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The inescapable presence of booze

A little over a month ago my little, 18 year old brother had an accident. He went to a party with friends and got drunk, and while going back home he started feeling sick and wanted to barf. He asked his friend who was sober and driving to please pull over, got off the car, and from some stupid reason decided to jump over the crash barrier to have a walk. Behind it there was no field, but a steep slope and ditch. He faceplanted. Hard. Broken nose, broken orbital, broken wrist, both eyes black, huge gash on his lip, and an assortment scrapes on his chin, cheek, neck and ear.

The thing is that in addition to the visible injuries and the concussion, the fall also gave him an epidural hematoma. Thankfully his friends had gotten him back on the car and to the hospital right away. He had surgery to relieve pressure to the brain and he is now slowly getting better.

This whole ordeal has been obviously hard on the whole family. For me, seeing my baby brother (he might be an adult now, but he will be my baby brother to the day we die) in such a state, with the threat of permanent injury or even death looming over him marks the time I’ve been most worried about anybody other than myself. I seriously don’t know how parents deal with this kind of situations without losing their shit.

It also got me thinking, again, about alcohol and its influence in our social life.

I’m straight edge. I have been since I was 16, and a big part of that was to serve as a role model of sorts to my two little brothers. I wasn’t going to ever preach, but I wanted them to see that they should not ever feel pressured into doing anything they didn’t want to. I wanted them to see that it was ok not to drink or do drugs, even if most people do.

However I’m not stupid nor dogmatic. Chances were they were going to eventually gonna drink or do drugs at some point in their lives, so I’ve always been very honest about my opinions on the subject, but also about how I’m in the minority and what the struggles of going against the grain in this issue are.

I’ve also tried to encourage them to think and look information up for themselves, so when our other brother left Spain to study abroad, I bought him a book on drugs, their effects, risks and costs (Drugs Without The Hot Air by David Nutt). That way if he decided to do anything he could at the least make an informed decision instead of simply rusting some idiot friend.

Above all I know that their decisions are theirs, and theirs only. I can be there to give advice and support if asked, but nothing more.

Still, I can’t help wonder, what now?

Hell, if our dad was still with us he’d probably try to ground him forever but I know that’s be pointless and unfair. My brother had an accident, it’s not like he did it on purpose or that he was doing anything too reckless/out of the ordinary. He doesn’t have a problematic relationship with alcohol by normal standards. He’s a good kid and a good student. He’s never gotten himself in trouble. He just had one bad night.

The thing is that if he had been injured doing anything else many would be asking him to consider not ever do it again. He could then listen or not, but at least the request and the consideration would be expected, and whatever decision was made, it would pretty much go unchallenged. If somebody gets really hurt skiing and decides to never ski again, some might consider it excessive, but understandable. Same if they decide they were just unlucky and decide to go back to the slopes again. But with drinking the possibility is not even on the table apart from the ocassional joke.

Drinking is so integral to social life – specially for a college kid – that it feels unthinkable to let it go, even on the face of life threatening injuries.

I was lucky. I was a hardcore kid and a skateboarder, so in my social circle people at least knew what Straight Edge was. I could easily find like minded individuals. There was a support system. Hell, at least it was an issue to be discussed. My brother on the other hand is a “normal” kid. Alcohol is not something to be questioned. It just is. It’s the lubricant that greases social interaction. It’s the provider of fun. The reason for partying.

Can I expect him to ostracize himself willingly? To make his social life harder on purpose? Do I want him to have to deal with being “the weird one”, the teenage teetotaller. I had my fair share of that when I interacted with people outside the hardcore scene and it wasn’t fun nor pleasant, but at least I still had my own little world where I was understood.

Alcohol has coopted, along with drugs, all our social spaces and shunning it turns you into an outcast. It’s simply everywhere. It’s inescapable. And today, after almost 18 years of not drinking or doing drugs, it still bums the fuck out of me.