October 26, 2008 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

Sometimes I wonder if I would be an alcoholic if I didn’t have more self-control.

Alcoholism runs in my family. My grandfather (on my father’s side) was an alcoholic until about three years ago, when his doctor basically told him to stop drinking so heavily or be prepared to die within the next year. Somehow, after a lifetime of drinking twelve or more beers a day, this got through to him, and now he drinks twelve or more NAs* a day. He was a grumpy and crabby drunk, although never angry or violent. He knew nothing about me, or his other grandchildren, as he could never be bothered to ask. My grandmother handled all presents and cards, and the caring about the grandkids.

I spent my childhood feeling as though I had only one grandfather — my mother’s dad — with whom I was very close. I never spoke to my father’s father, and he never spoke to me. The first time we ever spent time together was a few months into his sobriety. We were at our family’s annual 4th of July party, and he asked to play badminton with my sister and I. For most people, this would be a totally normal request. For my sister and I, it was completely baffling. For our entire lives, he never wanted to do anything at family gatherings outside of drinking in the garage and complaining about the meal.

But this time, he actually wanted to spend time with us. He asked us questions about school and our friends and boyfriends. We played badminton for a while, and for the first time since my mother’s father passed away — when I was 11… about twelve years ago now — I felt as though I had a grandfather. That made, and continues to make, me happy… but also sad. To know that we could have had twenty more years of this kind of grandfather-granddaughter relationship, had alcoholism not been present in his life — in our lives, really — is incredibly sad.

My father spent his high school and college days deep in the bottle. He’s never told me what made him come out of it, but I’ve heard plenty of stories — and warnings — about his adventures while inebriated. He doesn’t like to tell me stories about himself in high school or college, because they almost always start with, “My buddies and I had gone to the packie** and…”

For the most part, I have the self-control and self-awareness to know my limits when it comes to alcohol. I am definitely the drinker in the family, between my sister and I. My sister tends to stay away from alcohol almost completely, while I am what can definitely be termed as a social drinker. When I’m out with friends, I like to have a beer or two, or a cocktail or two. Sometimes that number is higher, although a lot less frequently now that I am out of college.

But every once in a while, when I’m in a particularly deep funk, I do find myself reaching for the bottle of Jack Daniels that always has a home in one of my cabinets… I do find myself reaching for that third, fourth or fifth beer… I do find myself remembering those moments in college when a few extra drinks took the edge off the anger or pain.

And when I’m thinking clearly again and the funk has lifted, I find myself wondering. If I didn’t have my grandfather as proof of how alcoholism affects and hurts so many people besides yourself, would I know my limits? Or care about them? If I didn’t have my father’s embarrassment at the fact that he doesn’t have any non-alcohol-related stories to tell his kids, would I have that self-control?

Is alcoholism a disease that is lurking under the surface of my consciousness, waiting to beat out my self-control and take over? I’d like to think that isn’t true, but then the funk sets in, and the knowledge of how to take the edge off that pain drifts to the surface, and then there’s a little less whiskey in the bottle. Knowing that my self-control can’t always win out, scares me.

For now, my self-control wins out most of the time. And I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that the day never comes that it doesn’t.

*Non-alcoholics. Mostly O’Douls.

**In Massachusetts, alcohol is sold at package stores, packies for short.


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lovin’ me some genius stupid chirpy bastard

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