Tiny Switches

March 15, 2013

In about a month’s time, it will be 4 years since I quit drinking. I don’t self-identify as an alcoholic, though it does run in my family, and some hardcore AA folk might label me a very high bottom alcoholic. I have written in the past about what lead me to quit, label or otherwise, but have recently learned new information that supports that decision. Until a few months ago, I had never heard of Epigenetics, but now it seems to be all I can think about.

There are plenty of resources out there to explain the new-ish science (I prefer THIS ONE because Hank is funny and cute but sadly married), but to put it in incredibly lay-woman terms, Epigenetics studies the genes above the genes. Your DNA is set for life, and immutable, but these are the chemicals that tell the unchangeable strands of your DNA whether or not to fire. Like little switches.

I, like many of us in the world, have a natural born tendency toward depression and anxiety. After about a year free of alcohol, I realized one day my depressive episodes seemed to have disappeared and my anxiety attacks slowed to just special occasion events (I’d like to see that Hallmark card: “Congrats on your tremors and bowel upset!”) I believe, in retrospect, that alcohol is an Epigenetic trigger for me: I am predisposed to depression, but removing this particular substance keeps the switch from firing.

There are two sides to the Epigenetic coin, though, one very optimistic and one very pessimistic. These are two lines that grabbed me from the above video:

“Your grandmother was making dietary decisions that effect you today.”

“You are making decisions that are going to effect people who are alive long after you’re dead.”

[Affect? Effect? Almost 32 and I still can’t get that right…]

On the one hand, lifestyle and dietary decisions of centuries and centuries worth of ancestors might be determining what may or may not fire in your genetic make up, for better or for much, much worse. As Hank says, “the damage has almost certainly already been done…” On the other, YOUR decisions, right now, if you happen to be a breeder, could determine what is expressed in future generations, for worse or for much, much better.

As a Buddhist, I can’t help but think Siddhartha was onto something when he was ruminating on the whole “everyone is interconnected” dealy. He may not have had the benefit of scholarly articles on Epigenetics, but he seems to have nailed it that our decisions not only impact our own lives going forward in time, but those of our future generations. Hell, even if I don’t have children, if I decide to start smoking a pack a day and blow it in enough people’s faces, I could be Epigenetically effecting their progeny’s on and off switches. (There is no risk of this. Smoking is gross.)

So, thanks, Grandpa, for the depression, the anxiety, and the debateable alcoholism. I’ll take the future and my little set of switches from here…



  1. I know you’re being sarcastic, but you should also thank him/grandma for your sense of humor and general awesomeness.

    • thanks dude 🙂

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