Some years later, after I was married and a father and living in Maryland while working at the National Security Agency (NSA), I got a phone call from the Oakland, California police. They told me my mother had collapsed in the midst of an alcoholic bender. I flew to Oakland, got her into a hospital, closed down her apartment, and gave away what little furniture she had. Then I brought her back to Maryland to live with me while she recovered. When she was well enough, she moved to West Virginia to be with her family—and resumed drinking. Through it all, she was a heavy smoker and died not long after from lung cancer.
Meanwhile, both in college and in the military, I was surrounded by people who drank, sometimes to excess. Gingerly, I began to experiment with alcohol until I learned how to drink enough to seem like one of the guys but little enough that I didn’t lose control. I realized quite young that I actually disliked inebriation. I taught myself to drink slowly enough to avoid it.
Then came my years undercover in Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. Except for the period after 1973, when the U.S. military was pulled out of Vietnam, most of my time there was spent with the military, army or Marine Corps, on the battlefield. There was plenty of drinking, but I mostly didn’t participate. I needed to keep myself in tiptop shape at all times. I never knew when or if I’d be able to sleep. I never knew where the next attack might come from or when.
My work after Vietnam is still classified, so I can’t discuss it. Suffice it to say that I spent a good deal of time working with the military. Lots of alcohol everywhere I was assigned, but to keep myself fit and ready for action, I didn’t participate beyond the level required to be considered normal.
Through all those years and during my retirement, I distanced myself from drinking as much as possible. I have no idea if alcoholism is hereditary, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Every so often, when I could do it without looking peculiar to those around me, I drank no alcohol at all for several months at a time, just to assure myself that I was not addicted.