Last night on the way to hockey practice, my son dropped a bomb. We hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway yet.
“Mom, today in health class, we talked about alcoholism,” he said.
My son is 12 years old and in seventh grade. I had been wondering when this might come up. Was I ready?
“What did your teacher tell you about alcoholism,” I asked.
“She said it’s a disease and people die from it,” he replied. “That alcohol is a drug and people can be addicted to it. And, if they stop drinking for a while and then they have a drink again, they will still have alcoholism.”
“That’s true,” I said. “Do you have any questions?”
“Mom, when she was talking about alcoholism, it made me think about you,” he offered.
“Yah,” I asked, taking a deep breath.
“Mom, do you have alcoholism?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I do. That’s why I don’t drink anymore.”
“So, you’re never going to have a drink ever again,” he asked. “Not even one?”
“That’s the plan,” I answered.
I told him about my relapse – I wasn’t sure he realized it had happened (almost two years ago) – and how that experience taught me I am not the kind of person who can have just one or two drinks and then stop. That I am the kind of person who has one drink and only wants more and more, no matter how much I know I shouldn’t.
I talked about how addictions like alcoholism work, how when someone is sick with addiction they can’t make a choice not to have the drug they’re addicted to. How there is no mind over matter. And, it isn’t until they decide to get better and get help that they can find the power to make the right choices.
I explained to my son how every single day I have to choose not to drink. At all. Ever. Because even if I had just one, I would be sick all over again and I wouldn’t be able to stop. My brain and my body would want more and more and the way my brain feels about alcohol once it’s in my blood is stronger than my brain’s ability to make the right decision.
We arrived at the rink and my son hustled into the locker room to get ready for practice. I quickly became distracted by conversations with other parents, failing to do the work I had brought with me and thinking no further about our discussion. It was actually a nice distraction; I’m normally a bit antisocial during hockey practice.
Three hours later, we were back in the car heading home for the night. We picked up right where we had left off. I asked my son if there was anything else he wanted to talk about or ask me.
He told me his teacher said her grandfather had been addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. I asked if she shared anything else about him.
“She said both of those things killed him,” my son answered.
“Alcohol would have killed me, too,” I said.
“Really,” my son asked in disbelief. “If you didn’t stop drinking, would you be dead right now?”
“Maybe, bud,” I admitted. “Probably. Things were bad. Really bad. Right at the end. Before I decided to get better.”
“Are you alright,” I asked.
“Yah,” he replied.
“It’s good that I stopped drinking,” I said. “It’s good that I decided to get better. I’m here now, in a way I wasn’t before. And, I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not going to leave you.”
I asked him if he asked any questions of his teacher. He said he didn’t. I asked if any of his classmates had questions for the teacher.
“Just one,” he said. “Someone asked if you get drunk once does that mean you have alcoholism.”
“Good question,” I nodded. “What was the answer?”
“She said getting drunk once doesn’t mean you’re sick but that if you can’t stop after one or two drinks you might have alcoholism,” he said. “She said it’s illegal to drive after more than two drinks.”
I nodded. This works for me, I thought. For now. I think it’s enough for this age. But, what do I know? I tend to tell my kids too much, share too many truths.
At the same time, I wondered how many kids wanted to ask more but were too afraid. I remember a health class lesson on this same topic when I was his age. I can recall some of the thoughts swirling around in my head the first time I heard about alcoholism. But, that’s a blog for another day (stay tuned – Part 2 is percolating).
So, it’s official. The dialogue has started. Beyond me. Beyond our home. As we drove, my son and I also talked a little bit about cigarettes, marijuana, and heroin. I am convinced he’s scared of all these things. For now. I’m good with that.
This conversation will never be over. It will go quiet and then resurface. It will evolve. Last night’s discussion ended with enough time for us to sing a few songs before we made it home and capped off the trip with a little garage dance party. It may not be normal, but I sure do love my life.
Also published on Medium.