Last night I had a rather unique (for me) experience.
Let me preface all of what is to come by saying that none of this is meant to cause offense, except where it is intended toward those who refuse to see beyond themselves to what effect their actions have on others. You’ll know where those points are.
A dear friend of mine graciously invited me to attend an AA meeting with her as a guest. The thought of doing this had never occurred to me, because I am not an alcoholic – in fact, I’m not much of a drinker, period – and because I had never known anyone who attended the meetings when I knew them, although I knew (and know) people who could probably derive some benefit from going. I was flattered to be asked, since I know it can be difficult for people recovering from some dependency to have someone who is not only a total stranger to the group but who is or was also not themselves dependent in the midst of their group. But after checking to ensure no one would be uncomfortable with me there, I decided to go, as the man who is like a second father to her would be speaking. I won’t go into the details of what he said, as that would be contrary to the spirit of the meeting at which he spoke – there is a reason, after all, that it’s Alcoholics Anonymous. However, as many people are aware, I am an inveterate collector of other peoples’ stories, and going interested me for this reason.
As he related his story, it got me thinking about some things, including some rather unpleasant events from the past.
I am no stranger to the effects of alcoholism on people. My own father, and my sisters’ and brother’s father, are both alcoholics. Several members of my extended family are, as well. Unadmitted and untreated, but alcoholics nevertheless. I need not look back very far to recall the things these people have done while drunk that were embarassing, hateful, or harmful. It is not difficult to see the whirlpools of violence they created at times: I can clearly remember a time where a husband was throwing a wife’s possessions out of their house and into the front yeard, screaming at her the entire time, and my mom comforting her while they gathered her things in the dark so the neighbors would not see the mess when daylight came. I can still see my father hurling a can of beer across his yard as we spoke one day and watching the can explode as it hit a cinderblock.
We in the immediate family often joke about me helping deliver my little brother on the dining room floor, and part of the reason that happened was due to my mom’s quick labor. The other part of it was because his father was sleeping the boozy sleep of a hardcore drunk and would not rouse himself. This was the same man who, while drunk one night, would not allow my then-pregnant mother to leave the bathroom while he yammered incoherently at her about something. She decided to leave through the window instead. At the time, I was standing in the doorway of my bedroom holding a bat and seriously considering using it – and then realized just what a larger mess it would be were I to do it, and to this day I’m thankful that sense prevailed, even if only on my part. This was the same man who regularly had to find new jobs because his drinking interfered with his ability to maintain employment. For my own father, I can only rely on the stories told to me, since my mother divorced him when I was quite young, and on my own experiences watching him when I tracked him down after graduating from high school: him downing an entire case of beer every day on the weekend, and a six pack during the weeknights. Catching a whiff of what I was sure was urine in the den of his house, and asking his (then) wife what it was, as surely I must be mistaken, only to find that I was not, and he had pissed in the corner of the den by the fireplace one night.
And now we come to the part where some might take offense where none is intended. Throughout all the years I was growing up witnessing these type of things, I had no sympathy whatsoever for alcoholics or anyone else who was addicted to anything. I myself had, and have, no addictions to anything. Looking back on it now, I imagine that it was difficult for me to understand why people would do these self-destructive things to themselves and put their (presumed) loved ones in harm’s way. To this day, it is still hard for me to see this. It is incredibly difficult for me to understand why people who know they need help do not seek it, and why their priorities seem to revolve around what will numb them to the world around them rather than what will permit them to live life instead of going through the motions. One person I know, who readily admits to being a heavy drinker, seems not to recognize that they are not simply a “heavy drinker” but a full-fledged alcoholic, based on their drinking four or more drinks every single night without fail, with the only intent being to get drunk, quickly, and stay that way until it is time to sleep. This is the sort of behavior I cannot understand: when I come to a point in the future, I would like to remember the things I did in the past and not have them blurred or destroyed altogether by the foggy haze of alcohol or anything else. This is the sort of behavior for which I still, to this day, have little sympathy, and I ask myself seriously if I should: the people doing this know what they are doing, know how it affects themselves and those around them, but as in all things human, become quite adept at self-delusion about their activities, convincing themselves against all evidence that they are managing well, but are really only succeeding in breaking the hearts of those who care about them and their welfare. Are these the people for whom I should have sympathy? The answer on that rolls back and forth, with no definitive stopping point in sight.
All of this is not to say that I do not respect the people who have recognized that a problem existed, got help, and stayed clean and sober. It takes a great deal of courage to turn away, day after day, the substance that provided them with the false bravado to face things or that acted as a numbing agent against the realities of this world. I am impressed that they have pulled themselves out of their personal quagmires and back into life, which is ever so much more interesting both for them and with them in it. In this specific instance, I am happy to be trusted enough by someone to be invited in the first place, and happier still to have formed a friendship with someone brave enough to face their demons.