No Really, My Parents Don’t Drink

July 27, 2015
Walking in the park with family

An Invitation to an Event with Alcohol

A new friend has just invited my family to an event where drinking will be the main activity.

Here we go again. Do I respond with:

A. “My parents don’t drink.”
B. “My parents are recovering alcoholics.”
C. Pretend I didn’t hear them and hope they get distracted.

The debate begins almost immediately in my head. I get hot. My palms get clammy, and my heart beats a little harder. My new friend is staring at me, sensing my anxiety, curious as to what is going on in my head.

If I respond with “My parents don’t drink”

If I respond with “My parents don’t drink”, it’s almost guaranteed that the follow-up response will be: “Really?” or “It’s no big deal, they’ll have like one glass of champagne for a toast.” Both of these responses will require me to delve deeper into how alcohol has nearly destroyed our lives. I’ll have to explain that “everything in moderation” does not work in my family. I’ll have to explain that their kind offer to include us in a seemingly harmless activity could put everything at risk. It could bring all of our progress to a screeching halt. I know they won’t understand, and I know that after 20 questions they still won’t understand. It’s a situation that boggles the minds of those not in it.

If I respond with “My parents are recovering alcoholics”

If I respond with “My parents are recovering alcoholics,” I feel like I have to brace myself for the judgment, the same way I would brace for a punch in the jaw. There’s something about the “A” word (alcoholic) that frightens people. When I tell people my parents are alcoholics they most often respond with pity: “Oh you poor thing, your childhood must have been horrible.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth. My parents were amazing a lot of the time. They coached our soccer teams, took us on vacations, taught us how to ride our bikes. They had their vices. They had trouble with self-control, were prone to lashing out, but it wasn’t all bad.

One of the strongest things my parents have ever done was acknowledge the fact that their drinking was out of control. My parents were good before, and they became better by admitting they needed help. I beam with pride thinking of their strength putting down the bottle for good nearly 10 years ago. So the pity often sends me into a protective mode, wanting to shield my parents from the negative thoughts that are creeping into my new friend’s mind.

If I respond with “pretend I didn’t hear them”

If I respond with “pretend I didn’t hear them,” my family becomes a little more isolated. They lose out on an opportunity to make friends. My parents have missed out on a lot of my life. This option always frustrates me because I love my parents, and they deserve to go to fun events like this. I want my friends to be able to enjoy my mom’s quirky, creative personality. But the real question is always: at what cost? If I accept his invitation, would I ever forgive myself if my dad stumbled and had a beer? What if I was the reason that they had to start the entire process over? No. I probably couldn’t bear it.

My Response to the Question

So what do I do?
How do I respond?

The answer is, I don’t know. I’ve been facing these kinds of invitations for over nine years now and I still don’t know. So, most often, I’ll go with the honest response because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. “My parents are recovering alcoholics”.

But I’ve learned that I can’t control other people’s reactions, and I can’t predict what their preconceived ideas will be. There are things I can’t prepare for, and that’s okay. What I can control, is being truthful when developing new friendships and how I share my parents’ story.

I can show them that alcoholics aren’t bad people. I can show them that alcoholics can also be role models. I can show them that alcoholics can be loving and supportive.

I can show them my parents in a situation that won’t put their sobriety at risk.

About the Author

Mimi Jones is a graduate student in Southern California with deep familial ties to the world of addiction. She is the child of alcoholic parents and she shares her experiences as she strives to maintain balance and support her recovering family.

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