To the Drunk Who Sat behind Me

I had been looking forward to seeing Arlo Guthrie in concert for months. Sure, this would be my 20th time seeing him since 1980, but that’s because I sort of view him as the milepost for my development. I grew up with his music. I still have several of his albums (remember those?) gathering dust somewhere. I’ve been at different stages of my life with each passing concert. I was excited about experiencing his wit and wisdom now that I’m finally at a place in my life where I know I’m exactly where I should be.

That, and the man is 71. I have no idea how many more mileposts he’ll be present for. Each concert becomes all the more precious due to the passage of time.

And concert tickets do not come cheap these days. While I’m in a better financial place than I have been in the past, I still have to sit in the nosebleed section. I still have to drive around and around and around in hopes of finding the cheapest possible parking. I still think about the many other things I should be doing with that money. Concerts are a luxury.

So you can imagine my irritation when I settled in to my seat at the theater and the alcoholic who was sitting behind me started acting up. (Lord knows I’ve made my opinions about alcoholics quite clear in this blog.) The woman would not shut up.

Not only would she not shut up, but she actually increased her volume to be heard over Arlo’s singing. And she kept shouting Wooo Hooo! (Not that I’m opposed to that. I’ve Wooo-ed my share of Hooos myself at more than one concert. But not in the middle of the entertainer’s enjoyable stories. Not 10 times during the same song.) No one came to hear your Wooo Hooos, lady.

She ignored my dirty looks. She ignored my leaning forward and cupping my ear. She ignored my husband’s polite request for her to keep it down. In fact, she got louder. Because the world revolves around her.

That’s why I know she’s an alcoholic without knowing her personally. Only habitual drunks go out in public and make a$$es of themselves, despite the disapproval of every single person around them. Only alcoholics are oblivious to the fact that they are ruining an expensive night out for everyone within earshot of them. Only alcoholics can be that freakin’ selfish.

I sat there and fumed for about 4 songs. I kept telling myself to not give her that power. I kept telling myself that I was there for Arlo, not for idiot. But she was so loud. So unbelievably loud.

Finally we moved to some empty seats even higher up in the nosebleed section, and had a wonderful time. Arlo never disappoints. He’s an American icon, just like his father Woody Guthrie was.

I noticed that Drunky McDrunkerson did not return to her seat after the intermission. I don’t know if she was passed out in the bathroom, or if she was asked to leave, but I guarantee you, she wasn’t missed by anyone. I just hope she didn’t drive home.

So, if you happen to be reading this, you drunken fool, please know that you looked like an imbecile, and everyone around you was resisting the urge to punch you in the throat. You are not liked. You are not appreciated. You are not the life of every party. In fact, you are the death of many of them. You owe us all a refund. You owe Arlo an apology. You should be ashamed of yourself. And now your horrible behavior has been immortalized in this blog. I’m sure it’s one of your highest achievements. How sad for you.

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Whoa. My Parents Loved Each Other.

I know this is going to sound awfully strange to those of you who were lucky enough to grow up in intact households, but for the first time, at age 52, it recently dawned on me that at some point in time, my parents actually loved each other. And now I’m having to reframe my whole concept of what my mother’s life must have been like. It’s surreal.

You see, my parents were divorced when I was three months old. I never met the man. He never once sent me a birthday card or a Christmas present or paid one dime of child support. I never heard his voice or held his hand.

For many years I assumed this was no big deal. You can’t miss something that you never had, right? But as time passed, I realized that I definitely did miss out on something. I never had a feeling of safety. I never felt as though someone had my back. I had no positive male role model to show me what I should look for in a partner. (Unfortunately, the presence of this particular man wouldn’t have provided those things anyway, so there’s really no use in speculating.)

Growing up, I did have a natural curiosity about my father. I’d sometimes ask my mother about him. To her credit, she never bad-mouthed him, ever, other than to say that he came back from WWII as an alcoholic, and that’s what eventually caused their split. It wasn’t until years after she died that I found out (accidentally, from a cousin) that he beat her, too. So I came to view him as a bad element that had been excised from my life. Good riddance.

I never really thought about their history, as an actual couple.

Then, very recently, I was contacted by a very nice lady who said that she was my father’s goddaughter. That was a shock. I didn’t even know he had one. Apparently, her parents and mine had been great friends, and her father had been a photographer. She had tons of pictures of my parents from the 50’s. Would I like them? Uh… yeah!

When the envelope arrived, I sat holding it for a long time, kind of afraid to open it. I had no idea what I would find inside. More of the story, no doubt. But would I like the story more or less because of it?

She had a lot of pictures, indeed. Pictures of my parents on their honeymoon at Niagara Falls, my mother’s head on my father’s shoulder, both smiling blissfully. Trips to Montreal. Their wedding reception dinner. A picture of my mother, sleeping contentedly amongst a pile of coats on someone’s bed. And a picture that may just have been the moment my father proposed. He is kneeling, gazing up at her adoringly. She is looking happily down at him.

I have to admit that in all the photos he looks intoxicated, and he most likely was. That didn’t surprise me. All the pictures I have of him are like that. But I wasn’t expecting the adoration. That was new.

My mother’s parents were not alcoholics. I suspect she didn’t know what she was in for. She didn’t realize what havoc that blissful intoxication would eventually wreak on her life, and by extension, the lives of her daughters.

Hope springs eternal. Love conquers all. Until it doesn’t.

But those adoring looks still rattled me. Now, instead of looking at my father as a bit of mold that had to be cut out of an otherwise perfectly edible loaf of bread, I had to see him as a rusty knife that left behind a painful wound that never properly healed. My mother moved on, yes, but in all likelihood she got her heart trampled in the process. I don’t know why that had never crossed my mind.

When my father died, my uncle sent me the contents of his wallet. It included a picture of my parents on their honeymoon. My whole life, a life he never experienced, he had carried a picture of a woman whose world he had shattered, whom he hadn’t seen in 25 years. I think that’s incredibly tragic.

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Thanks, Crappy Dad!

I was commiserating the other day with someone about what horrible, toxic, deadbeat and emotionally unsupportive fathers we each have. I was wondering how much farther ahead we’d both be if we had grown up with men in our lives who encouraged us and made us feel safe and loved. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. (If you can, then call your dad right now and tell him that you love him. Seriously. Do it right now.)

But my wise friend said that she’d keep her crappy dad, because otherwise she wouldn’t be who she is. (And I’ve got to say that she’s pretty darned amazing.)

She makes a very good point. We may have sprung from the loins of a couple of really rotten human beings, but that’s part of what makes us who we are. Without the trials and tribulations and struggles that came from being raised by single mothers, we wouldn’t have the intestinal fortitude that we have. Without the financial stress, we wouldn’t have the work ethic that we have. Without the deprivation, we wouldn’t appreciate what truly matters in life, and here’s a hint: it sure isn’t money.

And then there’s also the DNA contribution, I suppose. That can’t be discounted. I guess they were good for something.

So, if I had actually had the opportunity to meet my father before he died his sad, alcoholic death, I might have said to him, “Thanks, Crappy Dad! You taught me much about the kind of person I would never want to be!”

Come to think of it, that’s quite a gift. I just sort of wish it had come packaged a bit differently.

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M.A.D. — Mutually Assured Dysfunction

I have a distant acquaintance who is a very self-destructive alcoholic. Watching him is like witnessing a train wreck in slow motion. And it’s even more tragic because when he’s off the sauce, he seems to be able to lead a very successful life. Alas, he’s almost never sober.

A couple years ago he met an absolutely gorgeous woman and they’ve been together ever since. She does not have a drinking problem. At first I really wondered what she could possibly see in this man, but now I think I have it figured out.

The evidence is plain to see on his Facebook page. He never posts on his own page. Not ever. But she does, almost daily. And it always seems to be about what they’re doing together, and how happy they are, and lots of heart icons, and invariably a photograph of the two of them in each other’s arms, in which she is beaming ecstatically and he is quite obviously three sheets to the wind, complete with drool.

It’s really kind of pathetic. He’s all about the booze, but it seems she’s all about the control. If you need to be in control, what better partner to have than a man who’s in a completely passive stupor all of the time? She is clearly calling all the shots. And every Facebook post has this underlying message: “He’s MINE.” She couldn’t be more obvious if he were the fire hydrant and she were the dog.

They are completely intertwined in their own codependent universe. As long as she’s in control, he can drink. And as long as he drinks, she can be in control. It’s almost as if two parasites are feeding off each other. But surely such a system cannot sustain itself forever. It completely lacks protein.

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That Place Beyond Logic

There ought to be a word for people who irrationally cling to their beliefs way beyond the point where they could possibly make any sense to anyone, including themselves. Some of these people are simply desperately stupid. Others are just so stubborn that they refuse to change their stance even when they themselves must realize that they look like fools.

Here’s an actual conversation I once had with an ex-boyfriend. Not only does it illustrate my point but it explains one of the many reasons he is an ex.

Him: “Anyone who has ever had alcohol is an alcoholic.”

Me: “Er… what?”

Him: “It’s true. Any alcohol of any kind means you’re an alcoholic.”

Me: “So the woman who has one cold beer a week to celebrate the weekend is an alcoholic?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Even if she has never been drunk in her life.”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Even if during hard times she can’t afford that one beer and that doesn’t particularly bother her.”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “How about your amazing Aunt Linda, who has only had the occasional glass of champagne at New Year’s?

Him: “She’s an alcoholic, too.”

Me: “She would be as stunned as I am to hear that, I’m sure. How about someone who partied pretty hard in college because that was the thing to do, but who outgrew it by the time he was 23, and hasn’t had a drink of any kind in the past 50 years?”

Him: “Alcoholic.”

Me: “Seriously? And someone who has never consciously partaken, but has had Nyquil, which contains alcohol, when suffering from a bad head cold?”

Him: “He’s an alcoholic, too.”

Me: “Nothing but communion wine about once a month?

Him: “Alcoholic.”

Me: “How about a fundamentalist (insert any religion here) who has avoided alcohol of all kinds since birth, but one day accidentally takes a sip of vodka, thinking it’s water, and immediately spits it out, but one evil drop manages to slide down her throat?

Him: “Yes, her too.”

Me: “What a scary world you live in. Every single person on the planet is an alcoholic. How about you? You had one drink your entire life, a glass of wine as we rode a gondola through the canals of Venice. Are you an alcoholic?”

Him: “I am.”

Me (after a long pause): “Do you have any idea how insane you sound right now?”

Defying logic is the worst kind of stupidity. I just realized that there is a word for this type of person: idiot. Or maybe it’s republican. Or maybe both.

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Another Rant About Alcoholism

One of my most popular blog entries is Why I Hate Alcohol, and I genuinely thought I’d gotten all my anger about the subject off my chest when I wrote it. It turns out that that is not the case. Far from it.

The other day, someone who calls himself “Dad” commented on another one of my blog entries, Do You Know This Child? Help Solve a Mystery. In that one, I mentioned that my father told some outlandish stories about the war, and that because he was an alcoholic, I never knew him. “Dad”, without knowing me at all, implied in the comment section that my disbelief of my father’s stories is probably “what drove him over the edge.”

Okay. Hoooo. Wow. That still pisses me off to an unbelievable degree. And when I have such a strong reaction to something, my first instinct is to take a closer look and ask myself what about the situation is pushing my buttons.

First of all, I hate being misunderstood, but in this case that was probably my fault for not clarifying my relationship. When I said I did not know my father because of his alcoholism, I didn’t mean he was present in my life but always “in his cups.” I meant that because he was such a mean drunk and a worthless fraction of a man, he left my family when I was three months old. I never met him, never got child support from him, never received so much as a phone call or a Christmas card my entire life. So yeah, I suppose I didn’t make myself quite clear in that entry. I literally didn’t know my father.

But what really makes my head explode is the implication that, had I known him, I could have in some way “driven him over the edge.” The man came home a drunk from a war that had ended 20 years before I was born. I’m sure he had PTSD, and that was a contributing factor, and that’s tragic, but making the assumption that the blame for one’s alcohol abuse lies somewhere outside oneself is the worst of all alcoholic excuses.

No one forces someone to start drinking. Not once did anyone hold a gun to the man’s head and pour the gin down his throat. Millions of people have experienced horrors and not tried to pour alcohol over those memories.

I’m sorry. I know this probably won’t be a popular sentiment, but dammit, the bedrock of being an alcoholic is selfishness and irresponsibility. Without those two things, you don’t destroy your life and the lives of every person within your sphere of influence. Full stop.

Alcoholics are very adept at blaming the rest of the world for their problems. The whole “poor me” thing may as well be tattooed on their foreheads. But I refuse to feel sorry for an alcoholic. I don’t care how often people try to call it a disease. It’s an addiction, which is a mental health issue, and yes, more often than not one will need help to conquer it. But unless and until you admit to yourself that you have made the bed that you so frequently pass out in, no healing can take place for you or anyone who has the misfortune to love you. You can’t clean up your mess until you first take ownership of it. Grow up!

“Pushed him over the edge,” my ass. Sheesh.

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“Even Cheerleaders get Pimples on their Behinds.”

Those words of wisdom came from my mother on a day when the teenaged me was lamenting the fact that I wasn’t popular, and also complaining about a pimple on my posterior. When insight is put forth so colorfully, it tends to stick with you for life. And while it was meant to apply to a very specific situation, it does have wider applications.

What my mother was trying to tell me, basically, was to be careful what you envy. It’s often not as bright and shiny and flawless as you assume.

For instance, I know a millionaire. He owns a mansion on a lake, a beach house, a sailboat, and he travels to the Caribbean every month or so. At first I bought into his philosophy that everything is possible if you have the right attitude. I actually thought maybe I had been doing something wrong all along, and that happiness and success were within my reach if I’d just look at things differently.

And then I got to know him better and discovered that he’s a binge drinking alcoholic in the midst of losing everything in a nasty divorce. He’s not happy. His life isn’t a huge success. In fact, he’s pretty darned miserable.

I know another guy who has an amazing future ahead of him, but he’s the loneliest person on the face of the earth. It’s really sad, too, because he’s a wonderful person.

Don’t we all know people like this? The exterior looks awfully good, but scratch the surface and you discover that what lies beneath isn’t particularly attractive. My mother was right. It does you no good to waste your time with envy. Your time would be better spent working on your own life. It’s a much better investment.

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The Black Sheep in the Family

Every family has one. A relative who refuses to play by the rules. Someone who causes unbelievable heartache, unspeakable scandal, and enormous amounts of frustration. Someone who generates really, really interesting family stories. In my family that was Uncle Dave, my mother’s little brother.

When my mom was young, she was bedridden with whooping cough, and she looked out the window to see her little brother picking up her kittens by the tail, one by one, and dipping them in a can of green paint. When she got better she got back at him by shaving the tail hair off his favorite pony.

A story Uncle Dave always liked to tell about himself was the time he had a pet skunk with no scent glands, and it got loose. A few days later he was walking in the woods behind his house and there’s the skunk. It came running toward him, and he was really happy. Then it occurred to him that it might not be his skunk. So he ran away, and never saw the skunk again. That always struck me as kind of selfish. He left a skunk with no defenses and no knowledge of how to fend for itself alone in the wilderness. But selfishness was a recurring theme in Uncle Dave’s life.

I tell you those two stories to illustrate that he was a hell raiser even before he discovered alcohol. Alcohol only made him that much worse. I never knew him to be sober a day of my life. To me, he was the man who delighted in humiliating me throughout my childhood. During my awkward adolescence, he delighted in pointing out my agonizingly slow growing chest in front of large groups of people. He thought my embarrassment was very funny.

Throughout the years he got into several traffic accidents, and as is the case with alcoholics, he’d walk away unscathed. One time he got pissed off at a drinking buddy and shot out all 4 tires in his car. How he managed to stay out of jail was beyond me.

Uncle Dave actually seemed to have amazing luck. Somehow he managed to navigate through his alcoholic haze and be a success in business. And one time he was sitting in his recliner watching TV when a bolt of lightning came down the hall behind him, bounced off the mirror, crossed in front of him, took out the TV, and exploded all the bottles in his wet bar, but missed him entirely. You’d think that would be enough to get him to reevaluate his life, but no. Me, I’d have taken that as a sign.

For my oldest sister’s wedding, it’s a good thing that we confirmed the church the day before, because he had called to cancel the reservation several days prior. We’d have shown up to a locked church with no preacher. Ha, ha, ha, right? At my other sister’s wedding reception, he called my 3 year old niece over to him, and then took his cigarette and popped all her balloons. Of course she howled. I had to leave the room to keep from lunging at his throat.

The final straw for me, though, was when I was home from college and I had a fellow student with me. She was from Holland. The phone rings and it’s a man with a funny accent, and he’s asks to speak to his daughter. I assumed it was my friend’s father so I called her to the phone. She instantly went into a panic because it was the middle of the night in the Netherlands, and the only reason they would call at that hour was if it was an emergency. She gets on the phone, and gets this strange look on her face. She didn’t know this person. It was my uncle, using a fake accent. My friend was really shaken by this. Later he came by to try to meet her, three sheets to the wind as per usual, and I kicked him out of the house.  Believe me when I say he did not go quietly.

I only saw him one more time, and that was at my mother’s funeral, 7 years later. He tried to comfort me, but as far as I was concerned, it was too little, too late.

Fast forward 20 years, and imagine my mixed emotions when I heard he had blown his brains out in his garage. He was upset because at age 80 they had finally declared him to be unfit to drive. The only thing he left for his long-suffering wife was a garage that looked like an abattoir, and a note that included his name, the cost of a cremation, and the company who could do it.

I didn’t feel sad. He never allowed himself to be a part of my life in any positive way. I sure could have used a positive male role model but he was definitely not one of those. What I felt, instead, was anger. Anger at all the pain and humiliation he caused everyone within his reach. Anger at the waste of a life. Anger that he chose to go out in a way that was as selfish and over the top as every single thing he had chosen to do his entire life.

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Why I Hate Alcohol

I haven’t had a drink in 30 years. Not even a beer. Suddenly one day I realized that I had never left a bar feeling better about myself. And then there was the time when I was 17 and woke up in the trunk of my car. No idea how I got there. Fortunately the lid wasn’t closed.

Over the years, with the benefit of sober clarity, I’ve come to hate alcohol and everything it stands for.

Because of my father’s love of alcohol, I never knew him. I never knew what it was like to feel safe, protected and loved by a father. Because of his alcohol I grew up on welfare, and wound up living in a tent. Because of alcohol I was thrust into a nightmare of sexual abuse. Because of alcohol I never felt confident or self-assured, and was never taught that I deserved good things, or how to choose a decent man to share my life with.

Alcohol not only devastates the drinker, but everyone who is sucked into his or her destructive orbit.

Drunk drivers kill people every single day, and often walk away from those accidents unscathed themselves. They leave children without parents, and parents to mourn their children for the rest of their lives.

I HATE it when alcoholism is described as a disease. Granted, some people are more predisposed to be alcoholics than others, but in my opinion it should be described as a mental health issue or an addiction at most. It’s a disorder in which the individual makes poor choices, and is selfish, selfish, selfish to the point of not caring about the havoc that those choices wreak on family, friends, and the wider community.

I also resent it when people try to pressure me into drinking. They are uncomfortable in indulging in this habit if everyone around them isn’t doing the same, so I get to be bullied, as if I have to apologize for doing what is right for me.

Sure, there are those out there who can drink socially and in moderation. But if that’s the case, why bother? Alcohol, even in moderation, takes away money and time that could be better spent elsewhere. Alcohol is a waste. And those responsible drinkers in question help make drinking seem socially acceptable, and that only encourages alcoholics to remain in denial for that much longer. A certain percentage of society will survive Russian roulette, but does that mean that they should show others who might not be so lucky how to play the game?

Alcohol gives people the liquid courage to be cruel, to be bullies, to be violent and to humiliate the people they claim to love. Alcohol makes you look like a fool. Alcohol destroys families, weddings, reunions, holidays, birthdays, funerals, graduations, concerts, parties, and untold numbers of public events. Alcohol encourages criminality and causes suicides. Alcohol destroys businesses, ruins livelihoods, causes homelessness, devastates relationships and undermines trust.

Alcohol is a fluid wall that you thrust up between yourself and the people who want to spend time with you. It’s a sword that you use to strike out at others. It makes you feel that screaming and shouting and hitting and hurting are acceptable. And in the end, alcohol will leave you all alone in the world, with nothing but your own regrets to keep you warm as you survey the chilling destruction that you have caused.

When my father died his cold, lonely alcoholic death, they found in his wallet a picture of my mother on their honeymoon—a woman he hadn’t had any contact with in 25 years. What a sad and pathetic reminder of what could have been. What should have been.

[See also my blog entry, Another Rant About Alcoholism.]

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