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As a young boy, my family was surrounded by alcoholics of all sorts; happy drunks, mean drunks, crying drunks. I had a 70 year-old aunt who when she was soused would want me to lay in the front yard in the evening with her and gaze at the stars. Then she’d say, “let me hear you sing ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”‘ Or she might want to dance to the music of a record player. That wasn’t so bad as long as the neighbors weren’t watching. The trick with her was to keep her happy and go along with it until she passed out. Fortunately, she was not always drunk. But when she took that first drink then she was on her way to getting completely inebriated.

Having an alcoholic in the home can make for interesting and often unhappy times. Take for instance when my intoxicated father came home with his buddy Chub and a bottle of Thunderbird wine. Dad had been trying to quit drinking at Mom’s request but Chub bought the bottle anyway and it was not long until Dad broke down and helped Chub drink it down. But Dad, not wanting to let Mom know, made Chub hide the bottle in the outhouse in the backyard. It was a cold night and Mom had been cooking, which made the house too hot for Dad and Chub so they went outside to cool off and to fetch the bottle for a quick drink by the outhouse. It was too cold and windy for them so they squeezed into the outhouse together to do their drinking. It was an old one-hole john with a weak floor. There they were, two fat men jammed inside, just barely able to close the door. When Dad tipped the bottle up to his lips, the wooden floor gave way and they both plunged down into the manure. The hole in the ground was not so deep that they could not climb out, since the toilet was old and full. It was up to their necks.

After climbing out they went to the kitchen back door to get in out of the cold. As the door opened, Mom smelled the stench and refused to allow them in. She made them wash and change their clothes out in the cold. Dad and Chub didn’t care. They stood out there hootin’ and hollering’, and I heard Dad say, “We were up to our necks in crap, but we saved the bottle, didn’t we Chub?” That was an example of two happy drunks. But many of our experiences were spent dealing with an abusive drunk as Dad could be.

As a young boy I was sure that guilt was what drove Dad to drinking; guilt for not being better than what he had turned out to be. Dad was in the Army during World War II but did not fight in the war because of being in the brig for running away and other offenses. I thought that gave him a guilty conscience which drove him to drinking. My mother believed his problem was that he was just born miserable. She used to say, “Your Dad is so miserable he can’t even stand to be around himself.” I realized later that Mom didn’t have all the information on the subject. The truth is alcoholism is complex and has many causes. There are hereditary links, inborn personality traits, emotional immaturity, difficulty coping with frustration, difficulty communicating, inferiority, and guilt to mention a few.

Whatever the reason, alcohol is a powerful drug that can depress and slow down thinking and delay reaction time. Experts believe that alcoholism is a disease and that genetic factors can make certain people more susceptible to it. Environment, culture, and psychological factors also add to its progress.

People often drink to escape problems, to turn off feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and guilt. It generally only makes things worse. Small amounts of alcohol can slow reflexes, reduce coordination and lead to over-confidence. I believe that was the case with my father who was once intoxicated and pretended to be Tarzan of the Jungle and swing by a rope while we were at the park. While giving his Tarzan yell, he slipped and tumbled down a hill sustaining a permanent leg injury.

Alcohol can cause poor judgment, lead to violence, cause job loss, spousal abuse, child abuse, involvement with law enforcement, and broken families. All of those things occurred in my Dad’s life at one time or another because of alcohol. Alcohol abuse has caused highway deaths, teen death, suicide, financial problems, and a host of other crimes.

Many alcoholics seem to be overly dependent on their parents and have witnessed their parents in conflict and may have had mothers who were unhappy in their role as mothers and neglected the needed child discipline. Alcohol is often used to deal with stress, unhappiness, anxiety, fatigue, depression, boredom, and insecurity.

Alcoholics tend to grow up in homes lacking a religious or spiritual center that can provide a sense of security. They often have poor social skills and do not function well socially. They may socialize with other drinkers and withdraw from social situations to avoid non-drinkers. They sometimes develop drinking rituals, such as having a drink before dinner, or after dinner, or first thing in the morning and so on. Some become anxious or upset if their routine is disrupted. My father was a weekend drinker also called a binge drinker. He worked hard throughout week sober but on Friday when he got paid, he would get drunk before he got home. As previously mentioned, alcoholism is complex and may be a result any number of things.

My father and his friend, Chub died early in life from alcoholism as did the other drunks I knew while growing up. Sadly, there was not much help available back then and alcoholism was generally accepted and often joked about. In fact, a lot of humor was made of it. A drunk on TV was a humorous thing as in the character Rum Dum portrayed by the comic Jackie Gleason. He was hilarious to watch stumbling around as drunk. When drunkenness is in the home it’s not so funny. Now there is help for families and friends of alcoholics. But friends and family need to actively seek it.


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