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'Our house was chaos': For this man, Christmas and alcohol is a 'traumatic' combination

Mark Gardiner lost both his father and brother to alcohol addiction. He called into Checkup from Cape Breton Island, N.S., to talk about the trauma he's experienced due to his family's drinking habits, especially around the holidays.
"My father drank every Christmas," Mark Gardiner called into Checkup during the show on the dangers of alcohol. (Getty Images)

Growing up on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Mark Gardiner saw first hand the impact excessive alcohol use can have.

"I'm afraid of alcohol," Gardiner told Checkup host Duncan McCue. "Alcohol has been a part of my life since the day I was born."

He lost his father and later, his younger brother, to an alcohol addiction.

"For a young child to see his parent come in intoxicated, it's scary," Gardiner said. "We'd be home worrying about what he's going to do and what's going to happen."

If you, or someone you know is struggling with addiction, check out this list of addictions treatment helplines in Canada.

Drinking — a societal norm

My father, who came back from [the Second World War], was addicted to alcohol when he returned and drank himself to death. He died directly from alcohol use. And my youngest brother died of liver failure from drinking.

It's considered a societal norm to go out [and] get drunk on Friday and Saturday, and go to work and talk about it Monday. Or any kind of events where there's alcohol served, for people to go and use it and then think it's a wonderful thing — to go talk about how much fun they had because they had a few drinks.

I don't know if you understand how many children watch Hockey Night in Canada in Canada. When I was a young boy, I wouldn't miss it. And now I think it's much the same. And alcohol ads are on there. Like prior to Don Cherry, there's a big Budweiser ad.

To sit down with a bottle of pop and popcorn to watch a hockey game of your heroes, and then alcohol is thrown in there subliminally — you don't have any idea what that's doing to the young child's mind. They think it's cool. They think it's great. 

'Chaos at Christmas time'

I hated my father for [drinking]. Now, I feel sorry for him. But when I was living through it, I hated him because it was total chaos and especially at Christmas time. Our house was chaos at Christmas time.

My father drank every Christmas, and we'd be home worrying about what he's going to do and what's going to happen.

I'm sure there's all kinds of people who worry about someone coming home after work — the office party. For a young child to see his parent come in intoxicated, it's scary.

I get nervous around people that are drinking. I get this feeling in my stomach, I'll never get rid of as long as I live and I'm afraid of alcohol. And personally, I don't drink and thankfully I don't like the taste of it. I did a little bit of drinking, but nothing serious.

'It's traumatic'

I stay home and stay away from it. I don't invite anybody to my home that would bring alcohol. It's traumatic. You have no comprehension of how traumatic alcohol's been to my being.

I probably would have been a professional hockey player had it not been for alcohol use by my father.

I was always afraid to leave home, leave my mother and my family alone with my dad because he was kind of violent and it was just a fearful place to grow up.

All my family turned out fairly OK other than my youngest brother, who drank himself to death. But I know it's an issue that affected us all deeply.

I don't need alcohol in my house at Christmas time. Christmas time, for me, is a time to be thankful for all the good things I have in my life, not to bring alcohol into it. Like I always say, people that drink and say they had a good time, they don't even know if they had a good time, if they were really intoxicated.

All comments have been edited and condensed for clarity. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link above. This online segment was prepared by Samraweet Yohannes on Dec. 11, 2017.