Ghosts In Broad Daylight

Hubby and I are very similar in many ways. OK, so he is actually the best person on the planet and I’m very far from that, but there are definitely ways in which we are almost too alike. I’m bossy and so is he. We both always and without fail believe that we know the best way to do something and as a result close ourselves off to alternative points of view. As a result, when we bicker about something, we both whinge about how the other person hasn’t listened to us. Or my personal favourite that I like to throw at him simply because I feel it’s good ammunition and allows me to wrap myself in the victim blanket: “you don’t HEAR me“. God, I really am pathetic. Luckily, we usually switch back pretty quickly to both admitting we were being dicks and then declaring our undying love for each other. Anyway, it’d appear that I can never ever again use that ridiculous victim line of not being heard, because it seems Hubby does and when we walked through the park yesterday he blew me away a little.

As we strolled along the path through the wilted ferns, we talked about a friend of mine who I’m really worried about. It’s Poppy and I have mentioned her before. It’d seem she’s being hit with those really bad consequences I personally escaped by the skin of my teeth. How I didn’t lose more is nothing other than insane luck. Anyway, she’s lost her driver’s licence after getting arrested in the morning for being over the limit. You know, I have no idea if I’m seeing things that aren’t there and perhaps she was just unlucky and it was a genuine matter of having had drinks the night before and being slightly over. That, unfortunately, isn’t TOTALLY uncommon and it CAN happen quite easily to almost anyone – we think we’re OK to drive but actually we’re not. Point is though, I don’t know for sure but on top of conversations with her daughter-in-law some time ago (who was desperately worried and told me about some pretty extreme levels of drinking – in fact, much worse than I ever got to) and some other things that have gone down, I just have that awful knot in my stomach. So we talked about what in God’s name I can do. I simply don’t know. Hubby listened when I told him how I worry that even this won’t be enough for Poppy to see that maybe it’s the drinking that’s the root of so many of her problems. Well, if it IS – after all, I can’t know for sure.

I’d be more worried that [her son and daughter-in-law] have moved so far away and she’s now on her own and can drink without anyone seeing it,” Hubby said.

What a guy. What a guy, who listens and who hears me. I’ve often said it that the worst place for an alkie is alone and unchecked (because that’s when we can drink the way we like to), and that’s what he pointed out. Well, I thought that speaks volumes for how keen he is to understand stuff and how much thought he has actually given to everything I’ve talked about. Plus it was a really good point that I didn’t quite think of.

How frustrating though – I feel like I’m just standing by and watching as Poppy goes down. I have already been through this with Tumbler and therefore familiar with waking up one morning to a string of R.I.P’s in the Facebook newsfeed. Actually, with Tumbler the news was broken to me via Messenger by a mutual friend before it became common knowledge and the wider circle began to post their sadness at her passing. “Did you hear that [Tumbler] passed away?” the message from our mutual friend Garbo read – what I felt at the time can only be described as an unsurprising shock. And maybe this is why – my own journey and Tumbler’s death – I perhaps project on to Poppy. I mean, I hope it’s true what Poppy herself says, that her drinking is under control and in moderation. I do want to believe that and desperately so. And yet I do go around with a knot of fear in my chest at the idea that it could happen at any time. I’ll get a message like that again or log on to Facebook expecting funny cat memes and instead being faced with devastating news.

To be honest, I feel like a traitor even writing this. Obviously I never use anyone’s real name or any other identifying details, but even so. Who am I to pass judgment? No one, that’s who. I should just accept Poppy’s view and let her live her life the way she decides to. And again – I have no idea and certainly not that much reason to believe her drinking is beyond “a little too much”. Hell, that’s what I had people believing about me for the longest time!! Even Hubby – and he LIVES with me and is therefore a primary witness – only ever used to say I just needed to cut down a little. It’s amazing how much you can hide even within the walls of your own home. Maybe it’s because I was hiding such an enormous issue that I, as we say in Sweden, see ghosts in broad daylight. I.e. things that actually aren’t there.

I’m going to be you,” I told Hubby and squeezed his hand as we emerged from the park and were walking towards the bridge to cross the river, “I’m going to be just like you with Poppy because it’s the best way I can think of, it’s the only thing I know that might work.

I glanced at Hubby who didn’t say anything in response. I squeezed his hand again, then lifted it to my lips and kissed his knuckles.

That’s probably the biggest compliment I can give you. You do realise there is nothing you could have done better, right? Any of that what-could-I-have-done-sooner is bollocks. You were honest and kind and I turned to you because I knew you would never judge me.

I know,” Hubby said and did his cute half smile.

I just don’t know any other way and that’s partly because Poppy says she’s fine (well – in terms of the drinking, that is) and who am I to say she isn’t? Just because I have a knot in my stomach that might have formed because of a million other things? Fuck me, this isn’t an easy one, is it? Check out the alkie who is now some sort of sobriety warrior and declaring who has or hasn’t a problem. It’s precisely what I shouldn’t be doing. So I’m going to be just like Hubby. I’m going to gently say to Poppy, when there is a good moment, that I worry that her drinking may be causing her problems at the same time as I underline I’m always in a corner and will do all I can to help if she ever needs me. Poppy did say to me many months ago that “no, seriously Anna, I need to stop drinking” but then that got lost again and whenever it came up she was back to claiming she’s all fine and all is well.

What gives me the heebie-jeebies is that this is the approach I took with Tumbler. At one point, I believe it was after her second DUI (how’s that for an echo?), a group of us got together and tried to help and support her. People told Tumbler they’d be there for her but she’d have to be sober when she called. I told her I was there for her and would always take her call no matter what state she was in. Tumbler, like alcoholics do, distanced herself and started lying about her drinking to most people but kept calling me. Nine times out of ten she was drunk. In fact, around the time she posted on Facebook that she was one year sober, I spoke to her – it was 9am in the morning where she was and she told me she was drinking wine. Sometimes I’ve regretted not taking that tougher stance because being softer just enabled her to still have someone to talk to even if she drank, given she didn’t have to hide it from me. At the same time I know that if I’d done that she would have distanced herself from me too and perhaps our conversations did make her feel a little better. I’ll never know. No one will ever know. What I do know is that neither approach worked because the one person who had the power to make Tumbler stop was Tumbler herself and she didn’t want to. Or rather, as she put it to me once: “I don’t think I will ever be able to.

This very dilemma was perhaps one of the biggest questions asked in the film we went to see Saturday morning: Beautiful Boy. It’s the story of a guy who gets hooked on methamphetamines along with alcohol, heroin and whatever else. It shows his father’s desperate attempts to understand, to help, to do the right thing. It poses the question of what we can do to help someone we love, but it doesn’t answer it beyond showing the absolute hell everyone goes through. In a scene from an Al-anon meeting (support groups for the people close to the addict) a woman talks about her niece who has just died from an overdose. She points out how she was already grieving her when she was still alive, but how it now makes more sense to do so. It’s heartbreaking.

So I can only emulate the best person I know, my husband, by trying to give to Poppy what he gave to me:

  1. Openly state I’m worried for her.
  2. Always be kind, always be there and never judge.
  3. Offer her hope by showing her it gets so much better.

And let’s face it, if Poppy’s problems with alcohol are all in my head, all I’ve done is being a good friend when she’s gone through some shit and waxed a little lyrical about the joys of sobriety.

Any views welcome as always.

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Most Precious Cargo

Like reading their blogs weren’t enough to get this hyperactive brain of mine perilously close to over heating, now my tribe are throwing thought grenades into the comments too! I don’t even know where to start and I won’t get very far as I’m right now sat at the Costa Coffee in Heathrow’s terminal 5. I’m waiting for hubby and can see from the screen that flight BA323 has just safely touched down and brought its most precious cargo back from Paris.

I mentioned the book ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction‘ by David Sheff in my last post. The son in question, Nic Sheff, published an accompanying book – ‘Tweak‘ – which tells the same story I suppose, but from the addict’s perspective. I finished the first and have started the latter. To say I’m gripped is an understatement. You’d think this fascinates me so much partly due to my own experience with alcoholism and that’s absolutely true, but addiction and what it does to people has always interested me hugely. My favourite book ever, which I must have read from cover to cover 50 times since I first picked it up at the age of 12 or so, is ‘And I Don’t Want to Live This Life‘ by Deborah Spungen. I could never quite put my finger on what gripped me so tightly, but perhaps it’s the addiction aspect – it is the account of Nancy Spungen’s life written by her mother. Nancy went down in the history books I suppose for being the junkie girlfriend of Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols). Vicious himself died from a heroin overdose before standing trial for murdering Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel in New York where she was found dead underneath a bathroom sink. Perhaps to the world she’ll be remembered for those things only (if at all), but the book is the story of a deeply disturbed girl and woman (barely – she died at the age of 20) who suffered intolerably from mental disorders that were never properly diagnosed but was in all likelihood schizophrenic. The book is her mother’s harrowing account of the family’s battle to get her help from when she was a newborn that didn’t stop crying to a young woman lost to hard drugs and chaos. Well. Set aside for a moment that I myself developed alcoholism, perhaps this was where my calling was all along? It sure does grab hold of me, always has.

So what got me thinking was how you have the alcohol and drugs conversation with your children and how of course David Sheff’s book’s has the overarching theme of a parent’s desperate guilt: what could I have done? What SHOULD I have done? What didn’t I do? Where did I go wrong?

…..and this is when hubby walked through and now it’s Friday morning….

One thing that comes up in Sheff’s book was how he always felt it was better to be honest with his son when they first had conversations about drinking and taking drugs. And Sheff himself dabbled in his youth and he shares the truth with his son. At one point they even smoke a joint together. This might strike some as really foolish, but I can absolutely see his thinking about the honesty. I wouldn’t have a drink with my son when he is underage and certainly not do drugs (that isn’t and never was my thing anyway), but I’ve always thought being honest with him will be much better than present him with some angelic (and desperately untrue) image of me as a teenager. But this is problematic and Sheff shows why with both his own approach and another: an example of when a school that gets this speaker in, some sports personality I believe. This person got in trouble with drugs but then got out of it and he’s there to illustrate to the students that even someone like HIM and all that. Of course he got out and made a success of himself. The problem with this is however that the message we unintentionally – both when we are honest and confess our own transgressions and with the even-HIM school speaker – send to the kids isn’t how awful booze and drugs are. What they see is that it turned out OK anyway.

Mulling this over actually scares me. My son has seen me drunk. And he knows – because I have been open about it – that I have banished alcohol from my life because it only causes me grief and I can’t control it. It’s a really hard balance – he is about to turn 14, by the way – because I don’t want to gloss it over and make him think I’ve just quit because I “over indulged”, nor do I want him to have to carry the enormous burden and pain of getting to grips with alcoholism. So I have as best I can outlined what my issue with alcohol is and why I now stay away from it. Of course Bambino is now at an age where he will more than likely encounter booze (and much worse) if he hasn’t already. Has he? Has he tried alcohol? Has he tried worse? Sheff’s son gets drunk for the first time at 11 and regularly smokes pot at 12. This is a smart and talented kid from a good family and the world at his feet and not a child neglected by their parents or growing up in a crack den. They are just an ordinary family. Sheff is clearly an involved and loving father and yet this happens right under his nose. This is, I suppose, the one message all of us have to really understand: we are the Sheffs. And the Spungens.

So Bambino. Is there anything in particular that puts him into what might be considered a risk group for falling into addiction? Yes, people, there is. He is a human being. That’s the number one risk factor. Besides this, he has divorced parents, like many other kids. He’s smart and kind and very, very funny. He does well at school without trying particularly hard (hmm… familiar – I nag him to do homework, yet I never studied at home in my entire life even at university) and gets in trouble for being a clown. Like his mother, he seems to feel strongly. In a way, I can sort of see a pretty ominous combination of traits – sensitivity and high intelligence is a pretty explosive mix, for example. But is it true to suggest that addicts are always emotional? Are they people in pain? I’m emotional but I’ve never been in pain beyond those times when there’s been a reason for it, like going through a divorce. I have never felt pain or “a hole” as Nic Sheff describes it that I needed to heal or fill. And I can’t say I ever drank to slow my over active mind or numb my feelings. Nor do I suffer like Nancy Spungen did. Help! Help me make sense of it.

What scares me the most about Bambino is that he is absolutely fearless. Reckless, even. I can 100% see him taking risks that would make most of us balk. In New Zealand, my sister-in-law’s husband commented on how his own two kids knew and respected something terrifying called “rip” and paid attention whereas Bambino just threw himself around. “Crazy, he has no fear whatsoever,” M commented as another huge wave engulfed skinny little Bambino and he emerged a few seconds later. Rip is where the water is pulled back out to sea and quite dangerous to get caught up in. It was explained to Bambino and he just nodded happily (and impatiently) and without a care in the world because the Pacific and its enormous waves and power just doesn’t bother him in the slightest. Go with it and wave to signal if he’s in trouble? OK, no problem. Now let me dive in. When 8ft long copper sharks swam only a couple of metres away from him, hubby and my bonus sons and the whole beach screamed and waved at them to get out of the water, Bambino shrieked with excitement and wanted to immediately get back out. OK, copper shark attacks are rare and apparently they always cruise along there, but Bambino didn’t know that. He wanted to touch them. That attitude scares me senseless.

For all intents and purposes, Bambino appears to be a completely normal teenager. A little on the reckless and impulsive side, but fairly normal, no?

Will MY drinking mean he will develop a problem too? Will it mean problem drinking has been normalised for Bambino? Monkey see, monkey do? And what will I do if he starts getting into trouble with it? Say if I begin to sense echos of my own drinking when he comes of age? What would the conversation I’d have with him be then? At the moment, we do talk pretty openly about it. I’ve even dropped the A-word by saying one definition of ‘alcoholic’ is an inability to stop when you start, whilst explaining this is basically my issue. We’ve talked about how alcohol, like other drugs, alters how you feel and slows and numbs both your mind and body. How it’s addictive too.

But how can I work out how I best get through to Bambino and best prepare him so that he can – better than I did – navigate his way through life and not slide down the slippery slope of addiction? Is there such a way? Let’s go back to the Spungens and the Sheffs. With Nancy, there were obviously other issues at play and perhaps the solution that may (or may not) have saved her from becoming a drug addict had been a correct diagnosis and treatment. Who knows. With Nic Sheff, though? Was there something his father could have done differently that would have put him on a different course? It doesn’t appear so.

Al-Anon, AA’s support network for friends and relatives of alcoholics and addicts, state the three Cs as a reminder to those who have a loved one who is an addict:

  1. You didn’t CREATE it.
  2. You can’t CONTROL it.
  3. You can’t CURE it.

This would imply that the problem comes entirely from the addict, right? And it would also go some way to explain why people who appear to have the most blessed lives still get dragged under with the same frequency as those with problematic backgrounds and/or upbringings. I guess the rich and privileged can afford better rehabs though. These points don’t tell us how we can prevent it, however. Is there such a formula? Teaching our kids about the dangers of alcohol and drugs doesn’t make any difference. That makes sense in a way, because I always drank despite knowing it was bad for me. For me it came down to crushing the reasons I thought I had to drink and removing those – if we don’t want to drink and have no reason to, we don’t. Do you agree? So I guess this is the bit I’m trying to focus on with Bambino. Talk to him about what we believe alcohol and drugs are and do and how it’s all bullshit. I don’t know if that’s the right way. And when I ponder the conversation Sober Me and Drunk Me might have if we take Drunk Me back to her teens and first had alcohol…. What would Sober Me say? But most importantly, what would it take to get it through to Drunk Me?

Answers on a postcard, please.

Today I’m not going to drink.