It’s like what one of my sons recently said, “… a medicine and a poison.” Yes, it is a medicine, a dependable old chemical friend that provides existential relief. But it’s also a friend that will stab us in the back if we let it.
Because of recent events in my life, and in the lives of certain loved ones, I am reposting this article, this testimony, from over a year ago. In doing so I hope that it might serve as inspiration for all who happen across it and chose to read it. Why? Because I believe that all of us who drink alcohol regularly or frequently, whether alone or socially, and do so because we like how it makes us feel, are, on some level, alcoholics. It’s time for us all to stop equivocating, to know what it is we are doing, to acknowledge our addiction.
I come from a long line of alcoholics. The earliest one that I know about was my maternal great grandfather, Joseph Anderson. Although he held a fairly high station in the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Mormon Church, he imbibed quite often. My mother told me about it. She said that, as a little girl she often stayed with her grandparents and that she overheard her grandmother, her mother and her aunts talking about it. It was a source of considerable family shame.
There was a swing mom told be about hanging from a tall, old cottonwood tree just outside the bedroom window where my mother slept. Her grandpa Joe had hung it there for her, but would sit in it himself at night and sing to himself while drinking his homemade wine. This made a lasting impression on mom. We laughed about it occasionally, mom and me, when we would sit drinking together in her kitchen. Yes, mom taught me well.
The affliction, if we can call it that, seemed to skip over my mother’s mother, although my grandma could gulp down an occasional toddy herself, and do it with considerable aplomb. But mom’s biological father, or so I’ve been told, was not only a heavy drinker, but a drug user as well.
The affliction hit my mom hard. A lifelong heavy drinker like her Aunt Mic before her, another early alcoholic in my family that I know about, her drinking finally took her life. Mom died from a diseased liver.
Mom was married four different times and had several other men in her life; all of them were alcoholics including, I presume, my biological father whom I never had a chance to meet before his death. And then there is me and my siblings, half-brothers and sisters all. But I won’t speak of our lifestyles except to say that I like manhattans best. I like them on the rocks sans the cherry garnish. They are my favorite libation. Libation – now that’s an interesting word – it’s defined as a drink poured out to a deity. Sometimes I will drink two or three manhattans in a day, the first while I am preparing an evening meal for my wife and myself. The last is often left half empty, the first two and a half having put me soundly to sleep. But I never drink when we have our little darling, my great granddaughter with us. Neither will I take more than one drink before driving or drink anything when I think that I might have to drive somewhere. I go days, sometime weeks without drinking anything. And, before my retirement from multiple careers, I never missed a day of work because of my drinking. That means that I’m not really an alcoholic, right? No, that just means that I am a more responsible alcoholic than some.
I know that my drinking, the amount that I drink, is not healthy for me. I know too that it is not healthy for my marriage relationship because it worries my wife. Although my mom was little concerned about how her drinking affected relationships in her life, she knew too that her drinking was not physically healthy. Still, she drank. Still, I drink. But why? When asked that question, according to my mother, my great grandfather answered, “I just like the way it makes my silly head feel.” But do we who like how it makes us feel like it to death? Yes, often, too often.
What do the Scriptures have to say about drinking? A lot actually, most of it warnings about drinking to excess and drunkenness, like this passage from the Book of Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” But there are also passages from the Gospels like this one from Mattew 11:18-19, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” And let’s not forget about the first miracle that Jesus performed, the turning of water into good wine at the Wedding in Cana. According to John 2;1-11, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'”
The rub seems to come then, not from the drinking itself but from drinking to excess.
There is a great article that I’ve found in the professional journal, Psychology Today, called, “The Benefits of Addiction: Why Alcoholics Drink.” It restates and confirms that there is a body of evidence recognizing the correlation of alcoholism in successive generations, thus suggesting a genetic component to alcoholism. But it says, “People who believe in the disease theory are dumb. They can’t help it, so we shouldn’t mock them. You see, they don’t have enough human insight to answer the question, ‘Why do alcoholics drink even though it hurts them?’ Other than by positing that they have some inbred disease that compels them to drink, that is.”
Wow! Now that hurts. It says that I can’t blame those who came before me for my affliction. It’s my affliction and I own it.
According to this article, drinkers like me have discovered that the experience of drinking alleviates deep-seated anxieties, anxieties that all of us have about ourselves and about our lives. Some call these anxieties pain. In other words, alcohol provides more than just a temporary camaraderie to alcoholics. It’s like what one of my sons recently said, “… a medicine and a poison.” Yes, it is a medicine, a dependable old chemical friend that provides existential relief. But it’s also a friend that will stab us in the back if we let it — a friend that could eventually kill us either softly or roughly. From this friend we derive psychological benefits which are hard to relinquish. This is why those of us with the affliction, whether genetically predisposed to or conditioned to by association or experimentation, find it hard to walk away from. The worst of it for us, the afflicted, is that when stress in our lives becomes severe, we will often turn to it in excess.
One last quote from the referenced article: “People who have learned to allay their anxieties and fears, to feel good — or at least okay — about themselves while intoxicated, to gain some sense of control that they otherwise are bereft of — well, those are hard people to persuade to give up the bottle. Which is what AA and the 12 steps are selling — “Step over to the sunny side of the street where I live — it’s much better here.”
Please feel free to leave a comment to this posting. I would enjoy dialoging on the subject.