I quit drinking this year, went cold turkey from having an occasional glass of wine or Margarita to no alcohol at all, unless it’s a token sip for Communion.
Alcohol was part of the culture of my childhood. My mom never drank, but Daddy and my uncles and most of their friends did, and frequently drank to excess. It was such an issue in our family that, as an adult, I started calling it “God in a bottle.” God wasn’t the most powerful influence in our lives; alcohol was. One uncle was shot after challenging “a friend” to do it; he survived. My dad was arrested at the age of 69 for shooting a man in another alcohol-related incident. Fortunately, the man he shot also survived, and four years of enforced sobriety gave Daddy the time he needed to realize that “alcohol never did [him] any good.”
We went to Tennessee on a family vacation the year I was turning nine. My best friend, Carolyn, and I were spending the night at the home of her much older brother, along with his kids and the children of another couple. In the early hours of the morning, someone came pounding on the window. The parents of two of the kids had been killed in an auto accident. If alcohol was involved, I never knew, but it seems likely.
In late 2016 a couple we knew were on the freeway on their way home from dinner with friends. Both had been drinking – a substantial percentage of her Facebook posts were about drinking – and he was driving, probably because he was the least intoxicated of the two. He lost control of the car and hit a tree, killing his wife and severely injuring himself. He was arrested.
I lived my entire childhood as a textbook case of what it means to be the child of an alcoholic: an approval seeker with an exaggerated sense of responsibility, fearful of anger or criticism, excessive feelings of guilt, and more. I have known people who have drunk themselves to death – cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, and a series of severe and chronic injuries resulting from heavy drinking. I have seen and heard secondhand stories of lives and families destroyed. And yet, it took me almost sixty years to figure out that I really don’t want to drink.
My decision to avoid alcohol isn’t an excuse to feel superior to people who drink. It isn’t a judgment of anyone else’s choices. It is a decision that brings me closer to a life of integrity.