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Editorial

Serving up shock and contempt

Silver State Post of Deer Lodge, Montana

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Country musings

A few people have mentioned that I write too much about my alcoholism. They say I use it as a literary crutch.

But it's defined my entire life - from when I was about 18 years old until today. That's almost 50 years of dealing with the addiction, although I recently completed 28 years of sobriety, with no relapses.

Unlike many, I never suffered any physical desire for alcohol since I got out of treatment. It was emerging from the ego centrism of drunkenness and entering a world where others mattered that was difficult. I was sober but insane for my first five years of sobriety. During those years I never made a rational decision, but at least I was sober and searching for a lifestyle that could be considered normal.

In retrospect it was a horrible time - worse than when I was a practicing drunk. I was in so deep I didn't realize how bad it was. It's abated, now, but once in a while a vestige surfaces. I go weeks and never think about the past, but then, suddenly a flashback of some ugly act I propagated when drinking arises, setting off a spate of anxiety and remorse that is hard to deal with. It's like a bad back that comes and goes for no particular reason.

Many have commented that I show courage when I openly discuss and am ready to disregard the stigma that comes with the word "alcoholic." Over the years, I've learned to use my past behavior as a shibboleth when dealing with new acquaintances. It rarely happens, but there are occasions when I find it necessary. It's a refined form of social sadism. It takes practice and a dedication born of cynicism. If the subject of drinking arises during the course of a conversation, and the other person shows chagrin or shock when they realize that I am willing to let others know of my former social classification, I eliminate them as possible friends. Those cheap prejudices will permeate other facets of their attitude toward life, and that's something I don't need. I have my own problems and can't deal with theirs.

When I'm interacting with those people and notice discomfort on their part, I'll milk the situation by referring to my past life, with statements like, "When I was a lush," or some other equally denigrating term. It's entertaining to watch them flinch as they mentally go through their own emotional catalog of things about themselves which they're too cowardly to admit openly, or even to themselves. I see their revulsion for me grow as the conversation continues. So I continue.

The dialog and the incipient friendship usually end with the other person holding me in contempt because I drank, but then they're envious of the fact that I can find some ironic humor in having been a drunken pariah for 20 years.

I hope it provokes some form of cognitive dissonance in them, and that they begin to doubt their entire persona. I'm petty, even vicious, that way.

It's enjoyable to watch the unease of those who were formally comfortable in their sacrosanct normalcy realize that their fatuous opinions are not respected, even by an old drunkard like me.

I chose my victims carefully. It takes practice to be able remark in an offhand manner that it wasn't rare for me to fall asleep on a bar or wake up in a strange place after an alcoholic blackout, when they're too timid to even admit that they once got a ticket for double parking.

A good friend helped me in this effort by saying about public opinion: "What are they going to do, take away your birthday?" It's a nice attitude, and I cultivate it.

On another level, sometimes I think that maybe it's me and not others that hold my former life in contempt. Maybe I throw my dubious past at others in the hope that I can assuage a subconscious self loathing that I might harbor - like a leper, proudly displaying his affliction while begging on a street corner. Maybe I'm pleading for emotional alms of support and acceptance. It's been 28 years, now, so you would think that I'd have figured it out and forgiven myself by now, but maybe not. I don't know, and it doesn't matter.

So I'll continue to play my game. When I'm forced to deal with the occasional opinionated fool, and if the situation demands, I'll proffer my drinking past to see the reaction. If it's what I expect, I'll milk the situation for a few minutes, then walk away, feeling superior in my assumed courage, plus the fact that I've made a person whom I don't like feel inadequate.

And so it goes.



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Original Publication Date: December 3, 2014



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