The Elephant in the Room

Image adapted from this one.

The other day I had a physical, a new occurrence actually since until this year I never had health insurance. I’m in good health thankfully so being self-employed it was never really a necessary expense. But now being the law I have it and since I do, I figured I might as well get checked out. Being a new patient they ask me all the questions about my lifestyle like “Are you married or single?” — “Married”. “Do you drink coffee?” — “Yes.” “Do you drink alcohol?” — “Yes.” “How often: light, moderate or heavy?” — “Moderate.” “Do you take illegal drugs?” — “No.” and so on.

It struck me as I was going through this questionnaire, that even though I know I have a very healthy lifestyle, when asked about alcohol, I always feel like I’m not giving the “right answer”, that there is a feeling of disapproval that I’m not answering “No.” even though most of the people that do say no are probably lying. The reason for my discomfort is in part due to the elusive disapproval by the person writing down my answers but mostly due to the fact that I know what they do not: I come from a family of alcoholics.

There I have said it. The elephant in the room as it were. The majority of my family members are alcoholics with different levels of awareness about it. I, miraculously, have escaped that fate but, and here is where the elephant is really standing, I enjoy drinking… moderately. It occurred to me that I feel shame and guilt for what is in fact, a perfectly normal and healthy relationship with alcohol. It has never impacted my life in a negative way beyond some bad parties in my college days. Now I work hard and when the work is done and I’m busy preparing the meal for my family, I enjoy a glass of wine or two. Not all days but many.

So why this guilt and shame? By association I suppose. I constantly examine myself for signs of denial. I test myself frequently by abstaining to see if it causes a stress or a craving. No, not really any more than wishing I had a bit of chocolate when I’m all out. A desire, a pleasantry but not a craving or a need.

You see I realize that we tend to judge others by our own failings and issues. We have a need to make everyone the same. So the family members that have realized their weak urges and are now sober, infer subtlety that I’d do well to do the same, all the while admitting that I do not share their issues. Why is this? Because it is far easier to sacrifice and suffer if everyone else is too.

We see this every day with politicians who condemn adultery, drug use, homosexuality, prostitution, you name it, only to be found out as doing the same thing. Of course that is not the case with my family per se but the underlying dynamic is the same. I am far far from perfect but I am not flawed in the same way and I have realized that I resent the inclusion by default in some ways, to be a conspirator in an issue that is not mine to own. Let me work on my own flaws thank you. Drinking is not one of them.

It’s funny how I watch characters in TV shows pour a glass of wine at the end of the day and there isn’t an uproar that these shows are promoting a bad relationship to alcohol. This is because, if you are to drink, moderately, in your home, when you have nowhere to go, is the best way to do it. Why then, when I do the same, do I feel like I’m really doing wrong? Why when I answer “moderately” to the questionnaire do I feel I’m giving the wrong answer?

So I have decided to declare publicly the presence of the elephant. Yes it is possible that amidst dysfunction there can be someone who can be functional. There is no need, loving family, to worry about me. Just because I like a glass of red does not mean I’ll take it too far.

And while we are talking about elephants, lest I remind you, dear readers, that this one is the only one crowding my home but is the only one we shall discuss now…

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