Erin go Ceithre Dhuine Dhéag!

Gaelic words, probably put together wrong. “Erin go Fourteen!” is what I was after. As in fourteen years sober, which runs against the grain of Saint Patrick’s Day. It was on or around this day in 2007 I gave up alcohol, and I like to mark the occasion with a blog post.

I love being clear-headed, sleeping well, waking up ready to face the day, yadda yadda, same stuff I say every year, you’ve heard it before. Well, all that’s still true. I do not miss drinking, not even a little bit.

Tell you what, though. I just finished “Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family,” my book club’s April selection,“The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.”

Apart from my surprise that anyone this side of the Middle Ages would choose to have twelve children (ten boys in a row, followed by two girls), and that half of them would develop schizophrenia in their teens, the author’s casual description of the way the kids started drinking and doing drugs in their early teens … as young as eleven, some of them … floored me. Was I raised in some Hardy Boys universe where starting so young would have been unthinkable? Apparently so!

I drank my first beer as a junior in high school, at sixteen or seventeen, and didn’t try marijuana until I was twenty. The kids in this family were doing all that and more before puberty. Not just beer, hard liquor, and marijuana: they used cocaine, LSD, meth, and opium, sharing it with siblings and friends. These were middle-class children from the right side of the tracks, and the way their history of alcohol and drug use is recounted, everything they did was normal for kids in their Colorado Springs community, no big deal. It had nothing to do with the schizophrenia six siblings developed, the main point of the narrative; for the six who dodged the genetic bullet and grew into functioning adults, their early alcohol and drug use had no lasting effects on their lives.

Even so! I was shocked!

Cigarette smoking didn’t rate more than a few passing references in the book, but it was clear all twelve kids started smoking at a young age. So did I, one thing I share with them. That and sex … they and I started young, but I think you can say that about most kids, from the present day all the way back to when we lived in caves.

What a mess it is, being human. But we muddle through, at least most of us. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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