Does My Family Know I Have a Drinking Problem?

Yes. (But they might not say anything about it to your face).

I get a variation on this question a lot. Sometimes folks will ask, “How should I tell my family I have a drinking problem?” I usually answer, “They already know.”

There’s a weird thing that happens in families when one of the members has a drinking problem. They close ranks and pretend amongst themselves that everything is okay. Or they whisper in walk-in closets and text into phones, “Daddy’s drinking again…” or “I found a bottle in her underwear drawer,” but they find it hard to confront the wrongdoer by the light of day. It’s like there’s a stray, smelly dog in the upstairs hall and everyone just walks around it. They might not call the dogcatcher, but everybody knows it’s there…

I once dated a guy when I lived in Virginia (I lived a lot of places) and his family was very genteel. His mother kept a dog-eared copy of Emily Post on her desk that she actually referred to regularly. She’d open it, leaf to a pertinent page and ponder aloud, with her Scarlett-before-the-fete drawl, “Ah do believe you are not supposed to congratulate the bride to be… better to say, ‘Best wishes’ as I recollect.”

She was actually pretty awesome, and I still light new candles and let the wicks burn because she advised me it is “not done” to leave the wicks waxy. I’m kind of obsessed about it and if I come to your house and all your candles look like they’re for decoration only, gathering dust – the wicks pristine, I’ll think less of you. I can’t help myself. Such was her lasting influence…

Anyway, one night I was at their house for dinner, and everybody was acting all whispery while the mom perfected the napkin origami and there was this quiet air of desperation and foreboding. Maybe Emily Post has a chapter on what not to say when the family patriarch is on a bender, but I for one could have used a heads up. What ensued will go down in my book as one of the most horrific dinner parties I have ever attended.

While my boyfriend’s mother attempted to keep a spirited repartee going and we swayed discreetly right to accommodate the liveried maid serving cold soup from the left, the dad slopped bourbon on the linens, shouted nasty epithets at all the family members and eventually passed out on the Wedgwood with a parsley garnish tucked beside his ear. I learned later, he was a long time alcoholic who had been sober for several months and had (quite spectacularly) fallen off the wagon.

Get the Drinking Problem Out in the Open

Don’t let this happen to you. It would be nice if every alcoholic gathered the family around the fire and said, “I need help.” But we all know that alcoholics are a sneaky lot, and that the conversation is awkward when the topic of overdrinking comes up, so people avoid it.

There is a great website on intervention and how to talk to each other (and avoid dodging dinner rolls while “Daddy” rants drunkenly) called Love If you or a family member are having trouble talking about the problem in the house,  or if you do not know where to begin to get help, check this website out. They recommend a “cooperative approach to lasting sobriety” and that’s what it’s all about, right? Community, family and getting the problem out in the open.

Today I’m not drinking because I’m getting it all out in the open…

How come you’re not drinking?