I grew up in the shadow of a family that drank. Some died as alcoholics. Some debilitated from the long term effects of alcohol.
My own relationship with alcohol? I was first introduced to alcohol when I was eight or nine. My dad would be sitting on the throne of his recliner and, like any child that looks up to their dad as larger than life, I asked for a sip of his beer.
It was a different time then. I remember he carefully handed me the tin can with it’s church key openings. The large console TV was playing in the background in our wood paneled living room.
I remember that first bubbly golden taste sliding down my throat and the warm welcoming sensation I felt in my throat and chest. At that young age, I realized that I definitely liked the taste, texture and flavor. And the sensation of warmth and euphoria. That first sip became indelibly ingrained.
Don’t get me wrong, my father and mother did not just start handing me beers. But my pursuit of a sip remained in my mind every time I saw them holding a beer.
Life evolved and by the time I was twelve or thirteen, if I had a chance for a “sip”, I would kill more than half a beer to the amazement and irritation of the adult I bummed it from. But again, that warm golden bubbly warmth and euphoria kept my interest up.
Like most families, our family underwent a lengthy divorce that played out in front of us. My siblings all developed their own perspectives of what was happening and each took away their own baggage. As time passed it drove wedges between us. With four of us, two boys and two girls the potential for animus was always there.
I occasionally over indulged in high school before I turned of age. I realize now I was mimicking the people around me. My circle of friends and people was very small. Two to be precise. I was friendly and on good terms with almost everyone, but I never felt like I belonged to a typical high school group.
And if I was welcomed into a group, it was never the inner circle. I was in football, but no one considered me a jock. The clique of heads looked at this football player sideways. When football practices became a five and six day affair for three hours at a time I moved on to cross country. I was accepted in the very small niche of cross country, but even during practices, it’s a pretty solitary thing. The popular kids would throw parties and I never got invited, even though I had been in school around them since first grade.
During high school I also took up writing. Creative writing, like short stories and poetry, which helped me channel some of my internal angst. But journaling. Journaling helped quite a bit. It would help me see things from another perspective. It would also give me a chance to put down hopes and dreams and thoughts for the future, which I found cloudy and murky at best.
I joined the military and when the opportunity arose, I drank. Whether to celebrate being alive, mourn those lost, drown the sadness of lost relationships or sorrow of being homesick over the years. But I would be lying if I said I drank to be social. A lot of my drinking followed a routine. A routine I learned from my dad. Every Friday was a drinking night. And every Saturday with yard work or dating. And Sunday with football. Then that must also mean Monday night football too, right? It wasn’t that I always drank, but there was no rationale that prevented me from drinking.
In 1985, while serving in the Navy, my ship was in the shipyards. It was a horrible time. Our leadership had us on twelve hour shifts seven days a week and a normal five day work week, which is okay when you’re underway and being fed and housed, but it’s a completely different thing when you have to drive on and off base, manage your own housing and food. And to keep that up for months at a time without any productive purpose was a huge lesson in bad leadership and personnel management. It was a prime motivator to never re-enlist. We tried injecting what fun we could, which meant that every break of 24 hours we got were spent in escaping. Some drank, some took classes, some worked out, some chased women but most did a mix of all of those things.
During that time, I received a call that had a severe impact on my life. A friend of mine that I worked closely with had been killed by a drunk driver. I collapsed on the floor and sobbed myself into exhaustion. I was thankful to be alone where I lived at the time.
He was a regular runner and had been out jogging some distance from the edge of a road, but a severely drunk driver swerved off the road and ran him over. The driver drove off and a toll booth worker reported the vehicle with all the damage and gore to the police. The driver was clearly not sober and he was arrested.
At that time, I was torn between mourning my friends memory with a drink and the horrible irony of doing just that knowing that alcohol abuse was the cause of his death. Either way, I swore to never be a drunk driver.
In honesty, I broke that promise to myself in a few rare instances since that time and thankfully nothing bad came out of those instances. Suffice it to say I suffered a lot of guilt afterwards.
Fast forward a couple decades, divorces, child custody battles, and pressures of career. Clearly other alcohol related events occurred in my life, but those can be shared another time.
I had periodic bouts of diarrhea and other gut issues. I regularly did not feel rested after sleeping, especially after drinking. I was carrying more weight than at any other time. My minor arrythmia became more pronounced and more frequent. I had a blood test that indicated I was a pre-diabetic. I experienced joint aches regularly with occasional swelling. And then, following a week and a half long period of beer drinking while on vacation, my doctor said my symptoms sounded like “holiday heart”.
My reaction? Take a break from drinking. I stopped weeknight drinking. I reduced my drinking to two nights a week. I reduced the total amount to a six pack a week or a pint of rum a week. I did this for a few months.
What did I find? My Fitbit showed that my resting heart rate was going down. Meaning my heart wasn’t working as hard . My rest was more frequently restful and I was able to sleep longer, sleeping from less than six hours a night on average to more than seven a night. My ability to jog and work at stressful things required less effort and irritation.
During this time, my wife was going through some of her own reflection on her relationship with alcohol. Her response to that? She decided to quit entirely in late June 2016.
And she did. I followed suit a few weeks later on July 6th, not just in support of her effort, but for myself too.
What follows, I hope, is an honest and realistic perspective on my experience.