“There’s more food on the stove. Please have more dinner! I’m glad to see you like my cooking.”
One hour passes.
As you take the Tupperware from the refrigerator, you hear, “You’re eating again?”
Sometimes the judgment is so subtle, it is hard to hear. Keep listening.
I was leaning in toward her, trying to hear her next words just slightly sooner than the rest of her audience. I was mesmerized by the story to the degree that I was losing awareness of some of my physical presence. I didn’t notice that my jaw had dropped and my mouth was hanging open like a baby waiting for someone to insert a spoonful of pureed carrots. Have you ever heard a TV advertisement for the monster truck rally at the fairgrounds next, “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!”? The part where the pitch-man bellows, “We’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge!”? That was me. Mouth agape, surely drooling a little, butt cheeks barely hanging onto the front half-inch off my chair, and astonishment coursing through my body.
It’s not that her story was so captivating that I had never heard anything quite like it before. I had. I hear lots of unspeakable tales. It was that she was telling the story. Her. She had come to our little writing workshop every Thursday for months. She always wrote, but only read on occasion. Usually, she shared something that felt like the tip of the iceberg. Like she wasn’t sure if she could trust us with what was below the surface. I’m not sure she’d trusted anyone ever. At least not since someone ruined it for all of us – proving the human species so untrustworthy that she’d chosen never to trust again.
I was blown off by a high school principal for a Monday morning meeting. It was work related and had nothing to do with my kids. She requested the meeting. It was based on her calendar availability, but she was too busy (forgetful?) to show up.
My wife had a very empathetic and meaningful conversation with a friend about the anxiety of trying to maintain a busy family with a busy work schedule. Then her friend proceeded to drink wine enthusiastically, not making the connection between alcohol and the nervous system.
Major League Baseball instituted some drastic new rules this year to speed up the games. Now many ball clubs, including our Colorado Rockies, are cutting off beer sales in the eighth inning instead of the traditional last call in the seventh because their revenue from alcohol sales is down. Wait a minute. Wasn’t the three-inning pause designed to give people time to sober up before driving home? Now the innings are faster, and people get fewer of them to dry out?
There is a curse that goes along with the blessings of sobriety. I can’t unsee the stupidity all around me. I used to be able to drink the ridiculous away. In fact, I used to contribute mightily to the lunacy. So when you keep drinking to fit in and be one of the crowd – when you decide your drinking is not a problem because everyone else is drinking like you – there is one massive problem with that justification.
Everyone is pretty dumb.
What if everyone had known everything right from the beginning? What if my dirty little secrets, that started as rare indiscretions or occasional overindulgences, were on display for all to see? What if the progression of my drinking, and the progression of my moodiness, anxiety, irrationality and depression, were plastered on the outside, instead of insidiously roiling on the inside?
What if there were no secrets? Only increasingly despicable truths. Truths everyone knew. What then?
I would have gotten sober a lot sooner, that’s what. I never would have crossed that invisible line into addiction. It would not have been easy, but the truth sure would have made the decision simple.
“Antidote” – Definition, Merriam-Webster: a remedy to counteract the effects of poison
There is no arguing that alcohol is a poison. You can claim that the key is moderation, or that when consumed responsibly, alcohol can enhance your life. The science and medical communities are slowly uniting around the fact that there is no safe amount of alcohol for human consumption. So, it’s a poison with a toxic impact on our neurology and biology. If you can accept that fact, I hope you’ll keep reading. If not, nothing else I have to say is going to reach you.
I’ve been studying alcohol and alcoholism for over six years now. If you include my own personal first and second hand research, I am in my fifth decade of alcohol, and its impact, taking a high priority in my life. After all that time, all the reading, all the watching and listening, all the stories, all the successes and all the failures I have experienced and witnessed, I am absolutely convinced of one thing:
“You’re awful proud of yourself,” he scoffed. “I’ll save a seat for you at a meeting for when you relapse.” I’d just met this AA lifer at a church service that catered to people suffering from addiction. He had asked me how I got sober. When I told him Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t part of my solution, I guess he didn’t like my answer.
I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve heard that pride leads to relapse. From the best I can surmise, the idea that “pride is dangerous” is a foundational tenet of twelve-step philosophy. There’s just one problem.
The concept is total bullshit.
She was good. Really good. Like most high school stars who are awarded full-ride athletic scholarships to division one universities, Amber was used to being the best ball player on the diamond. Her freshman year at Baylor University in 2000 would be her first experience having to work hard to keep up. How did she respond? She drank.
I spent way too much time on social media during the week between the holidays. I usually post about my writing and podcast, then turn it off, so anything more than a few minutes a week makes me feel gross. I probably only scrolled fb and IG for a grand total of an hour, but I still needed to take a hot shower, scrub my eyes with bleach and submerge my phone in Windex.
In case I’ve been unclear, I don’t enjoy social media. I think my dislike stems from my borderline-perverted curiosity about your messy, dysfunctional lives. I don’t want to see your family’s strained smiles wearing itchy sweaters in front of a dead evergreen adorned with LEDs and third-grade craft projects. Great – someone held Preston down long enough to comb his hair, and Bill really did a nice job sucking in his gut for the ten seconds until the timer on the phone camera ran down to zero. Precious. Send it to grandma. I want the truth, damn you!
October is scary movie season for me. While watching The Exorcist a couple of weeks ago, it struck me how far we have come in the treatment of mental illness. The movie was made in 1973, and having the possessed girl talk to a psychiatrist was the absolute last resort. Psychiatrists were seen as kooks. The preferred treatment option, before talk therapy, was to drill into her skull and remove part of her brain.
I guess that is less an example of how far we have come, and more evidence of how recently we have been completely ass-backwards as it relates to mental health.
Maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong. Maybe by shrouding in shame people who become addicted to the soothing properties of alcohol, we are stifling potential and ignoring the greatness hiding in plain sight. Maybe as we look away in disgust and disapproval, we are emboldening the stigma. As alcoholics, maybe our own behavior – like tucking our tails between our legs and slinking into a church basement – maybe that keeps us buried under the crushing weight of an embarrassing diagnosis.