Choosing Not to Drink Alcohol as a Practice for My Children and My Grandchildren
By Tom Reinert
I had my last drink of alcohol on July 17, 1998. It was a very good bottle of Chardonnay, shared with my wife over a special anniversary dinner. At the time, I enjoyed the wine and did not know that I was giving up drinking alcohol.
I come from a family of alcoholics. My father was an alcoholic. His father was an alcoholic and drug addict. My brother is an alcoholic. My mother has a sister and several brothers who are alcoholics. My wife has a brother who is an alcoholic. I am fortunate, for whatever genetic propensity there is for alcoholism, I do not exhibit it. Throughout my adult life I have been a moderate social drinker, drinking one or two drinks several times per month.
I did not stop drinking as a mindfulness practice, but for my son, who was fifteen at the time. He is a good kid—smart, personable, and kind-hearted. He had not shown any problems with alcohol. But as he has become older, I have become more aware of the pressures he is under—the social glorification of alcohol and drugs, the difficulty of being young in a confusing world, and the stress to perform well in a competitive society. And my wife and I have noticed characteristics in his personality that remind us of some of our family members who have had problems with alcohol or drugs.
I could not protect my son from a larger world and the likelihood of experimentation with alcohol. But I could be an example. I could show him that being a man does not require drinking, that your masculinity need not be measured by how many beers you can consume, and that there are less self-destructive ways to deal with stress. So I simply stopped drinking.
Six months later I began meditating, and about a year later I came upon a commentary on the Fifth Mindfulness Training by Thich Nhat Hanh:
"There are people who drink alcohol and get drunk. who destroy their bodies, their families, their society. They should refrain from drinking. But you who have been having a glass of wine every week during the last thirty years without doing any harm to yourself; why should you stop that? What is the use of practicing this Mindfulness Training if drinking alcohol does not harm you or other people? Although you have not harmed yourself during the last thirty years by drinking just one or two glasses of wine every week, the fact is that it may have an effect on your children, your grandchildren, and your society. We only need to look deeply in order to see it. You are practicing not for yourself alone, but for everyone. Your children might have a propensity for alcoholism and, seeing you drinking wine every week, one of them may become alcoholic in the future. If you abandon your two glasses of wine, it is to show your children, your friends, and your society that your life is not only for yourself. Your life is for your ancestors, future generations, and also your society. To stop drinking two glasses of wine every week is a very, deep practice."
I then realized that my not drinking alcohol was a practice, a practice of awareness and love for my grandfather and my father, for myself, and for my son.
Two weeks ago we sent our son, who is now eighteen, to college. He does not drink alcohol and he is very comfortable talking to other students about it. In choosing a dorm, he had a choice of selecting "chem-free"—a dormitory where no one drinks alcohol. He decided that he did not want to limit himself to interacting with only non-drinkers. Instead, he chose a dormitory where many students do drink alcohol.
He has no trouble at parties telling other students that he does not drink, and when questioned, telling them it is because his family has a very bad history of alcoholism. And when he becomes uncomfortable with others' alcohol related behavior, he simply leaves. He seems to have adopted non-drinking as his own practice. We are hopeful that he will continue to make good choices for himself.