When Life Happens to Hamsters

What a week!

In a one-two punch, I’ve found out that my father is suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic and slow moving but fatal lung disease caused by asbestos in the home where he lived while pastoring a rural church.  At about the same time, my mom had much needed hip replacement surgery, but due to a medical error now has something called “drop foot” where she can’t raise her foot on her own, significantly impairing her walking.

I’m taking a course in Chronic Disease Prevention and Management for my PhD program, and I feel like this is more field experience than I bargained for!

Tuesday afternoon after I left the class I TA at school, I stopped at a fancy wine bar/gourmet shop to pick up some oil and vinegar for my mom’s roommate – I’m visiting them this weekend.  It was part of my plan to stop for a nice glass of red at the Happy Hour price.  I really enjoy a glass of fine wine in a nice wine bar – it’s one of the things I missed most when I was abstinent and in AA.  So I was enjoying my wine when I got a text from my dad, who had just been to the pulmonologist.

The good news is: there’s a drug that can double his life expectancy.

The bad news is: It costs $30k per year out of pocket, over and above what Medicare will pay.

It’s hard enough to deal with the fact that you know your parent is dying, if slowly.  But I knew that my dad and step-mother had wanted to spend the years while he’s still well traveling and having a good time.  I’m not privy to the details of their finances, but a hit of $30 k per year would sure take a chunk out of their ability to do much of anything.

For a moment, I really, really wanted to get wasted.  Just block out all the pain and stress.

But that wasn’t in my plan, so I didn’t.  I knew it would just make me feel worse to wake up hung over and with a bar bill that’s not in my budget.  So I went home, cooked dinner and another glass of (albeit cheaper) wine with dinner.

Moderation, not abstinence, is my goal and my plan.  It works really well for me – I don’t feel deprived and I enjoy wine and social drinking, but I avoid the binge drinking that’s been known to get me into trouble.

Our Dear Founder Kenneth Anderson has the saying, “Sad drinking is bad drinking.”  This is wise advice – drinking in reaction to events is almost never good, whether it’s happiness or sadness.  I think all of us have experienced drinking too much to medicate emotions, or getting carried away in a moment or triumph.  Making a plan and sticking to it, even as life happens, is a good Hamster tool.

So too is knowing that you can change that plan.  I used to try to be abs all week and then drink on weekends, which worked for awhile.  But eventually I found myself too tempted to drink too much on weekends.  By adopting an every day moderation plan, I keep alcohol in its proper place: something I enjoy with dinner at the end of the day, but something I don’t think much about otherwise.

(Unless you count that I research and write about it for a living!)

Whether we choose abstinence, moderation or safer drinking, we can use HAMS tools to get through those moments when life happens.


About Cat

Harm Reduction activist with a cat.
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