By day, I was an attractive, well-dressed NYC private school teacher; by night an alcoholic cokehead. I was a raging disaster.
It started Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists attacked our country, but it was also my first day as a teacher. Newly hired by a private school in New York City. I walked into my middle-school classroom for the first time, about an hour before the first plane hit the North Tower.
I was teaching by day, but by night I was drinking uncontrollably, snorting cocaine, having unprotected sex and doing all those things you have been warned against. I was out of control. I was sick and it wasn’t just something in my genes that made me make bad choices. I had allowed them to take over my life and spent most days in an alcoholic fog, yet I still managed to teach. There are former students — now young adults — who still fondly remember their English teacher, Ms. Smith.
I’m not proud of having led a double life. In retrospect, I’m amazed that I could function.
Some people can drink alcohol and smoke marijuana in moderation. I was 12 when I first got drunk — and went from a few sips of beer to keg stands. I graduated to cocaine by the end of high school. I lost the choice to say no the first time that liquor touched my lips.
Addiction is furiously unforgiving. It’ll rob you of your adolescence, poison your 20s and take you hostage in your 30s. For years, you’ll wonder what’s wrong with me. You’ll feel troubled, tormented and alone. Instead of coping, you’ll create permanent solutions to temporary problems. You’ll hurt others, but you’ll hurt yourself the most.
I wrote Unschooled to give insight into my world and to show others they are not alone. Here is an excerpt:
The Model Teacher
I spread out my stash onto the smudgy mirror on top of my kitchen counter. Trying to stand up straight in spiky heels, my five-foot seven frame shook with excitement as I crushed up the rock. Bending down, I pushed aside the homework assignments I planned to grade along with my long, brown hair and snorted three huge lines with a decrepit straw. Homework would get done on the subway before school. As soon as the cocaine hit my stomach, I darted to the bathroom and vomited twice. I only meant to have one line but three seemed better.
As I stood in front of my sixth grade class earlier that day, physically I was there, but my mind had already left the building. Flipping through my lesson—persuasive writing—I mapped out my evening, a familiar routine.
At four p.m., I’d call my drug dealer, who would deliver to my downtown apartment. I’d get high by myself, catch up with my girlfriends and hit the clubs. I might find a sexy girl to make out with on the dance floor, and later pick up a hot guy—another stranger—and wind up at his house partying till sunrise.
As I looked at my students that afternoon I paused to really look at them—get out of my spinning head. Bright eyed and smiling, they were so innocent and curious, unaware what lurked behind the lady in the plaid knee-length skirt and pink sweater. Despite my insatiable compulsion to rage, being in the presence of these sweet adolescents created a calming and comforting atmosphere, a safe sanctuary for me. Maybe if I were able to guide and help them make good choices, I could somehow redeem myself.
I felt reassured knowing that their futures stretched unsullied in front of them, full of possibility. I’d flushed that option long ago when I first got drunk. I was exactly their age. Twelve.
I already knew that the following day I’d feel like I had been run over. The stud ents would be loud and rambunctious, the overhead lights in the classroom alarmingly bright, the nausea in my stomach rising. On days like these, lessons felt like they dragged and dragged. I just had to hang on till 3:15 dismissal. I knew it because this morning had begun the same way.
After tossing and turning all night with barely a wink of sleep, the alarm clock signaled that it was time for me to face the school day—at one of the most prestigious Upper West Side schools in New York City, no less.
Dizzy and disoriented, I got up and I scrambled around looking for weed to roll into my cigarette, but it had run out. I stepped into my bathtub, opened the tiny window, and lit a Parliament Light before I had to wash the high away.
After I stepped out of the shower, I put on makeup to disguise my blotchy face and the dark circles under my eyes. I curled my hair into soft waves and suited up in my favorite pink sweater that I wore each time it was picture day. Great, another year of being hungover in my faculty ID picture. I took a deep breath. If I could’ve helped it, I’d never exhale.
I was the model teacher.
Lisa Smith exposes her decade-long degenerate behavior with addiction, while teaching middle school in New York City. Her Live You With Lisa brand is designed to help people live a life of purpose and authenticity.
Unschooled at www.liveyouwithlisa.com