Shamrocks and Sobriety: A Sober Alcoholic Reflects on St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day

Parades, corned beef, shamrocks, and wearing green are just a few ways people celebrate Ireland’s foremost patron saint, St. Patrick every year on March 17th. But the 40 shades of green and Irish dinner aside, most people mark this holiday with drinking — a lot of drinking. And that’s probably because this holiday is associated with Ireland, and the Irish have a bit of a reputation for their heavy alcohol consumption. 

Alcoholism among the Irish is a significant problem with the Green Isle, which ranks 17th in all of Europe for its alcohol use. With drinking being a cultural norm in the country, alcoholism is responsible for at least three deaths a day among the Irish. The societal problem is so bad that it’s leaked into the global hivemind, making a religious holiday for an Irish saint a day for celebrating the drunken, Irish stereotype. 

I am 50% Irish American on my mother’s side, and I get it. I resolutely blamed my Irish genetics for my alcoholism for quite some time. Whether or not my Irish blood has anything to do with it, I too suffer from alcoholism — just as I am sure many of my Celtic ancestors did. In fact, my Irish great-grandmother died of cirrhosis at the age of 48. 

Laura in Ireland, 2019

Even though I am sober now, I still feel triggered by St. Patrick’s Day — more than any other holiday, actually. Maybe that’s because I want to partake in the celebrations and drink, or because the smell of Irish food reminds me of Guinness. Maybe my alcoholic ancestry is whispering to me. Because of these feelings, I’ve avoided St. Patrick’s Day parties and events the past two years because I felt a bit left out because I wasn’t drinking. I don’t like feeling left out.

But it’s not like I’d be missing anything if I went out and drank to celebrate the holiday. I’d be too obsessed with drinking to even enjoy whatever was going on and falling down by the time the parade was over in the afternoon. But that’s just because I’d use any excuse to get drunk, so why not a day when everyone else is binge drinking, too? But, just like New Year’s Eve, Cinco de Mayo, and the night before Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day is widely considered an amateur drinking day. 

However, believe it or not, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day up until the 1970’s, and many Irish Catholics do not drink on the holiday because it’s still Lent. And while many still do partake in the annual drinking festivities, it’s viewed as more low-key day by the native Irish than it is for us in the States.

Every day can be St. Patrick’s Day when you’re an alcoholic. I’m reminded of how important my sobriety is this year and how staying sober is the best way to honor my Irish ancestors who died from the same disease I have. So, I’ll skip the green beer and have a green bagel instead, and pay homage to my roots by taking care of myself today. And, I’m sure my Irish ancestors would prefer that for me, anyway. 

How will you be spending St. Patrick’s Day this year? Let us know in the comments! 


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