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The next time you see me, I will be a Grandpapa

“The next time you see me, I will be a Grandpapa” says Gilles as he picks the plumpest round of Rochetta cheese out of the fridge for me. 

He has been waiting for his daughter giving birth with growing excitement for months, and now that her due date is imminent, his mixture of joy and anxiety is palpable. 

I’ve been shopping at the market for years and I love the process. I go from booth to booth, I have my favorites. I go to one booth for berries, another for tomatoes. Today my favorite fruit vendor has suggested I go to the next booth where the woman has brought in some fresh bok choy, harvested on her farm this morning and some asparagus lettuce, a vegetable that I have never eaten before. I know people’s names and sometimes they tell me their stories. 

Gilles is the owner of the store, charismatic and extremely knowledgeable; we have had many discussions about food, wine and bread.

Recently we started going to the market early on Fridays. Most of the freshest local food comes in then, and we avoid the hordes of foodies, tourists and after-work shoppers that come later and on the weekend. I call it the dawn patrol, as most of the shoppers are older people or young parents with toddlers and babies in tow. Sometimes there are even grandparents with their grandchildren. I imagine that they have had a sleepover, facilitating a date night for their children and are now at the market to let the little ones blow off some steam. One of the advantages of coming early is that there is more time for a chat. 

Maybe a year ago, Gilles told me about why and how he stopped drinking. He said that he and his ex-wife had always been drinkers. At that time he had three different stores, work was very stressful, and when dinner was over two bottles of wine would have disappeared. His marriage broke down. He started having real health problems. His liver was no longer happy with him. He was not doing well. This could well have ended the way it seemed destined to go: a downward spiral into cirrhosis, esophageal varices and death, but Gilles had a powerful ally on his side. 

Greg Dubord, the CBT Canada guru, has a number of techniques for helping people to move along the path to behaviour change. One of the techniques he proposes is for the doctor to ask the patient to imagine what their children would say about their self-destructive behaviour. In this case Gilles did not have to imagine, because his only child, his beloved daughter told him exactly what she thought. Before her wedding, she sat her father down and told him that she did not want scenes at her wedding. Since she knew that her mother could not be relied upon not to drink, she wanted her father to promise that there would be no fighting or embarrassing scenes. If they could not get along that they could not be there. Then she told both of them that when the, planned for, baby came she would not be able to let them babysit if they were still drinkers. 

In my mind, this was an act of great courage. It could have completely backfired. She could have completely alienated and lost her loving relationship with her parents. Malcom Gladwell, in his book Talking to Strangers, says “Alcohol creates a sense of emotional and intellectual myopia. It narrows our experiences to what is happening right now. Drinking puts you at the mercy of your environment. It crowds out everything except the most immediate experiences.” Cravings are hard to control and once that first drink is taken, it hijacks the brain.

In this case, however, the message was heard and received. With the help of his doctor, and a psychiatrist, using meds and meditation and exercise, Gilles is now seven years sober. He has regained his health. He says he is happier than he has ever been, proud of his achievement, ready for the new adventure of being a Grandpapa, because of the transforming power of love.