Derek Gentile: In fairness, shining a light on my own struggles


GREAT BARRINGTON — I've gotten many comments on my stories of the past few days on the Sheffield Police Department, mostly positive. That is always gratifying.

But I did get a comment pointing out that the individual in question technically wasn't charged. And how would I feel if that information about me were in the paper?

It was a good, reasonable point. So here it is.

I grew up in Adams, a small, blue-collar community where alcohol was often the drug of choice for every positive thing that happened in one's life. Engagements, weddings, successful sports outcomes, they were all punctuated by a couple drinks. And often, more than a couple.

And, in fact, every negative thing got the same treatment. Divorces, breakups, job losses and unsuccessful sports outcomes were also accompanied by a drink or two or three or six or seven.

It was all I knew. There were certainly people in Adams who didn't buy into this, but no one with whom I was familiar.

Moving to Boston for college and living there for a while changed my outlook somewhat, but when I returned to the Berkshires, nothing changed. In fact, moving to Great Barrington to work for a weekly paper there presented an added treat: The New York state line was only minutes away, which meant there were bars open until 4 a.m.

To my discredit, I remember driving back one Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. from a New York state bar and thinking, "God, this is great!"

But it wasn't. As I got older, I cut back my intake. In large part because the hangovers I experienced the next morning after a drinking night lasted longer and longer. It just wasn't as much fun anymore. But I still drank.

What changed me completely was the discovery that I was diabetic about five years ago. I had probably been diabetic for decades, but it was inconvenient for me to do anything about it. I know, I know. Unbelievably stupid.

But I remember realizing that beer, my drink of choice was, essentially, alcohol, salt and sugar. As one of my physical therapists commented when we talked about it, "For you? That's death."

True. So I stopped. And I worried about the ramifications. I wasn't sure I could stay off alcohol.

But I had a friend who understood. Former Eagle reporter Lisi De Bourbon , who worked here in the 1990s, was the most vivacious person I have ever met. Who never drank. At the time, it was kind of incredible. When I realized my issue, we talked about it. She knew exactly the problem.

"You have to find something else to reward yourself," Lisi told me.

It took a couple days for what Lisi said to sink in. But it may well have been advice that saved my life. I didn't really understand that alcohol was more than my exclamation point, it was a reward for winning or being nice or even losing. My cravings were tied to self-esteem issues. And my self-esteem for years was fairly low.

That understanding helped me stop. Now, my reward is seeing my blood sugar level between 90 and 100, which is very healthy. And exercising every day so I feel pretty good. And eating trail mix.

Yeah, trail mix. The various nuts and raisins are great, but the mix I buy has a handful of tiny chocolate kisses in the package. And every time I get one, I'm literally beaming. It's not enough to trigger any blood sugar issues but enough to taste. A little thing, perhaps, but healthier than six or seven beers. And much cheaper.

Anyway, that's the story. So if you see me out, and you have the urge to buy me a drink, remember: seltzer water for me!

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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