How do I feel about people who throw caution to the wind to get absolutely blasted out of their minds? An acquaintance of mine has recently made me consider this question by doing just that. Identifying the person I’m talking about would serve no public good, so I won’t do so. (Those who are aware of the situation already know; those who aren’t probably can’t find the unfolding story, anyway.)
Simplified, the scenario works out like this: Person goes through rough time. Very rough, in fact. Far rougher than what most of us would consider a “really, really bad day.” Person lives in terror for extended period of time, afraid of possibly becoming another person’s punching bag…literally. Person sustains serious injuries, is hesitant to accept medical attention, finally does. Even so, person’s health is still not back to 100% by any stretch. Dealing with a level of fear and stress that I can’t begin to imagine (I admit this), person not only decides to get schnockered, but decides to announce to a relatively small circle of people the intention to drink to excess. Person then adds that comments and arguments are unnecessary because the decision has already been made.
Immediately, three factions begin to form.
Some in the circle play the sympathetic, supportive friend. “It’s okay, you go right ahead,” they say in words other than those. “We all need to get drunk and forget everything every now and then,” some suggest, again in their own unique way. Those who aren’t in this circle wonder if those who are may already be blitzed themselves for their failure to look deeply at the situation.
Some others, ones I consider either better informed and/or more wise, suggest that anyone who might come forward with comments or arguments would do so because they care. They take the position that when person claims not to care about anything and decides to let all defenses down and run the risk of shocking the already-damaged body with alcohol to a point of unconsciousness, while the threat of victimization continues, it can’t be a good idea.
Some others, and I fall into this category, take a step back, afraid to say anything at first, for fear of offending, hurting, or sounding judgmental. Those of us in this third circle are deeply concerned. More than that, we’re pissed off. Big time. We don’t like the fact that person has slammed the door in our face. We’re not mad at person because of this per se, but we don’t like the fact that person would suggest that our opinion doesn’t matter. More than that — much more, in fact — we see this as a very dangerous “escape” that doesn’t really allow person to “escape” anything and runs the risk of allowing person to slip into even more dangerous territory, whether at person’s own hands or at the hands of someone else. We can’t find the words to say all of this at the time because we’re too angry — not at person, who we care about — but more at ourselves, because we can’t come up with the right words to convince person that everything will be okay and sound convincing enough that person will believe us. Those of us in this circle move to the background. We don’t like being there, but we don’t know of another way to help the situation without running the risk of actually pushing person towards the booze. So we sit. We wait. We strike up conversations with each other. Deep, wonderful conversations about life and we make our own friendships a lot stronger in the process. But our primary concern is with person. We hope it will be okay. But we just aren’t sure.
If you haven’t given up on this entry, and my frustrating refusal to use the first gender pronoun, thank you for your patience. I needed to get you from point A to point B so that I could reward you with a few personal reflections.
My first real exposure to alcohol came from an uncle, one I liked a lot. He was an alcoholic. I didn’t know this, didn’t even suspect it. I sort of knew what an alcoholic was…I grew up watching my share of soap operas, after all. But I had never really seen one in person. To me, an alcoholic fell into the category of a “zebra.” We all know what one looks like, but until we go to the zoo’s African exhibit, we honestly can’t experience what it’s like to see one until we’re staring at one face to face.
My lack of exposure to an alcoholic changed one evening when I was about eight years old. I ended up at my aunt and uncle’s house, not really sure how I got there or why I was sent there, given the circumstances. I walked into the kitchen where they both were. She had a look of concern on her face as if she didn’t know what was about to happen. I don’t think she was in fear of any violence; she seemed more concerned about what I’d see or hear. I saw him, sitting at the table, well beyond the “tipsy” stage. Through a very painful conversation (painful because you couldn’t really call it a conversation and we didn’t know what to say to each other during the embarrassed silent moments), he eventually said through slurred words and a coy smile, “I like your style.” Funny, but it’s one of my most vivid memories from my childhood.
The next morning, true to form, he was depressed. I found him in the backyard, fidgeting with his motorboat, doing nothing that really needed to be done. He apologized for my having seen him the way I had. I told him that I knew he had been “sick.” I didn’t really know, but it seemed the right thing to say at the time. He apologized again. I told him it was alright, and pointed out he’d told me he liked my style. That was huge for an eight-year-old.
But I haven’t forgotten those two awkward situations: being in the presence of someone who had completely lost control, then being in the presence of someone who had regained control and was sorry for having lost it in the first place.
I have never been drunk. (No gasps, please.) I’m a control freak, you see. I don’t try to control other people’s lives, but I like to at least have some semblance of control over my own. I’m no prude, really. I don’t mind alcohol, though I’m not wild about the taste of beer. I like a nice rum and coke. But once I reach the point many refer to as a “buzz,” it’s not fun anymore. It’s uncomfortable. And I have never reached the stage of belief that making myself more uncomfortable will make anything any better.
No need to get defensive, my friends. I don’t think less of those who get drunk…as long as they don’t put others in danger, of course. I don’t like bars, but if I’m with a few friends and alcohol is around, I don’t put blinders on. (I do reserve the right to ask for your car keys. Sorry, but I have to draw the line somewhere, right?)
I just don’t see chemical escapism as an escape of anything. You wake up the next day with the same problems you had the day before. And a hangover is now added to the top of the list. Is it worth it?
Maybe it is. Maybe I’ve completely missed the boat on this one. Maybe I’m the only one who sees it this way.
I never promised to have all of the answers, you know.