My husband and I are both recovering alcoholics. I have been sober 12 years, he has been sober two. We were different kinds of drunks. I was a binge drinker, one turned to ten and I was wasted and ready to pass out. My husband wasn’t a binger, but he was a habitual drinker. Come home from work, pop a beer. Fire up the grill, get a cold one Happy or sad, good or bad, alcohol was always a nice compliment to the situation. It started with beer, and then he got into wine. When he started the hard liquor, I knew it was a problem. We were drifting apart because of the booze and neither one of us were happy.
I didn’t resent him because he drank. Quite frankly, in the beginning of my sobriety, I didn’t care. I wasn’t tempted. My decision was final and I wasn’t going back. I was happy to be the designated driver and for him to enjoy a glass of wine or two when we went out at night. But that glass or two turned into a scotch or three at the end of a night out, and an argument was soon to follow. After 10 years of watching his drinking go from normal to alcoholic tendencies, I was done. It was becoming a source of a lot of angst in our relationship. It was unhealthy for both of us.
And then one night we went out to dinner and he ordered water. We were at one of his favorite restaurants where he always ordered a steak and a glass of expensive red wine. I asked why he wasn’t drinking and he said he was done. Not for the night, but forever. He hadn’t had a drink in two weeks. I hadn’t noticed. Alcohol was driving such a wedge between us we rarely spent time together at home. But with this announcement, I was shocked, and happy, and relieved, and proud.
He told me that he had to make a decision. Am I going to be a dad or a drunk? He chose dad. Our marriage has done a 180 since then. The arguments are fewer, the quality time is better, our kids are happier. We are stronger without alcohol dragging us apart. It makes me happy. And it makes our kids happy. But therein lies the problem. Our kids. What is the lesson that we need to be teaching here? It’s tricky.
Our children know that their father and I have drinking problems. It isn’t a secret. We talk about it very openly. We have a 13-year-old, 11-year-old, 8-year-old, and 5-year-old. They are all old enough to know what alcohol is. They see people drinking all the time. We do not live in a dry house. If you want to come over and have a beer or a glass of wine, feel free. We always have it in the house and happily provide it to guests. That can be confusing for kids. If you don’t drink it, why would you buy it? How do you answer that?
It’s complicated, that’s for sure. I want my children to know, and I have told them this time and again, that alcohol in and of itself is not bad. There are plenty of people who can come home from work and enjoy an adult beverage or two and go on about their business. We are not those people. And our kids may not be those people either. A person’s genetic makeup accounts for 50% of the risk they have for developing alcoholism or other alcohol use disorders. The odds aren’t in their favor. And if they look at their family histories, it wasn’t in my husband or my favor either.
I don’t want them to be afraid of alcohol, but I want them to know the effects. And that means short term and long term. You have too much to drink, you get drunk, maybe you get sick, and you do something stupid, you are wickedly hung over. There is a lot that can happen. And if you start to drink and it is no longer just on occasion and under control, you could develop a problem that has potential to ruin your life. You could lose your job, your home, and your family if you become too consumed. Thankfully that didn’t happen to my husband and I, but it could have. It could have very easily. We were on our way down a deadly path and it ended just in time.
I do not want my children to be afraid of alcohol, or having a drink someday. Having said that, I want them to be responsible when they drink. They just need to know that there is a distinct possibility that they could develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol if they’re not careful. I just don’t want them to have that in their life. It really sucks. They need to be prepared for a variety of outcomes and I am the one who must prepare them, but not scare them.
The flip of that coin is I can’t talk about it ad nauseam and then they decide to rebel and start drinking as soon as they can get their hands on it. That probably scares me the most; that they will test the waters just to see what happens. And I fear that they will starting drinking behind my back and develop a dependency pretty quickly. Their young minds can’t possibly comprehend the effects of their actions on the rest of their lives. I have to tread so lightly.
Right now, my older kids say that they will never drink. That is a lofty goal. Wait until they get on a college campus. Things might change. Or, they may succumb to peer pressure sooner and give it a try. I don’t want to think about it. But I have to.
When the time comes and my kids want to try alcohol, I hope that they remember where they are coming from and are conscientious of their choices. Our alcoholism doesn’t define our children. But it does affect them, no doubt about it. My mother always says that you should have everything in moderation. That is true. But sometimes moderation isn’t in your vocabulary and you take things to the extreme. I pray that for my children, moderation is not only in their lexicon, but that it is also their motto.
You can’t escape alcohol — it is all around us — but you can make good choices. We preach that from the time our children are toddlers. We want them to think before they act. That carries through to adolescence and adulthood. My kids are smart. When it comes to alcohol, I hope that they will also be wise.
You don’t have to follow the crowd, or try to stand out to be cool. You have to be true to yourself. And you can do that without a beer in your hand. But it’s OK to try it and even like it. Alcohol can be a very enjoyable experience.
I just hope that they will know when they have had enough and when to stop. And I pray. For their safety and their strength and their wisdom. And while ours is a happy ending, I still hope that they don’t turn out like their parents.