I have never had a drink of alcohol. Ever.
It suffocates light out of everything and everyone it touches. It destroys brains, bodies, lives, families and hope. Alcohol is the devil manifest, and I met him.
The South Omaha River Rats met up on a bank of the muddy Nebraska Platte River to roast a greasy fat pig and get shit faced. They were a ragtag gang of under-educated drunkards who liked to party hard and fight for no reason. I was maybe five and barely taller than the kegs, so they stood me on a stool for leverage. I pumped the stem for hours, keeping the pressure high for a meandering line of stumbling patrons, all praising my good service. The hot summer sun reflected their glazed eyes and wry smiles; the putrid scent of beer breath wafted through the trees like a heavy fog.
How good it felt to make such sad people happy, like feeding homeless at a soup kitchen. This helped me make an association between alcohol and happiness.
I was in this clan only because my mother married into it, a coyote lost in a wolf pack. The younger cousins who had the Rat’s bloodline all started drinking that weekend and most never stopped. Somewhere there’s a tawdry photo of a dozen of us kids at that reunion, lined up arm in arm in front of Uncle Alan’s old truck each with a beer in hand.
Three are dead now and a few others in prison, all due to the sauce. This helped me make an association with alcohol and serious trouble.
My nature early on was to resist being nurtured this way, even though the propensity for alcohol is my inheritance as well. My mother’s father died of alcohol poisoning at 50 and willed me his prized empty whiskey bottles, as if to say this is how we do it; your turn. One of those bottles was a ceramic Golden Eagle, one of the most aggressive birds in the world, reported to hunt human children as its prey.
I know little about him other than he force raped all five of his children. This helped me make an association with alcohol abuse and a capacity to commit pedophiliac incest.
For summer breaks, my younger sister and I would stay with Grandma River Rat during the day. This meant daily trips to Tiger Tom’s, a seedy and narrow smoke-filled bar where they served Grandma her gin, us kids frozen pizza, and lost souls played pickles at the bar with their paychecks. I liked Tiger Tom’s because I could play shuffleboard and ring the cowbell when the huskers scored, though I didn’t care for the piss-flooded bathroom floor.
The yellow-eyed drunks at Tiger Tom’s thought I was funny and treated me like a mascot. This helped me make an association with being a drunk and desperation gambling, pissing on the floor and finding just about anything funny.
Like my cousin Kenny, who had a long mullet and a mustache, wore bell-bottom jeans, played in a rock and roll band and had a carpeted van. He was 20 and twice my age, yet somehow I ended up one evening hanging with his band in the back of that van with a beer in my hand, passing the joint around. I didn’t partake simply because it all seemed so dumb to me.
I started to develop deeply loathsome feelings for drunkards, particularly how they could be at the same time awake yet asleep, alive yet somehow dead. How cavernous the inebriated eye can be!
This helped me make an association with alcohol use and selfish mindlessness.
Then there’s my stepfather, Steve, who personified every shadowy quality of inebriation. Steve was the kingpin of the rats and a two-tour Vietnam door-gunner who liked to down a 12-pack of beer every Saturday morning while watching Loony Tunes and spend the rest of the day in the garage cursing car parts. We knew to get the hell out of Steve’s way by 9 a.m., and Mom would take my sister and me on epic 20-mile avoidance walks to one side of the city and back, just to buy time. That kept us safe until we got back before dark for my ritual beating, unless we were lucky and he was passed out.
Steve got off on abusing weaker people, mainly women and children. This led me to associate alcohol with violence and cowardice.
By age 14, I had learned through observation and association that alcohol made people happily selfish, careless, violent and filthy before ultimately contributing to their unnatural death. I decided it wasn’t for me and start lifting weights to get big and strong enough to survive what I perceived as a world full of asshole drunkards, especially Steve.
Still, no strength could’ve prepared me for the day it all came to a head in an epic atomic explosion. By then it had long become a habit to stay out of Steve’s eyesight regardless of day or time, but this day there would be no place to hide.
When he came home and went upstairs, I went down to the basement. Moments later I made a subtle, arbitrary noise that set him reeling then rocketing down the stairs to maul me like a pit-bull on a poodle, a beating I still can’t believe I survived.
When I woke, I knew categorically I had to leave or I would die, so I packed my bags and have been running ever since. This helped me make the association between staying away from alcohol and survival.
To the thousands of people who’ve asked why I don’t drink alcohol, I ask, why would I? “Peer pressure!” Am I a human or a sheep? “To take the edge off!” Well, if I can’t feel my legs, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. “To get laid!” Really?
Let’s call a spade a spade: I’d drink if I was a puppet, but I can think for myself. I’d drink if I weren’t willing to face reality as it is, but I want to be more awake. I’d drink if I wanted to have sex unconsciously, but I don’t.
I say do it sober or don’t do it at all. At least then you’ll remember it. Namaste.
Author: Jeff Beaudoin
Editor: Caroline Beaton