A Balancing Act

Mackenzie Rumage discusses the impact that alcoholism has on families across the generations. It isn't just the individual, or those closest to them, that are impacted - the issue has a huge knock on effect. Alcoholism can be worryingly easy to hide when social life is so interchangeable with drinking culture, but what impact does that have on other family members? How do you find the balancing act between wanting to socialise, but not repeat past mistakes.

When I was in the sixth grade, we were given a group project: make a presentation out of a serious health issue. My group and I were assigned alcoholism, and it suddenly hit very close to home, because my family has dealt with alcoholism, drug abuse, and control issues for decades.

Up until that point, I hadn’t heard much about my family’s history of alcoholism. But when I came home and told my parents about the project, my dad sat me down and explained as much as he could to an eleven-year-old, including what kind of drunk my aunt was. In her case, she would black out after a certain number of drinks, but to remember what happened, she would have to drink the same amount again. I remember taking all this in stride more or less, but that’s probably because I didn’t truly understand what it all meant, and how destructive addiction can be.

For that reason, I was never particularly interested in drinking in high school, and, except for trying wine on vacation, I stayed away from drinking before I got to college. Not only was I uninterested in seeing people drunk, but I knew the potential consequences of it, and I was afraid of what would happen to me if I started. I was afraid that if I started, I wouldn’t stop — that all my father’s stories would be for nothing if I ended up making the same mistakes as my relatives had made.

After my grandfather, the patriarch, died, the rest of us were left to put the pieces back together. I thought I could erase those issues and reconcile everybody with sheer love and willpower, but it never fully worked, and I thought that failure was my fault. I hadn’t understood that one person cannot remedy an entire family’s history.

I had to confront all these issues when I decided to come to St Andrews. Because I was of drinking age when I came, I had to sit down and think about how my family’s past would fit into my college life, if at all. Would I stay completely sober the entire time to make absolutely sure I didn’t let myself down the road I was so afraid of? Or would I allow myself to drink some, since I was eighteen and finally an independent adult? How much would I actually want to tell people about my family?

It is easy enough to tell my friends that my family has a history of alcoholism, because so many families do, but to go into detail is another thing altogether. Not every family’s stories are the same, and each family deals with it differently. And that’s where it gets even more complicated: when you start telling the stories and your own side, you start intensely reflecting on the issues, which just spurs a lot of emotion and drags the past into the present.

That is the main issue I faced when coming to St Andrews, and the main point of this article: how much do we let the past — good or bad — affect our present? Where is the line between letting our personal history act as a guidepost and ruling over our lives? It’s a constant balancing act, and one I have not even come close to mastering yet. While my family’s history hasn’t stopped me from drinking, I still constantly struggle with my paranoia of getting drunk often, thinking it is okay, passing the point of no return, and making the same mistakes I warned myself against for years. When I came to St Andrews and was faced with the ability to go out when I wanted, I fully realized that alcoholism has not just affected older members of my family, but me as well, as I too have to deal with the aftermath of their decisions today. I try to find the line between acknowledging my family’s past and thinking about it too much — between letting it act as a guidepost and giving it a hold on me.

It’s easy to think that when someone’s an alcoholic, the only people who are affected are the alcoholics themselves and the people most directly related to them. But that’s not true. Our actions leave a mark on others, even we don’t see it, and those marks last. It’s easy to feel alone with these issues, but I hope that with my actions, I’ve been able to show that you can live with these marks, overcome them, and possibly thrive as well.