My sister, Judy, was given her first taste of alcohol very innocently by our parents on her 16th birthday. This was something of a family tradition. I am only two years younger than my sister, and I too received my first sip of wine at a Hungarian restaurant on my 16th birthday. However, the difference is I waited until my college years for the next drink. Judy did not.
You see, Judy is a prime example of someone who was addicted to alcohol at first sip. Growing up, we were very close, but Judy and alcohol were closer. At first, she was able to practice some restraint and not allow it to interfere with her life to any degree—that is, until she couldn’t and it became her whole life.
At the age of 41, Judy died of acute alcoholism. Of course, her death certificate did not put that as a cause of death, but those of us who knew her and loved her knew that's what it was. There’s so much left to say and do with Judy that none of us were ready to let go of. Out of everything that we went through as a family during Judy’s most tumultuous years, here are the three questions I would ask if she was here with me today.
1. Why is alcohol more fun than being around me?
We were brought up in a close, loving family environment. She would never go anywhere or engage in any activities unless alcohol was served or she was allowed to bring her own. This severely limited her opportunities for recreation, education and just plain having fun. Alcohol was the most important thing in her life. I wished I had asked her why that was.
2. Why is alcohol more important than your future?
It is true that Judy had a very low tolerance for alcohol and became seriously addicted early in her drinking career. But she was also an intelligent, fiercely independent person who was not afraid of speaking her mind even if it went against the flow of popular opinion in politics, religion or any other subject. She also knew what she wanted and was out to get it.
Judy was a college graduate. She had the whole world to live for and the potential to carry on the high quality of life she enjoyed as a child and teenager. I wished I had asked her why she chose to give that up for vodka.
3. Why is alcohol more important than your life?
I wished I had had more profound conversations with her about her disease. She knew she was killing herself. Why did she want to do that? I wished I had asked her. What would she have said if I asked her what is it in her life that she wanted to erase? I do not know the answers to these questions and never will. However, if I could have gotten into her mind, I may have discovered the soul killer that drove her to block out her sadness and lead her down a path of self-destruction.
Of course, I will never be able to verify this theory. I wished I had thought of this when she was alive. I would have loved to have heard her thoughts on this theory. In spite of many hospital stays and attempts at rehabilitation, her disease was too strong for her. She was caught in a death wish not unlike Ben Sanderson, the lead in that excellent, hard-to-watch film "Leaving Las Vegas."
Life is not always rational, nor does it always give us the chance to ask these questions.