I didn’t want to end up like my father
In my teens, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink alcohol. I had witnessed its capacity to stunt emotional maturity and lessen a person
An empty vodka bottle at a gig in Dublin
I didn’t want to end up like my father. That was the initial motivator. It is difficult to grow up with the feeling that one’s own father is the least decent and stable person in one’s small social circle. When a young child looks up at her dad and feels shame and disappointment, something is entirely wrong.
He stood on my crayons. That’s when I realised that he wasn’t what a father should be. He reeled in (as usual) one evening when I was about four. I was crouched on the floor, nose to the page, tongue peeking from my mouth in rapt concentration, chubby fist gripping the red crayon (red is the best colour) in a careful attempt to stay within the lines.
Some stray crayons had rolled lazily on to the page I was working on, and, as he lumbered drunkenly past me, my father squashed them carelessly into the drawing I had been so carefully working on. The violent, waxy blots of blue and green ruined my work. He didn’t even see.
In my teens, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink alcohol. I had witnessed its capacity to stunt emotional maturity and lessen a person; I vowed to take responsibility for my actions.
Recent figures from the Health Research Board are alarming. In the most detailed survey on Irish drinking habits yet, they reveal that more than half of drinkers aged 18-75 are classified as harmful drinkers. That’s 1.35 million Irish people. 64 per cent of men and 51 per cent of women surveyed started drinking alcohol under the age of 18 and 150,000 of us are classified as dependent drinkers.
This raises one over-riding question: why, as a nation, are we so damned stupid? Socialising in Ireland, particularly for the young, is oriented around alcohol. Being the only sober person in the room is often unpleasant. In my early 20s, I became convinced that alcohol is the ultimate excuse of Irish people. “Sorry I did that, I was drunk,” is considered a legitimate justification for all manner of ill behaviour. We never seem to see that drunkenness is a choice, a state one reaches after a series of decisions to have another drink, despite the possible consequences. The idea that one is somehow less responsible for one’s actions when drunk is fundamentally wrong.
We use alcohol as a buffer. We’re still Catholics at heart: too ashamed to approach a prospective partner sober. The comedian Dylan Moran was on to something when he said that “you wouldn’t trust yourself to buy a toaster when you’re drunk”. It’s just too important a decision; toast “has to be crispy in just the right way”. For all our reputation as the jovial Irish, social interaction makes us uneasy; we can’t seem to do it at any age without a drink in our hand.
The figures intimating that dependent drinking is highest among 18-24-year-olds are depressing. But we are too quick to separate the younger generation from the older. Parents have raised these young people in a society saturated with alcohol. This survey shows, more than ever, that Irish people of all ages drink first and think later. We have been raising our children to do the same; we drink to excess in their presence and chastise them for emulating us. Stupidity reigns again.
Why do we need the State to tell us that having six drinks in one session is excessive? Are we really that obtuse? Excessive drinking is glorified and laughed about. If I ate six pieces of cake after dinner, others would be disgusted by my gluttony and lack of self-control. Why is drinking to the point of vomiting any different? Of course we should educate young people to have a healthy approach to alcohol, but this survey proves that those young people are going home to parents who have an indulgent and ignorant attitude to drinking. We all indulge in excess from time to time, and that is part of a balanced approach to life. Liking alcohol is perfectly healthy. Needing it is not. Requiring alcohol to walk alone into a roomful of people, to talk to the opposite sex, or to have fun is indicative of a problem.
My father had a terrible illness, but he was not powerless within it. His life was a consequence of the choices he made, and he was responsible for his actions. The way he thought was fallacious, selfish and wrong. Our family has suffered a lot of pain as a result. The last time I saw him, he was a shambling construction of bones in a hospital gown, weighing six stone and asking for vodka. The doctors said he had three days to live. He pulled through, but only to continue destroying himself. He still hasn’t learned, and neither have the rest of us.