Drinking Lessons

I have a love hate relationship with alcohol that has been with me since I was five years old. My dad was a mean drunk. And I could’ve easily gone that direction in my life as well. I was a very angry young man in high school. And when I discovered drinking (underage, yes) I went after it with a passion. I liked how confident it made me feel. invincible. I was in love.

The summer after my high school graduation I was at a party that had kegs of beer. I remember it being a euphoric night. I was popular and well-liked in high school and the beer just made our joyous celebration that much more joyous. That was probably the last time I really enjoyed going beyond a light buzz. That night as I was drunk driving home I crashed my car trying to miss a deer stalled in the road. I’m very amazed that I’m sitting here, after the wreck that should’ve killed me. I suffered a minor concussion and a lost car and that was about it. But I woke up. I no longer thought alcohol was a great friend.

And it’s not that I didn’t drink after then, I drank a little bit and still enjoyed the feeling of being slightly buzzed. And I’m sure in college I also drank to excess and had a few wicked hangovers. But it was never the same after my wreck. I saw the physical danger of being drunk. It was about that time, during my second year in college that my dad got sick.

Now, the really amazing part of this new development was that my dad could no longer drink because of the meds he was put on. And as he sobered up from 20-30 years of constant drinking, he sort of became my dad for the first time. At 19 I was able to relate to him in a new way. And when he wasn’t drinking his old happy self came back. Sure, there was a ton of sadness, because he was dying of brain cancer, but we had time. I got my dad back, for about a year and a half before he died. And while it wasn’t the drinking that directly killed him, it was the drinking that had kept him hidden and distant from me for most of my formative childhood.

If I had some doubts about the coolness of alcohol up until that point, I got the message loud and clear. Drinking sort of fucked up your thinking. And continuous drinking changed the physical/chemical structure of the brain. It was a heavy price for ending the estrangement between my father and his kids, but it was the best (and worst) time I’d ever had with him. While he was dying. We reached for each other and sought time that we could be together for the first time in my life.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been drunk since my dad died. What’s the point? It’s an escape and I was too focused on capturing and recording my life (through writing and other creative projects) that I didn’t want to miss a minute of it being fogged up by drinking. That’s not to say I didn’t want to from time to time. But something held me back. Some internal governor was set and after two beers I was done. I still like the taste of some beers. But I usually have something I’m working on in my creative brain that I don’t want to lose to the buzz, so I just don’t drink that much. And as a preference I’d rather have sparkling water.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t continually been touched by alcohol. I just choose to stay conscious. I hope that I am facing my issues head on rather than trying to escape from them or block them out. I have issues. But I’d rather face them sober.

What’s your relationship to alcohol?

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: beers, creative commons usage allowed

Here’s more about my journey with alcohol.

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