quiet here at least (# 54)

It has been a peaceful week, mostly. I have stopped perseverating about the job I didn’t get. After talking to husband, therapist, and a friend, I have made a mental shift and decided to focus a little more on making my current (boring) job more interesting. Upon reflection, I can admit that I am a person who is always running off in search of a new challenge and not so good at sticking around, playing a long game, and growing in place. I think it would be good for me to try a different strategy, while I am in this new alcohol free stage of life. So I will take some time to see what develops and make no sudden moves.

I am not eager to be out there applying for more jobs right now. I am feeling bruised and confused. Not sure what I really want from my work life, not sure if I am being proactive or reactive in my search. I need to let everything settle. I will embark on a new job search if/when more clarity about my objectives emerges.

I would like to make more money, but for now I am glad I have a job that is flexible and peaceful. It’s stressful dealing with my teenage daughter. I am having to talk to her dad a lot, and it sometimes eats into work time.

My husband is away on a work trip. Tonight, which is the night before his event starts, two of the people he works with got really drunk. My husband was already up in the hotel room watching Anthony Bourdain episodes and thinking about getting a good night’s sleep when the two guys were brought back to the room flanked by a complement of hotel security. One had a giant bruise on the back of his balding head. My husband had to spend the rest of the evening babysitting them. The one without the bruise attempted to return to the bar, and my husband had to coax him back to the room. These are not young men. They are around 60, a decade older than my husband. They will have to work a long day tomorrow, suffering mightily, I have no doubt.

My own drinking exploits did not sink to that level, at least not recently. I am relieved that my husband has not been in the position of taking care of me in a state like that. However, he has had to shush me from talking loudly a couple of times when walking home through our quiet neighborhood at night. In recent years my drinking was more of a soul-sucking personal preoccupation than a menace to society.

But tonight, I have been reflecting on what an awful position to be in it is, when an unruly drunk (or two!) is holding you hostage. It’s so very unfair to check your sanity  at the door of the bar and leave others to pick up the pieces. I remember that kind of shit happening among my friends when we were in our teens and early twenties. I was guilty of this as well. In one early drinking episode, age 18, camping out one night, I ate nothing but blueberries all day and swigged a bunch of vodka at night. Puked everywhere, and my friends had listen to me, plaintively insisting like a broken record that they make sure to turn my head to one side before leaving me to pass out because “I didn’t want to die like Jimi Hendrix.”

One friend of mine was always getting into this state, and it got tiresome. No one in our group wanted to deal with it anymore. People were tolerant of rare occasions of extreme drunkenness, but reached a limit. With this particular guy, several friends had a little intervention. I don’t remember if it really solved anything about his drinking at the time, but the event did show that people will stop coddling incapacitated people once they are feeling taken advantage of on a regular basis. Easier for friends to draw the line than for relatives or lovers, though.

So I empathize with my husband for having to deal with this tonight, but I am happy he can soon return home to someone he can count on to be responsible for herself, no matter how much alcohol free fun she is having.


ancient history, part 2 (# 46)

ancient history, part 1 (# 7) is about the beginning of my first marriage. Part 2 visits my life as a teenage girl and young adult.

The more you start to need a thing, whether it’s a man or a bottle of wine, the more you are–unwittingly, reflexively, implicitly–convincing yourself you’re not enough without it.

–Leslie Jamison, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

I met Mal thirty years ago. We were high-schoolers from different states, brought together at a semester-long program in yet another state. We became fast friends, sharing interests in Chicago blues, philosophy, Ireland, and, broadly speaking, art and literature of excess (i.e., having sex, drugs and/or rock and roll as major themes). We were attracted to each other intellectually as much or more than physically.

At the school we were “just friends,” and each had other romantic interests. After school ended, though, we stayed in touch and I found ways to incorporate Mal into the rest of my high school life. For example, I went to an all-girls high school, and my group of six close girl friends needed a couple of extra guys to flesh out our prom contingent. Some of these girl friends already knew Mal from the semester program, and, as it turned out, back at his home high school Mal was best friends with a guy, D, who happened to be friends (from summer camp) with my then-boyfriend A and me. So, for this prom, it made a weird sort of sense to rope Mal and D (whom NONE of my girl friends knew) into trekking to our city to serve as the 5th and 6th males of the 12-person prom posse.

My boyfriend A liked Mal, but A was always wary of my connection with him, and rightly so. At the prom afterparty, I recall A barged in and yanked me away from Mal when he thought we were dancing too close. I also recall that Mal had a hard-on while we were dancing, and I liked that.

A and I remained a couple for 6 years–all through college and our first year out, yet intersections with Mal punctuated those years. Mal and I drifted in and out of contact and physically hooked up on three separate occasions. At one point in my last year of college, which was around the dawn of email, Mal and I eagerly adopted the new technology and used it to facilitate an increasing frequent, flirtatious and obsessive correspondence. We were constantly trying to impress each other with our writing and our adventures. We were enthralled by each other’s voice.

My grandmother lived in the same city where Mal was going to college, so for spring break I came up with the brilliant idea for A and I to take the train halfway across the country to visit my her. One night, A and I made plans to go out with Mal, who was by that time an accomplished musician. We showed up at his door with a bottle of Jameson and started drinking. We went out and saw Mal play at a bar, and then proceeded to yet another bar. At some point A abandoned consciousness of the emerging situation and put his head down on the table, while Mal and I kept drinking and talking. We finally cabbed back to Mal’s place, put A to bed and spent what remained of the night making out in the kitchen. We all went out for breakfast together the next morning.

When I was young, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and tumult of my romantic life. All this turmoil gave me endless material to write about, talk about, and process. It made me feel special. Vital.

I believed that “experience” was everything and justified anything. I also revered honesty and believed that it did not matter, so much, what one did, as long as one was honest about it. The problem was that I was not scrupulously honest with myself or anyone else. I was honest enough with A about facts for him to have plenty of reason to be anxious about my love, but not honest enough with him about feelings for us to have a truly intimate relationship.

I was not totally honest with A about the fact that young Miel truly felt that drinking and talking with a guy was the best way to explore potential connection.  Furthermore, in my mind, getting drunk and fucking was the natural consequence of drinking and talking with a person with whom I felt a connection, and this natural consequence, this fated trajectory, this inevitability, was, for me, quite possibly the height of romance (in the doomed sense of the word). I was not honest about the truth that I was willing to trade fidelity for “experience.”

I venerated “experience” but with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear there was a numbing predictability about the type of “experience” I preferred to have as a young woman. Intellectual, intoxicated and, ideally, erotic. Mal was not the only guy I got drunk with and fucked in the name of connection, experience, fate, and romance.

The Vicomte de Valmont says in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, “It is beyond my control.” These words, cruel as they were in that story, resonated with me. The concept of being in the grip of forces greater and more powerful than the self. I always felt that stories of fate, or better yet soulmates, were the best ones, even when they were the saddest. Greek plays, the legends of King Arthur and Tristan and Iseult, the novels of Thomas Hardy, Paul Auster.

As a young female drinker, I loved the way alcohol, above all else, could take me beyond control, my small careful sphere, and catapult me into another world of impulse and action, where I could hurtle faster toward my destiny. I craved a potent way to escape my web of constraints so I could find and fulfill my true fate. I guess I didn’t think I could get there without help.

Sometime around 1997 I fell out of touch with Mal for many years. However, as fate or free will  (you can decide later) would have it, that particular book remained open, and I eventually picked it up again.

to be continued . . . 


the girl (# 36)

I have an almost-16-year-old daughter. She smokes pot. More than I know, most likely. I wish she didn’t do this, but I don’t know how to stop it.

I wanted to stop drinking, in part, to set a good example and be more present and attentive. Also, I stopped driven by fear that some night I am going to get a call from my daughter to pick her up somewhere. I don’t want to risk being drunk when that happens. I want to be clear and steady.

Not too long ago, my daughter asked me if I had ever been drunk. “Yes,” I said. “I’ve never seen you drunk,” she responded.

While it’s true that I reserved my heaviest drinking for times when my daughter was not in my care, it’s completely untrue that she has never seen me drunk. Many times, I have consumed wine in a low-key but steady fashion throughout an evening. Sometimes she asked me what I was drinking (let’s say it was a gin and tonic or some such) or asked to try it. No, I would tell her. It has alcohol in it. So it’s a little funny to me that she never picked up on differences between buzzed mom and regular mom.

Although she might not have noticed it, I know that my drinking affected her on some level. It had to have. It made me more rushed, more irritable, and less present during key years she needed me. In the initial years after my divorce she was around 10 to 12. I was frazzled from my job and single life in general. Some nights, I was desperate for her and her younger sister to go to bed so I could enjoy a drink and a smoke.

I am sad to say that I was rather selfish in those years. Very preoccupied with work and my romantic life. I didn’t really want to pause to connect with my oldest daughter. I resisted depth. I think I was afraid of opening up an emotional can of worms that I was ill equipped to handle. So I rushed through our time together, taking care of the business of our reconfigured family life in a basic way but also a rather detached way.

Ah, there is so much more to explore here but I will have to do it slowly and carefully. This is difficult. I have a lot of guilt about how thing are turning out with her. It’s hard to separate what I perceive as fall-out from my parental failings from what I also know to be true: She’s a teenager, for crying out loud, and some rebellion and experimentation are inevitably going to be part of the deal.

My biggest fear for my daughter stems from my long-standing observation that she has never seemed to be passionate or excited about anything. She has never seemed motivated. Not by sports, not by school and not by the many other activities she has tried and rather swiftly abandoned. She has been adrift for years, from what I can see, and I am afraid that smoking pot and doing various other immediately gratifying things will fill up all the empty spaces inside her. Once those habits are established I am afraid it will be that much harder for her to find satisfaction and success in activities that take effort, persistence and practice.

I just don’t know what to do for her at this point. I am addressing and rectifying my own issues as best I can right now, but I am afraid that is going to be too little, too late to help her. I’m worried.