Larry N., J.
My story is fairly typical. I am the second of two sons of a loving mother and father. Born and raised in a small town in east Alabama. I come from a family of lawyers. My grandfather, father and uncle were all attorneys. My dad never pressured me or even discussed with me about going to law school, but I could tell he was very pleased when I made that decision.
My childhood was, as they say in the medical profession, unremarkable. My family was, to all appearances, the American prototype: middle class, married parents, two kids, dog, wood-paneled station wagon and everything else that attended the post-war American “dream.”
There were a couple of exceptions to the “typical” description. One was obvious to all who knew my family; the other, a quiet (at the time, anyway) family secret.
The more obvious of the two atypical aspects of my family life was that my brother was “the star.” A lot of families have this dynamic. One of the children will b e exceptional and garner all the attention in some facet or aspect of family life–the star quarterback, the beauty queen, the musical prodigy, even the “bad boy” delinquent. In my family it was my brother. He was an academic prodigy. This manifested itself early in his education and my parents knew from the start that the Ivy League was where his post-high school years would be spent. He did, in fact, end up at one of the most exclusive colleges in the northeast.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my brother dearly and we were and still are extremely close, but growing up and all through school it was always, “If you are as smart as Albert, you’ll be OK.” “Albert would have made an A on that test.” As a lot of younger brothers can attest, it can be incredibly frustrating and harmful to your self-esteem to be continually and mistakenly referred to by your brother’s name. I was called Albert so often I just started answering.
Though my parents loved me, during my early childhood I was just sort of “there.” My dad was busy working his way to success as a young attorney and my mom was going through all the smalltown motions–bridge club, garden club, PTA, etc. I was certainly never abused or neglected; I was just in the shadows.
The family secret (even to me until I was much older) was that my mother was an alcoholic. In her later years, it became tragically obvious and she ended up dying from the disease, but as a youngster, I had no idea. My parents were social drinkers, but I never saw them intoxicated. Alcohol is a progressive disease and in my younger years, the disease had not yet assumed full control of my mom.
As I grew up, always in the shadow of my older brother, I never found my identity. Only two years behind him in school I was always in his wake, always being compared. Because the quality of the schools in my hometown were subpar, my parents knew that a more rigorous academic environment would be required if my brother was going to get into Princeton or Yale. So off he went to a very prestigious boarding school. Again, he excelled. And, when the time came, I followed up the east coast to be a “preppie.” It was the same Play, Act II–always measured by the standards, academic and personality-wise, as my brother.
Quite honestly, although we are very emotionally close, my brother and I have very different personalities, but I was always “prejudged” as being like him. I look back on my high school experience and think how different it would have been if I had gone to another high school. Nonetheless, I had an enjoyable prep school experience and had a small group of close friends, but again, I was “middle of the pack.” Unremarkable. Not outstanding in any area, but not the “last one picked on the playground,” either.
Not having Ivy League stats myself, and being tired of being so far from my beloved South, I opted for a big, Southern, SEC “party school.” My high school was all-male (though not military) and I was ready to see some skirts and pretty faces. Any big SEC school will meet (and exceed) those ex-pectations, and my alma mater was no exception. Pretty girls were everywhere, and in abundant profusion.
So was alcohol.
When I arrived on campus I was lost. My graduating class in high school had 60 people. My freshman class in college had 6,000. I had chosen a school with which I had no affiliation and knew no one. I suppose I wanted the adventure, but shortly after I arrived I was anxious and scared. As odd as it sounds to people who know me now, I was very quiet, shy and unsure of myself. Having gone to an all-boys high school I was even more nervous around the fairer sex. “Shy” is a vast understatement when it comes to describing my presence around the ladies.
Unknown to me, however, one of my mother’s old college friends had a son at my university and I was surprised by being “rushed” by one of the oldest and largest frats on campus. I had no idea about fraternity life and it was a fortunate coincidence that the fraternity I pledged was one of the old-line “status” frats. I was thrown in the deep end of the social pool.
It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that an integral part of fraternity life is alcohol. Like any Southern male, I had had beer a few times in high school, but I was certainly no regular drinker, but in college, draft beer and kegs were everywhere! And it went down so easily. And there was no shortage–ever. And, of course, the football games; where blazers, ties and a fifth of Jim Beam were de rigeur. The best part of the alcohol-infused fraternity scene, though, was that I was n ow uninhibited! I found to my surprise that I was funny and socially adept. No one at this huge school had ever heard of my brother or knew anything about me or my family and no one had any preconceived notions of what I was supposed to be like and I blossomed. Alcohol had solved all of the problems and inhibitions. No more shyness. No more restraint. I had found the answer and it was fun and oh so liberating.
I drank a lot in college, but, hey, so did everybody else. Passing out on the fraternity house couch or falling down the stairs at a band party was not an aberration; it happened to everyone and the stories were just fodder for laughter at the breakfast table. And at that age, the hangovers were just morning problems. My body was young and bounced back easily. By lunchtime, all was well and more plans were being made for the next escapade. I really didn’t notice that I was drinking every night and that not everyone else was. Some of my buddies actually laid off during the week and reserved their partying for the weekends. Not yours truly; I had found the magic elixir. And in a college town, there is always someone to go drinking with you.
Later in my college years, though, I began to notice that alcohol was causing me problems. As we say now in AA, I didn’t have a problem every time I drank, but every time I had a problem alcohol was involved. And I had my first “blackout” my senior year. I had a date to a fraternity party, got ham-mered and just left her there, drove home and passed out. I remembered none of it. I tried to apologize and asked her out again to show her a good time, but she would have...