I am a control freak. I smile, and I snark, and I make filthy asides; I don’t always shower, I hate running, I don’t diet.
Consequently, and among other reasons, I got drunk for the first time after becoming a Bachelor of Arts. I don’t remember when, exactly, but expect that it must have resulted from some postcoital dinner out. That said, I still wasn’t 21, so that’s probably not possible, either.
It’s probably weird that I can’t remember the first time I was drunk, but what can I say? Few things seem to drive people to the bottle (or, more likely, joint) faster than becoming a public school teacher.
The chief “other reason,” of course, is my father’s alcoholism, to which I (believe I) have often alluded. Although he had sobered up long before I was born, his alcoholism was as much a part of my life as his bald head, or my mother’s freckles, or my own scarred right thumb. It was neither an elephant in the room nor a frequent conversation topic. Instead, it was a motif that ran through our lives, not unlike how “Cherokee” changes show up all the time, without you really thinking about them. His alcoholism was — is, obviously, apparently — neither a thing nor not a thing, but simply like taking for granted that the sun will rise tomorrow. It is an inevitability that influences your conception of the world, even if you rarely bother making it your actual conversation topic.
Every couple of years or so, I would come home from school and find what I now know as a Budweiser tallboy sitting, opened, in a brown paper bag. This biannual visitor would hang out in the refrigerator for days, even, at least one time, months, on end, open, flat, and yet, still there. My dad said he would take a sip, and then feel so disgusted and remember so many terrible things that he would put it right back down and not drink anymore. What he never did say, however, was that he felt so pulled to that can, that beer, that he would refuse to throw it out.
I did not understand alcoholism when I was little; and I did not understand it when I was 19, and brought my dad a six-pack of Guinness for his birthday because he always spoke so highly of it, and when he just looked so gratified and sad; and I do not understand it now, despite drinking too much almost every single night I was a public school teacher (which, thankfully, was not terribly long), and despite usually only getting drunk by myself or with Nick, which honestly feel like one and the same. (After all, I’ve never known drunk without him.) I hope that I never will understand it, and am fairly certain I will not.
Instead, because I have loved, I can only observe a few things.
There are a lot of us in the world, if not all of us, who have some weird (?) shit. Maybe we’re sad, or lonely; or numb, or impotent; or chaste, or guarded. Maybe we are something for which some psychiatrist would prescribe us pills. But, before we ever got to these doctors, we discovered that liquor is easy, liquor is warm, liquor is tasty, and, most important, liquor alleviates our symptoms. Liquor makes us the protagonist in others’ eyes, not just our own (or, at least, lets us think that). Liquor makes us ebulliently charming and fertile. Moreover, this self-medication might work out okay — most of us don’t abuse ibuprofen, myself excluded — except that liquor is also social currency, the apparatus through which adults commune. It’s a little harder to remember why you’re drinking if you drink both to fix your problems and to bond with others, and thus, it’s much easier for it to get out of control.
The other thing is that I wish we viewed alcoholics as addicts first, alcoholics second. I don’t know, maybe we already do, or whoever’s in charge of that shit does, and I don’t know the lingo. But every recovering alcoholic I know has, for one, a Diet Coke addiction, or, less common, in my circles, a coffee addiction. My own lover probably would not be considered an alcoholic by any stretch, but Lord knows he is addicted to Diet Coke — which people find funny, but honestly, why should 3+ liters a day be funny? — and various other inappropriate substances, and particular activities, obsessions, really, that we brush off because they don’t count as alcoholism.
This is problematic because it allows him to continue destructive behaviors without having to account for them, or even having to conceive of them as destructive. While any one, or maybe even two or three, of his behaviors, taken alone, is harmless, when viewed as an interlocking system of addictions, they’re actually quite weird, and life-altering, and damaging not only to him, but to his loved ones. Moreover, I simply cannot fathom why doctors see this shit happening and don’t warn you about your likelihood to become addicted to something more nefarious.
My last lover is Not an Alcoholic. He is Not Addicted to Alcohol.
Alcohol never turned my lover into a different, scarier man. Instead, it freed him to cater to his whims. It merely facilitated opulent dinners, fascinating conversations, spontaneous adventures, heady sex, soul-wrenching lovemaking, dented walls, broken latches, shattered dishes, fingerprint bruises, cops, disgust, shame.
But it’s okay, because he’s Not an Alcoholic.