A couple of days ago, when I was reading some of the responses to the wordpress prompt truth serum, one writer talked about alcohol being in a truth serum of sorts. I’m not sure I completely agree, but I thought it would be a good launching pad for a post about alcohol.
Growing up, I always remember beer in the house. Sometimes there were other things, wine and hard liquor. I’d had tastes of wine and beer growing up probably at least a dozen times, with the full blessing of my parents. I think I was a small child when I had my taste of beer. I think in those times such behaviors weren’t so frowned upon. Some would say allowing your children to have small tastes of wine here or there demystifies alcohol, and makes them less likely to have problems with alcohol later on. I’m not sure I buy that.
Somewhere along the line I realized my dad drank too much, and it was the cause of some of our family dysfunction. Back in those days I remember alcoholism being more of a term that applied to a bum drinking on a street corner, hiding his bottle in a paper sack. It was before laws started changing to address the problem of drunk driving more harshly. My dad held a job and was a good provider, in my mom’s eyes, how could he possibly be an alcoholic.
I’d a few more sips of alcohol before reaching high school, at friends’ houses. Their parents didn’t know. I tried some of my parents’ whisky just for the heck of it. Straight whisky is nasty stuff. Entering high school I knew that some kids were drinking regularly. At that point I managed to stay away from kids like that. Toward the end of high school though, I found myself in situations where I could manage to gulp down a few beers. It made social situations easier to deal with. People would seem to be more drawn to me when I was drinking, while the sober me would have been invisible. My parents still never knew I’d had some drinks…my mom would have made a comment about how it would not be ladylike to drink to excess. I even came home covered in vomit once. I didn’t even realize I’d been sick until the next morning when I looked at my clothes.
Fast forward to college. More of the same. Meeting guys often happened in the context of some alcohol fueled activity. Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker, as the old saying goes. For me it was the ultimate social lubricant. I thought I was fabulous when I drank. Except when I was being clumsy, obnoxious, or getting sick. Being a social butterfly was wonderful, but my inner self shuddered at the tales people had told me about how obnoxious I was. Was I revealing my true self when I drank…who knows?
I pretty much drank only in social situations, but looking back even that was problematic. Drinking alone has never much appealed to me. The addictive companion of choice when alone, for better or worse has always been food. After my early twenties, the urge to be in social situations where there was drinking sort of dissipated. Over time my stomach has become more and more rebellious sometimes even if I only have a couple of drinks…so that stops the urge dead in its tracks. The first time it happened my stomach hurt so much I thought about going to the hospital.
But even if I wanted to become the sort of drinker my dad(and eventually sister) would become, it would have seemed I would have spent all my time either by the toilet or hungover in bed. I’d always had the worst sort of hangovers so that was always a deterrent.
There were little clues that my dad’s drinking was affecting his health. I don’t think until the very end he was honest with his doctor about the sheer volume of alcohol he consumed.
If the story just involved my dad, I don’t know if I would be writing this post. My sister is also an alcoholic, a fact that I think she managed to hide for many years. I’d like to think this wasn’t true, but I think the effects have had an irreversible effect on her. Her thought process is that of a different woman. Many of her memories have been erased. It is hard to have a conversation about a past event with someone when they have absolutely no recollection of the event. Plus if the event never happened in their mind, then they don’t have to take responsibility. Some of my sister’s worst struggles involve episodes of psychosis and anger that are fueled by alcohol. Episodes that involve the police. And of course if you are drinking as much as she does, you can’t earn of a living. Are the episodes of psychosis and anger some inner reflection of my sister’s true self…I don’t think so.
My sister and I have been affected by our dad’s legacy of drinking in different ways. Something I didn’t realize until later was that my mother’s insistence that our dad’s alcoholism stay behind closed doors took its own toll. I’ve often wondered why it was my sister that is having the long term problems with alcoholism, why wasn’t it me. I consider myself lucky, but at the same time my heart hurts to see my sister’s painful existence.
Finally, some time ago, I came across this post, The Narrative of Privilege, at the blog This Liminal Space. I’d thought about doing my own post in reaction to it, but I probably won’t. It talks about privilege, and choice in relation to addiction. At times I think the writer assumes privilege can be a deterrent to slipping into addiction. Having grown up at least in comfort, and surrounded by classmates who did indeed come from privileged backgrounds, I don’t see privilege being a huge deterrent.