Alcoholic set to battle old demons

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DEAR DR. WOLKOFF:

I am a 43-year-old alcoholic man. I drank every day for 24 years. Toward the end, my eyes were always yellow and my hands shook. I had to quit my job.

My parents and one brother are alcoholics, too, and two of my mother's three brothers died from complications of alcoholism.

I was brought up in an environment of poverty and fear in which my father would beat up my mother. Somehow, though, I finished university and received my teaching certificate.

Because I did not want to destroy my 14-year-old daughter, I entered a residential treatment centre a year ago and came out sober after a month.

But I dream of drinking every day.

To my relief, the alcoholism did not destroy my brain function. I have started taking night courses and enjoy playing the guitar. I am able to raise my daughter the way I'd like, even though I don't know how to open up and discuss my alcoholism with her.

Now that I don't smell of alcohol any more I would like to start a relationship with a woman. My problems are that I'm insecure and can't tolerate other people's successes. I have changed partners many times and have hurt them. I am very vindictive by nature; I know I can harm people and not feel guilty later.

I want the "full life" you often write about and I do want to change. How can I tackle my insecurity?

DR. WOLKOFF REPLIES:

Firstly, you have already brought much of your negative behaviour under control by acknowledging, then beating your alcoholism.

Add your meaningful relationship with your daughter and your renewed interest in personal and professional activities, and you're already on the road to a full life.

You'll have to write the rest of this story yourself as you go, but you do seem to have the motivation and courage you didn't think you had. Continue to pursue things that feel right, such as taking your night courses, playing your guitar and being there for your daughter.

You appear to recognize some of the demons you'll have to wrestle along the way. The prevalence of alcoholism in other family members suggests you inherited the problem genes. Studies have demonstrated genetic predispositions to alcoholism, depression and hostile behaviours.

No current treatment gets down to the gene level, but symptoms and behaviours can be managed with medications and mood- and thought- regulating classes.

The fear, loneliness and violence you endured during your childhood have distorted your view of yourself and others.

You have already begun to change the picture by enjoying your clean and sober status and using your time constructively.

Support groups and individual psychotherapy or counselling, and support from your daughter and a new partner will help you overcome any distress you may feel when you decide to open up.

The views expressed are those of the author, Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, a Toronto psychiatrist. Send your questions to Dr. Wolkoff c/o Your Mind, Life Section, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto M5E 1E6, or fax to (416) 869-4410. Sorry, personal replies cannot be given.

Dr. Wolkoff is the co-host of Caregiving With June Callwood, live Sundays at 5 p.m. on Prime TV.