“I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking a lot lately,” my mother finally got up the courage to ask. After an awkward pause she added, “Do you think you can stop?”
“I’m sure I could,” I grinned. “Any time I wanted… I’ve just never tried.” My joke was met with stony silence.
After thinking some clearly serious thoughts for some very long seconds she finally said, “Good.” Though it didn’t sound as if it was. “Because your father couldn’t.”
I’ve always been willfully ignorant about dear-old-dad. I was never one of those kids from the After-School-Specials who’d make up stories about how their deadbeats were secret agents out saving the world, and that’s why they couldn’t take them to circle-jerk practice. Never on my knees, shaking my fists at my mother, tears streaming down, whining, “I need to know who I look like!” Shit like that gives bastards like me a bad name. As far as I’ve always been concerned, I’m just a genuine, grade-A, all-American freak. And that’s the way I prefer it. But I guess some things could’ve been useful to know.
I didn’t start imbibing until I was almost twenty, a late starter in the circles I travel. Eventually though, I found myself at Mardi Gras and figured, if I had to start somewhere, swillin’ with the stew-bums and tourists was as good a place as any. And it did make the whole carnival a whole lot more fun. So, a decade later, when my mother’s warning finally came, it seemed laughably late.
The term “alcoholic” had always been thrown around nonchalantly in my group. And why not? Most grew up hearing it shouted from one parent to another. The ‘A-word’ rolls off the tongue easier, and packs a more powerful punch than ‘problem drinker.’ But in our twenties, that’s exactly what we’d meant: binge or heavy drinker. We almost never meant a person with alcoholism. Someone who is physically addicted to, or dependent on, the stuff. That was just what we joked about someday becoming, if we kept it up. Now that we’re closer to our forties than our twenties, and most of us have had alcohol-related arrests, when we use the term, we do it with an accent of weight and fear, and that’s exactly what we mean.
Sure, I’ve some friends who don’t indulge, but they’re few and far between. It’s usually because they’ve witnessed first hand what loss of control can do to lives, and are afraid if they start, it’ll happen to them. Scared of themselves. Maybe giving alcohol more respect than it deserves. Maybe not. They’ll never find out. And perhaps that’s for the bast.
The more common way my folks seem to deal with parental drunkards is closer to the other end of the spectrum. They go a little overboard. “What can I say, I’m a drunk.” they respond when confronted with stories of their poor behavior. “It runs in my family.”
Many of my friends grew up convinced because their parents were inebriates, if they themselves had a sip they wouldn’t be able to stop. Next thing they’d know, they’d wake up from a three month bender; broke, naked, and alone save the donkey they’d been doing the show with. Naturally, many of my friends became their own self-fulfilling prophets.
Personally I dislike the idea, if your parent’s a drunk, you’re a drunk. It seems an oversimplification. If someone does anything every day they’re going to become habituated to it, “genetically predisposed“ or not. What of my friend whose parent was a bartender, or the one who always ‘had to’ have martinis to close business deals, or the one who worked in a restaurant and was given free spirits every night? Habits formed, maybe even dependencies, but does that mean their children have to be alcoholics? Is the saying, “once a drunk, always a drunk” as true for them as born boozers, or can they learn to drink responsibly?
Well, fucked if I know. I’m not sure anyone truly does, no matter how much they pretend to have All the Answers.
When I was first told dipsomania ran in my family, I was outraged it came so long after I’d started drinking. But now, a decade later, I’m thankful I didn’t grow up in the dark shadow of my father’s firewater problem. A monkey on my back just waiting to become a silverback. That knowledge hasn’t done any of my friends any good. I was lucky enough to learn how to drink (to excess) properly, before finding out maybe I “shouldn’t.”
Our thoughts shape us, and I’m glad I never had to think of myself as an alcoholic-in-waiting. That being said, people aren’t static, and in fact are quite malleable. And now I do know. That’s why every so often I think it’s wise for me to take a month or so off from hitting the bottle. Just to make sure I still can. Every so often like after a long vacation with three of the best boozers I know. Every so often like now.
Taking a holiday from Knocking ‘em back is really hard at first. Half a week seems like a full. A week feels like two. By the two week mark I think I’ve got to be done by now! But eventually I begin to surprise myself by doing things I thought I only could when I was all hooched up. Starting conversations with strangers, laughing until my belly hurts, being the life of the party, feeling giddy as a child, and making seriously stupid decisions. Not as often, or reliably as when I’m taking my medicine of course (my liquid-courage) but still, it happens. Then, when I finally reach month’s end, part of me wants to continue my teetotalism. After all, crutches are useful until you don’t need them anymore, and liquor is definitely one of mine. A tool. But by then, all who’ve been patiently waiting for me to get done with my little sobriety experiment are chomping at the bit for me to tie one on and tear up the town. And ya know what, they’re abso-fuckin-lutely right, getting wasted is a goddamned blast! Because the euphoria of drunkenness is the Universe’s apology for the drinking buddies It sends.
Rotgut is how I met most everyone I know, and how we fell in love. The last ones awake, refusing to leave the party as long as there’s booze left. Then a trip to the liquor store once it opened. Repeat.
One thing that keeps us drinking is knowing that it’s how our friends define us. I know I’ve often heard things like; “I like you much better when you’re drunk. You relax. You’re more talkative, not so aloof.” or “I have a philosophical question. I’ll have to bring it up to Drunk-Rev.” And they’re right; boozohol helps bring out sides of my personality that don’t get to see the light of day much on their own. Sides they, and me, have a hard time imagining life without. And how much time would I really want to spend disappointing everyone with my awkwardness, while I struggle to learn to dance without my crutches?
As tempting as a life without hangovers might be, I could never give up the bottle for good. My friends would like me less, and I’d like me less too. But I can give it up for now.