Monday, April 7, 2008

Stepping on bottle caps

Stepping on bottle caps pains me more than it should.

It's not the edges that are so sharp as the memories.

***

It's only in retrospect that you are able to sum up a person you know well under a label-- schizophrenic, borderline, alcoholic, whatever. At the time, they seem too nuanced to fit, too idiosyncratic to have their motivations summed up in one word. The person you love is never supposed to be defined that simplistically.

***

It's funny how our cultural narrative of the alcoholic remains the scruffy slurring violent slob who can't hold down a job, choosing to drown his sorrows at the local watering hole.

I couldn't reconcile that image with the man snoring on the couch. He never came close to raising a hand to me. He had a good job. 
He was a kind person-- drunkards aren't supposed to be kind. 

A few years in, when taking an advanced seminar in addictions, I calculated his score on an alcohol abuse screening test in my mind. Despite his score far exceeding the cut off, I somehow blotted it out of my mind, because it just didn't feel as though it fit.

This may be why falling at love at 18 is so dangerous.

***

It's always the gradual flow that tricks you. It's like the tale of the frog and the pot of boiling water-- put a frog into a pot with water at a rolling boil, and it will frantically hop out. Put it in cold water, then turn on the burner, and the creeping heat will lull it into a willing participant in its slow boiling.

I was neck deep in simmering water without even realizing it.

Though beer was always a part of his identity more than I could quite understand, there weren't cans in the bathroom at the beginning. It was a rough day after work thing. It was a playing baseball thing. It was "just what my family does" thing. 

My grandfather clued in first, before we even moved in together. Being a former alcoholic himself, he must have had some sort of radar, though I wrote it off as oversensitivity as a result of his past mistakes.

The beer cans piled up gradually, from a couple boxes by the trash can, to literal towers.

I joked when we first began dating that I couldn't tell when he'd been drinking, as he always had such a calm mannerism about him. However, I began to sense it in his footsteps, in his lopsided smile, his choice of words.

I accepted money as tight when he worked seasonally. But, years later, when he'd switched into a seemingly lucrative career, I couldn't figure out how we could never get a step ahead, how despite our end of the year tax returns declaring him to make three times the money I was as a student, I was the one with money in the bank. I was the one with all the bills in my name. His stories of the price of gas and debt began to wear thin.

Sometimes it takes a while to realize that the rest of your life is happening right now.

I knew things had changed when, as I would make my way to bed, I stopped trying to whisper in his ear to join me or shake his shoulder when he fell asleep on the couch. 

I started to realize things were irretrievable when, as I would return from a late night at the lab or the clinic, I would lure his head to my lap. And though there was still tenderness in my fingertips as I stroked his head and shoulder, they were moved more strongly by the need to lull him to sleep, as I couldn't handle the sight of him teetering about the apartment anymore. Yet, as I would slip out from underneath his heavy sleeping body, he looked so much like the man I used to relish waking up to.

The last few months were a slap in the face that even I could no longer ignore. These months were the times of weepy phone calls once I soothed him to sleep. Of hot tears burning holes in the suds of a soapy sink. Of humiliation as he drunkenly patted my head before storming out in front of all his friends after a political disagreement. Of cleaning up vomit in a bed that was supposed to be my retreat, too. Of him swearing that he would slow things down, only for me to come home at 6pm on Sunday to another empty case on top of the tower, consumed by him alone.

My last phone calls, tearful but deliberate, were made that night, oblivious to his passed out ears. 

Even now, nearly two years later, pieces are still emerging, pieces that form a picture so obvious, yet so blurry to me for so long. I don't speak much about it. I know that as soon as the words "drinking problem" slip over my tongue, an image is sealed in their mind. I don't want them to entwine me with this image of a victim. I don't know how to explain that it wasn't as black and white as it seems in hindsight, that I wasn't willing myself to stay until the last year, that I simply didn't realize.

But, each time I speak of it, I find the shades of grey dissipating.
I'm not recalling the laughter or the comfort.
Instead, I just feel the sting of the bottle cap against my bare heel.

35 comments:

Random Musings Of My Life said...

Wow, very well written and from the heart.
Thank you for sharing...

Psychgrad said...

Hindsight is 20-20. I think making the decision to not allow that to be your future was pivotal and very wise.

Thanks for sharing.

twentysomethingandclueless said...

Beautifully written. I don't think I have anything that can adequately cover what I'm thinking, but I admire you for your strength and courage. That's all.

Half-Past Kissin' Time said...

Perfect.

lspoon said...

Wow, you certainly went through a lot. And as painful as it is I know it helped you become who you are today and that's a good thing. Even if the bottle caps hurt physically and mentally.

A Lil' Irish Lass said...

Exceptionally well-written. It's such a hard thing to live with, especially when you love the person so much. I've never been in your shoes per se, but my father is an alcoholic and I know how difficult and confusing it was to grow up with that. I can only imagine what this was like for you...

Crashdummie said...

pp, i am trying very hard to be calm, cuz your words are getting to me.

It is exactly one of the reasons why I dont drink - alcohol has ruined so many lives.

I suppose a lil' now and then doesnt matter, but its when ppl lose controll its a danger.

So I have made up my mind to always were sandals ;)

Deutlich said...

that was quite poignant. i have thoughts - but i'm not sure how to string them together.

there's an alcoholic in my family.

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

It is sometimes to see the forest in the trees. I had this with an ex who had an ED....and I was completely oblivious because she was SOOO good at hiding it. Only years later when I talked with friends and pieced it together did it make sense, the mood swings, the weird rituals, etc. You'd think as clinicians we could sniff out problems with the symptoms so present. That is out professional blind spot, because people are too close to see them clearly through an objective lens.

Ashley said...

it is so much easier to label problems once they exist only in the peripheral. this was so well-written. beautiful

fort knocks said...

That kind of sounds like me, except I haven't thrown up in my bed for more than three years.

Nilsa S. said...

What an intimate look into some very difficult years of your life. Thank you for having the courage to talk about it.

As the niece of, what I will term, a passive alcoholic, I am all too understanding of excuses. Not just from the alcoholic (of which they are endless), but from the family and friends around him. I am also all too aware of the long-term effects of alcoholism on marriage. My aunt is less and less happy as each year passes.

Remember, you are not a victim. You found a way out. You are proactively taking steps to make your life better. You are a survivor.

distractedspunk said...

This was beautiful, love. I'm trying to find the words to say how we often forget how to interpret diseases and instead resort to the stereotype. Your depiction of the man you once loved is simultaneously painful to hear about, but informative.

Jess said...

You are so right that when you're in a situation it's so hard to apply labels. And then afterward you can look back and say, wow, he was an alcoholic or she was abusive, but it doesn't change anything necessarily, to know that. After the fact it almost feels like a question of semantics. I don't know. I struggle with this too.

Valerie said...

Beautiful post. I'm so sorry you had to endure that. HUGS

Surfergrrl said...

I think the frog in the boiling water is the perfect analogy to this situation. Only now can you look back and see the degree (pun intended) things reached in the end. For me personally, I don't really understand the allure of alcohol as medication, whether people are doing it intentionally or unintentionally. But I hope to never understand. I myself could probably never date someone who drank that much regularly or even someone (at my age) who drank to excessiveness maybe once or twice. I know this is somewhat judgmental, but it's just not for me.

Yoda said...

Its true as you say, that in hindsight these things are plain obvious, without any shades of gray.

My ex wasn't an alcoholic. But in hindsight, us being together was just WRONG. I never never saw it when we were together ... *sigh*

Katelin said...

wow, so well written. i love it.

Jocelyn said...

Your writing--your storytelling--are gorgeous here. How affecting, and how well you make this stereotype into a very specific, real man in a very genuine life.

This has got to make you so much more equipped for your chosen profession, ja?

thestoryofagirl said...

Man. There are so many thoughts, I just can't seem to get them together enough. It's just that this post? Was so amazing.

There just ... there aren't any words.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Hmm. Good deep writings.

How many men have lost themselves at the bottom of a bottle? What are they looking for?

I was addicted to cannabis for a long time.

It's much the same deal as the one you describe here; I let a relationship slide in the same way this man did. My girlfriend at the time was basically holding everything together.

I got over the addiction because, eventually, I realised it was a distraction from other problems in my life - problems which I addressed.

When I stopped and looked back, I realised I had been living in a bubble that I wouldn't ever want to fall back into - a bubble I couldn't see until I was outside of it.

This was a great post.

NamesAreHardToPick said...

It's not easy in the situations, yet so easy post. In some ways, though, that is always the beauty of it; memories truly do last a lifetime - the pain and joy.

Beth said...

"This image of a victim..."
If (??) you ever were a victim, you had the courage, strength and intelligence to remove yourself from that role.
(And I love the bottle cap metaphor.)

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

Victim < Survivor.

I like the term Survivor better, because it speaks to a greater empowerment, even if it took awhile to come out.

brookem said...

the candor and eloquence that you showed in this post are truly amazing. thank you for sharing this with all of us.

brookem said...

oh, and i LOVED this line: Sometimes it takes a while to realize that the rest of your life is happening right now.

Silverstar said...

Sad story. I hope he has since gotten the help he desperately needs and taken it to heart. :)

benjibopper said...

wow, that was poignant. amazing how things come into perspective from a distance. what seemed like normal life turns out to be a hard time you came through.

Eve said...

That was lovely, and it brought tears to my eyes.

It is so difficult to squeeze people we love into categories. So right.

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

You're such a great writer. I really enjoyed reading this post and thank you for sharing your story ;)

EF said...

I think Nick Nolte and David h
Hasselhoff are to blame for my image of an alcoholic...

I think we never want to see ourselves as lacking the self-awareness that others might attach to our circumstances when others so easily label a situation they are not immediately involved in. We want to feel wiser, but our hearts get in the way

lawyerish said...

Wow. Beautifully written, and very powerful. I'm moved.

Tin Ma'am said...

Your thoughts on the alcoholic are absolutely dead on! This was so beautifully written!

Larissa said...

This post made me adore you even more, if that's possible.

whatlizsaid.com said...

"It's only in retrospect that you are able to sum up a person you know well under a label-- schizophrenic, borderline, alcoholic, whatever. At the time, they seem too nuanced to fit, too idiosyncratic to have their motivations summed up in one word. The person you love is never supposed to be defined that simplistically."

That is just incredible. I love that.