Twenty years ago I was a drunk. The doctor, after running a few tests, said that I had the liver of a 65 year-old chronic alcoholic and that I’d likely die of cirrhosis before I reached 30. I was 21.
I still drank for another year without slowing down. I had seven years left when I quit and haven’t had a drop since and with the grace of God, I’ll make it through tonight just fine too.
Now, I truly believe the science that says my body and brain processes alcohol differently than most and that “it is in my genes” too – this is what makes me an alcoholic. So the question is why does this matter? The second I disregarded that I became a drunk, and being so became my choice. To illustrate where I’m coming from, I’m using two different definitions – one for alcoholic and one for drunk. I am predisposed to alcoholism because my parents made me – they passed on the genes to form an alcoholic. That having happened is not my fault, there’s nothing I could have done differently. However, acting on those genes and becoming a drunk was by choice. Not necessarily at first, it’s my understanding that, with my heritage (or what we know of it), the alcoholism gene occurs rarely but with my father being an alcoholic and at least one grandfather who was as well I knew my chances were pretty bad going in.
Now, I can’t remember if my mom had the “your dad is an alcoholic so you may be one as well” talk – if we did, I didn’t pay attention and I surely wasn’t going to abstain based on the possibility anyway (no matter how great). As well, figuring this out, especially at a young age, isn’t all that easy. There were times when I could go a week or two without getting entirely hammered (usually after getting in some kind of trouble, not surprisingly) and I could stay quite trouble free for extended periods of time – but the signs were there. The fact that trouble was sporadic gave me a false hope that maybe I was “just being a kid”.
In any event the point is that my genes do not control my destiny, they only play a small part of who I am. The important part, the part that matters, is what I choose to do with those genes. I could very well have chosen a very different path. I could have disregarded the doctor as a quack, kept drinking and completed the disaster that had become my life. I almost certainly would have been penniless and alone or worse; dead or in prison by now. Instead I chose life, good times and noodle salad.