Am I an Alcoholic?

by | Jun 1, 2021

Photo by Paulo Silva on Unsplash


I’m worried about men. I believe many of the world’s woes, from gun violence to domestic abuse to climate change, have their root cause in men’s health, which is to say, not healthy. I want to see that change, so I am doing the only thing I know to do, the only thing I feel I am really good at, to help. I am writing about men, and that starts with a hard look at my father. These are chapters from my work in progress, which I have temporarily entitled The Lost Possum. I hope you’ll take a look and tell me what you think. I would really appreciate that. Thank you.

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Am I an Alcoholic?

The other night I had the daunting responsibility of answering a dear and old friend’s earnest question, “Do you think I am an alcoholic?” 
I am not trained to to answer that question, nor will I ever be in the technical sense, but it was not the occasion for technical astuity. It was that rare and precious moment, nurtured by years of tender friendship, one deep and enduring, like that of two brothers, a friendship polished by years together good and ill. We had put in the miles, literally and figuratively. He trusts me, and I him.
I did not choose the moment. The moment chose me, and I had to call upon all of my learned wisdom to answer with all my heart and love. I did not hesitate. I had thought about it already, and I answered strong. My 60+ years on this planet have earned me the right to have my say, and my response was given and received in love.
Days later it occurred to me that diagnosing “alcoholism” is probably not a discreet thing, but rather relative to one’s circumstances. We acknowledge with a wink that the heavy drinking Irish are probably all alcoholics in the technical sense, but we accept it, and even enjoy it, as part of their bawdy and free-spirited culture. Their alcoholism is not a problem for us, because we like their music, jokes, and other fruits of the Celtic spirit-infused persona.
The problem of alcoholism, and it is indeed a problem (I married into a family heavily affected by alcoholism, and my children and I still suffer from its affects) is transient and dependent on the subject’s environment. Does he drink while driving or while at work? Problem. Is his drinking affecting relationships? Problem. Does he flip-flop and lie to himself and others about his drinking? Problem.
But if he drinks with impunity, or without damaging the welfare of others, a rare but possible circumstance, then who am I to judge? There are fires that burn deep in a man’s soul that sometimes only fire-water can quench. I, for one, will not marshal the well with my puritanical sense of right behavior, doling out drinks to some but not to others based on my orthodoxy. Yay I am my brother’s keeper, but nay…I am not god.
My friend was ashamed of himself because he drank heavily one night (with me) and allowed himself a rare freedom — to dance to the band. I rejoiced from afar. “Let him dance,” I thought from my perch at the bar. “He is fighting a great battle, and as the ancient Celtic proverb says, ‘Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.’” The problem was not with his dance steps, or his imbibing, but with the layers of shame heaped on him by others who say, “Thou shouldn’t.”
To them I raise not the glass, but the sword, and say, “Back off. Let the man dance and have his drink. You do not walk in his shoes nor do I.”
To the man, my brother, I sheath the sword and offer my hand, and my back, to stand with him as he fights on. That is the only way we will make it…together…as we always have.


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