Monday, November 2, 2009

An Odd Alcoholism

Many people limit their definitions of alcoholism to exclude their own behavior or the behavior of a loved one. They may say that people who drink to excess only on social occasions, who are able to function at work the following day, who don’t react violently, who don’t drink hard liquor, and those whose livers’ haven’t failed are excluded. This is not the case.

My father began experimenting with tobacco and alcohol as a very young teenager. Out of fear of her husband’s militant unreasonableness, my grandmother blindly ignored whatever she discovered about her children’s vices and even aided them in covering up the truth about their addictions. I say "their" since my aunts and uncles have addiction issues as well.

My mother discovered the tobacco and alcohol dependence after they had wed, just as the first child was conceived. At 18 years of age, she had a dilemma. How would she protect her children from the influence of chemical dependency? Having an uncommonly strong will, she simply set boundaries for her household and Dad was expected to fall in line out of respect for his wife and love for his children. These boundaries were firmly established and consistently policed. Chewing tobacco was allowed if disposed of in proper receptacles, but smoking was too dangerous to little lungs to be tolerated. Staggering, puking, and slurring was unacceptable; hard liquor was strictly forbidden. So, my father spent each night of his life secluded in an easy chair nursing beer after beer until it was bedtime. In every happy childhood memory I have, Dad was not a participant, but an object in the room. When we reached our teens, he would occasionally indulge in hard liquor at a local bar, but he dared not come home until the household was sound asleep. On one or two occasions, I heard my father getting sick in the restroom. Once, when Mom was away from home, Dad recklessly pulled into the driveway, nearly missing our dog, parked very crookedly, exited his vehicle, and immediately threw up. By that time, my parents were fighting frequently over the escalating alcohol consumption, so it became common knowledge that we had been living with an alcoholic. It was a fairly new idea. My mother had protected us from the man with whom we had lived under the same roof for years. Once my siblings and I left the house, his alcoholism spun out of control.

He was struggling to keep up with the younger men on his construction crew, so he took a retail job at a sporting goods store. It was easier work and suited his interests in hunting and camping and fishing. Unfortunately, the first day, he was sent home after he returned from his lunch break smelling of beer. The manager was understanding, realizing that one beer with a slice of pizza did not constitute drunkenness, but could not allow his employee working the gun counter to smell of beer. He did not fire him, merely sent him home for the day with a warning. Dad resigned on the spot, knowing he could not make it through an 8-hour day without a single beer. Of course, he blamed the manager for presuming to run his life and monitor his off-the-clock activities.

Eventually, he left my mother. His reason was that he no longer saw any advantage in curbing his habits and wanted to be free to drink without her enforcing restraint. He insisted that he was no alcoholic. His justification: he had never been violent when drunk, he held down a job, his liver was healthy. So, he left his wife and home for a beverage. A few months later, he showed up on my mother’s doorstep, quite a broken man, asking for some equipment the family used for camping. She suspected that he was living out of his vehicle, so she let him take the items. She reminded him that he would be welcomed home if he gave up the beer. No.
Left to his own devices, without my mother’s restraint, he is no longer able to hold down jobs for long. He bounces around from construction crew to construction crew, living with one relative after another; and I am sure that his health cannot be good.

Alcoholism is alcoholism long before it ruins anyone’s life.


  1. hey - i came to your blog after you let me know that you'd posted an image of one of my items (Lilith's Apothecary) but I read your post and really found it moving. I have a lot of alcholism in my family and extended family and feel that the issue of alcholism looms large in my life. Fortunately, I myself do not struggle with additictions, but I deal with the side effects of others' addictions all the time. I empathize with you and wish you all the very best. It must be very difficult for you to see this in your own father to such a degree.
    kind regards,

  2. Yeah, it unfair that someone else's bad decisions and bad behavior affect so many others around them.

    I just love your store on etsy! Good stuff!

  3. Wow!!! I came from a similar family situation. You summed it up so well when you said "my Dad was not a participant, but an object in the room". I have always called my dad the shadow in the background of my life. Almost my entire family is alocohic. When I was 12 my mom was told that she would die from liver failure in 5 years if she didn't quit drinking. She quit because of this, and forced my dad to quit with her. I don't believe that he ever quit, he just went into the closest. From time to time, he will become exposed and be drunk in the open. Then my mom with coax him back to the "fake sobriety" until the next time. My mom has replaced her alcohol with shopping and decorating. I have struggled in my life to learn a new way of living. I am a born again Christian, and I have found hope and comfort. I daily struggle with my family, and raising my daughter in a better way than I was. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Thank you- Erin


We welcome your thoughts and experiences. Comments containing profanity will not be published.