My Irish eyes are smiling . . . and sober


May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you.

I greet you with this Irish salutation in honor of St. Patrick’s holy-day and my (half) Irish ancestry. Along with the other 36.9 million U.S. residents with Irish roots (eight times the population of Ireland itself!), I’ll wear something green in celebration of a man whose life was guided by his inner voice and visions. But I will also refrain from indulging the other part of my Irish heritage—addiction to alcohol.

First, St. Patrick, who wasn’t Irish himself. He was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century into a wealthy family, but when he was sixteen, Irish raiders attacked his family estate and took him prisoner. Captive in a pagan land, a frightened and lonely shepherd, he became a devout Christian.

According to his own writings, after six years Patrick believed he heard God’s voice in a dream, telling him to leave Ireland. He walked 200 miles to the Irish coast and managed to escape to back to Britain. Again, he experienced a revelatory dream in which an angel told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He spent more than 15 years as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey in France and, after Pope Celestine ordained him a Bishop, he was sent back to Ireland—both to minister to Christians who were living there and to convert the Irish. And no, he didn’t chase actual snakes out of Ireland; snakes at that time were a symbol of Paganism.

Now for the second part of my Irish ancestry—drinking. St. Patrick’s Day comes during the Christian season of Lent (March 17th is the anniversary of his death), but prohibitions were waived and, after attending church in the morning, the Irish would eat meat, dance, and drink. And drink, and drink, and drink. Not only on St. Patty’s Day, but every other day as well.

I fell into alcohol as if I were born knowing how to swim in it. It was my rightful heritage.

If it hadn’t been for my diagnosis of cancer in my mid-twenties, who knows how long I would have continued my reckless romance with alcohol. How many more times would I wake after blackouts, not knowing what had happened. How many years of life would have been lost to liver damage. How many relationships would I have ruined.

Here are 10 signs that you, or someone you love, might be an alcoholic; be concerned if one of them fits:

  1. Your family is worried about your drinking.
  2. You sometimes drink alone.
  3. You drink even though you’ve told yourself you wouldn’t.
  4. You are sometimes late for work due to drinking.
  5. You feel guilty about your drinking.
  6. You sometimes get headaches or hangovers after drinking.
  7. You have had a drink when you wake up in the morning to “cure” a hangover.
  8. You get annoyed when people comment on your drinking.
  9. You feel like maybe you should cut down on your drinking.
  10. You have had a blackout.

If you have a problem with alcohol, get yourself to Alcoholics Anonymous ( and learn how this classic 12-step program will help you. You’ll never regret it. I quit cold turkey after my first meeting, and haven’t had a drink since.  You can do it, too.

Do I miss drinking? No, not even on St. Patrick’s Day.