that to them as well, three others.
What was your substance use like prior to the assault?
It was pretty bad still, as I stated before I went to a catholic school and the priest would force us to drink what was left of the wine after mass. I had my first drink of alcohol in second grade, I was seven or eight. So it all started there, but I also was raised around an alcoholic home. My dad was a musician, he was gone a lot, and every time he came home he was drunk. He worked at General Motors so he had weekends off and I just remember him going to the store as soon as they opened, loading up on beer, and by the time noon hit he would already be drunk. That’s how I remember him and it’s sad. It sucks, he’s not here anymore because of that. He drank too much and passed of cirrhosis in 2010.
It sounds like you were heading down this path prior, did the sexual assault impact your addiction?
Yeah, it triggered it to the utmost extreme, it’s why I don’t go anywhere by myself. Even now.
How is your drinking now?
I’m sober, since January first of this year.
How has the alcohol impacted you?
I try not to hang around people who drink. I have my two children now. I try to learn more about the person and if they’re still heavily drinking or into that I distance myself.
Would you consider yourself an addict before the assault?
Yeah, I would say I was addicted to alcohol by the time I reached 13. Going to school and always being exposed to it. My mom was more of a friend to me. I remember in 7th grade on New Years sitting at the computer and her handing me a screwdriver. It was around, very easy to access, my best friend at the time was four years older than me. She could always get it. Her mom was always gone and had cabinets full so we’d always go in there and get hammered.
Doing this, that’s something that I’ve seen to be a common thread, kids who end up as addicts their parents were friends. They didn’t really parent.
Yeah, they encouraged it. They think they can sit down and have a drink and they don’t think much of it. But really, they don’t understand what they’re doing to their child. I used to be a social butterfly (back in high school) I would always go to parties and talk to anyone who came my way. I’m a lot more closed off now. I remember when I was 16, this is when it really started to get bad. You think you’re so in love, you have that high school sweetheart you’re with and you end up breaking up. That hit me hard just because I’d never had a boyfriend before. I was with a friend and we got a half gallon of Five O’Clock vodka. I drank half of it myself.
Did you have alcohol poisoning?
Yeah, everybody that was there surrounded me and was slapping my face telling me to wake up. I remember being carried down the stairs, over four blocks to another friends house. And an ambulance was called. That was my first hospital experience with overdosing.
Looking back what would you have done differently?
Probably nothing, because it turned me into the person I am today. I educated myself more upon the subject. Who’s to say that if that would have never happened, you have to go through hell to see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
How do you maintain sobriety?
I just quit, cold turkey. I was going to go to AA but I didn’t like the idea of it.
What about it didn’t you like?
Talking to people I don’t know. Being surrounded by a whole bunch of other people. I’m easily influenced too, I know that by hearing other peoples stories I’d get very emotional myself. I’d probably end up walking out, instead of finding it as a therapeutic way to deal with it.
What are your thoughts on rehab, AA, NA the programs currently in place?
I think in order for those programs to work the person needs to want to change. If someone’s like, “oh this is court ordered,” or their friends and parents bring it to their attention but they don’t really want the help. It’s not going to help. It doesn’t matter how many classes or meeting you go to, you have to really want to change, and if you don’t want to it’s a lost cause.
What got you to that point when you realized I don’t want to do this anymore?
I’d been to jail too many times and after I had my kids I realized I don’t want to be like my dad. I’ve lost too many people: my dad, my brother, my grandpa I’ve lost multiple people to cirrhosis. I lost seven people in three months in 2010 from alcohol. All of them I was very close to. Very close family. After that, in 2010 is when I really lost it. I didn’t care. I would go to the store as soon as they’d open get a fifth and drink it. Later on that night go buy another one, drink myself stupid. I put myself in a lot of dangerous situations with people I didn’t know. The deaths, mixed in with the whole rape situation, everything happened so close that I didn’t know how to handle it. Honestly, I wasn’t drinking to get drunk I was drinking for an overdose. I was praying that something would happen to me where one of these times I wouldn’t wake up.
Did you experience any withdrawals?
Yeah it would get bad. If I didn’t have it my attitude was ridiculous, I’d get angry and I’d even get to the point where I’d shake. But I didn’t want recognize that I had a problem at the time because who wants to hear, “you have a problem, you need to stop, you’re an alcoholic.” Nobody wants to hear that, and once you do (hear it) you just say naw. You completely ignore it later on because all you want is alcohol. There’s just a snapping point, you wake up one day and look at yourself in the mirror. Whether you’ve lost a bunch of weight or look way older than what you really are. I got really wasted one time and I was sitting in front of the mirror crying and I said to myself, “how did you get here?”
Like you don’t even recognize yourself?
You don’t even understand how you got there in the first place because you can’t remember. When people ask me nowadays, “do you remember when this happened?” I remember but that wasn’t me, that was the person you knew back then. Don’t connect me with that person.
Do you ever get cravings?
I do sometimes crave it but I know that I’ve come this far and the progress I’ve made is tremendous. I know at some point I’m going to really struggle because it happens. But like I mentioned it’s up to you to overcome that weakness in your brain to say, “hey I’m better than this I’ve come this far why turn back?” (Substances) will dilute the horrible thoughts for awhile but it could also make it a thousand times worse. Then you’re stuck spiraling. I’ve wanted to drink since I’ve quit but I’ve made myself strong enough to turn the other cheek. I need to set an example for my kids. I don’t want them growing up like I did. Every memory with a bottle in hand. I want them to remember nothing but good.
How do you feel about the stigma with addiction?
I’ve saved some videos on my phone, showing the attention drinking gets on the daily basis. It’s subliminal. I came across a video online about this girl talking about how to get through the day. She takes her vitamin water, dumps it out, and begins pouring wine in the bottle. If you need that to get through the day, I used to be that person. You’ve got to think about the audience too. Showing the attention that it gets and the audience. Teenagers, kids in middle school, it’s being exposed to them.
I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective, with alcohol it’s so accepted it’s an entirely different stigma.
I will say, I turned to medical marijuana to help with the alcohol. I got diagnosed with PTSD from everything that happened and it really helps. I don’t really think you can be addicted to pot.
I think it comes down to anything could become an addiction, something doesn’t become an addiction until it adversely affects other aspects of your life.
Yeah, if you’d rather buy pot than pay your consumers bill then you might have an issue I can see that.
What do you think about the acceptance of alcohol and other drugs?
I feel like it’s going to be a lost cause at some point, because it’s so mainstream and people have labeled it as acceptable. There will be more deaths, more tragic accidents.
Even with the alcohol it is getting worse?
Yes, I make sure I monitor everything my kids watch because even the cartoons have subliminal messages. I saw a cartoon on Cartoon Network where a little girl hid a bottle of beer under her bed.
What are your thoughts on OD?
What you are doing is great, and it needs to be more exposed. You’re meeting with people like me who can tell you about my battle with addiction. I think there needs to be a lot more disclosure because people don’t understand. People look at me off the street and they see a really heavily tattooed girl with two children. Just looking at me I get the response, “you still drink you’re still an alcoholic aren’t you?”
So being prejudged?
Yeah, it’s something I just have to deal with. With me raising my children now I just want to make sure I’m the absolute best role model that I can be. I know every parent says that, but not every parent has been through what I’ve been through. I could have easily died a couple years ago, but I chose to make that life changing decision.
In your opinion is addiction a choice or a disease?
I have learned to believe that addiction is a choice. It is your choice to pick up whatever you chose to put into your body and even though your intentions may not be to get addicted it’s still self inflicted. Watching people around me fall like flies because weakness overtakes the mind and they become dependent on the drug they chose. That becomes your reality and a lot of people don’t realize it until it’s too late, too far gone. There is a point where it becomes a disease, but you’re a disease to yourself. And the only person who can cure it is yourself.