When Your Friend Is An Alcoholic

girls-drinkingby Ronna Benjamin

My friend Tammy had troubles, but it took me awhile to figure it out. She was a redhead who smoked menthols, loved music, dancing and beer.  Her father was a judge–a real one, but she herself was totally non-judgmental.

Tammy was the friend that held the ice to my ear Freshman year and then pierced a second hole in my left lobe, sterilizing the needle with the alcohol from our sloe gin fizzes.  She would drag me to frat parties,  grab a beer and start dancing, while I stood awkwardly in a corner complaining about the sticky floor.

I was one of the girls who left the party early, but Tammy always stayed and regaled us with great stories the next day. But as we got to be juniors and then seniors, the stories became increasingly uncomfortable to hear. There were times she slept with multiple men in one evening.  There were times when she blacked out.  There were times she woke up in places she did not want to be.

There was the time she came back to the dorm drunk at 3:00 am and burnt half her arm making popcorn.  There was the time she tearily told me she was pregnant, traces of gin on her breath, and pleaded with me to bring her to Planned Parenthood. I had driven halfway there the next day before she told me it wasn’t true–she wasn’t pregnant.  Never was.  It  was just her idea of a joke.  That almost ended our friendship, but I hung in there.

I knew there was something different about what happened when Tammy drank, but I wanted to be non judgmental too.  By day and on weeknights, Tammy was fine.  She studied, went to movies and plays, joined us for dinner, and did really well in her classes.  I thought once we graduated and she got a job, things would be different.  We were in college, after all.

In 1981, Tammy came to visit me at my apartment in Boston where I was in my first year of law school.  We went out on the town, but after a while, I wanted to go home.  She insisted I leave; told me she was having fun and would take a cab home.  Tammy got home safely in the early hours of the morning; but the next day she told me she had shared a bottle of vodka and slept with the cab driver.

And that is when I ended the friendship.

Telling Tammy that I thought she was an alcoholic was the hardest thing I ever did as a young woman, and amongst the hardest things that I have ever had to do.  I didn’t have the balls to tell her in person.  I called her from the safety of my bedroom, reading the words off a legal pad because I was so nervous. “Tammy, I think you have a problem with alcohol.  I think you are an alcoholic, and I cannot be friends with you until you get help.”  I described some of her behaviors that made me think so.  I described the hurt and worry she was causing me.  She said nothing, and hung up.

That was 32 years ago, and that was the last time I talked to Tammy, but it wasn’t the last time I thought about her.  As the years passed, I Googled her name.  Tammy was the first name I searched on Facebook.  One day, about a year ago, she “friended” me.  I barely recognized her picture, she had aged so. We had a brief FB exchange, but neither of us mentioned the alcohol.

A few months later, Tammy started a game with me on Words With Friends.  And I knew from those games that something wasn’t quite right.  She couldn’t get beyond 13 points.  She left spaces for triple words open.

I was waiting for Tammy to take her turn on Words With Friends when I read on Facebook that Tammy had died.  She was 53 and died “unexpectedly.”  I was not in her inner circle, so I don’t know the details of her death, and it was not my place to push. I was saddened, but to be honest, not shocked.

I had an alcoholic friend in college.  I told her the truth, abandoned her, and she died at 53.  I wonder now if I should have done something differently.

*This essay was originally published on

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“Sober by Accident”

1440x900_winewallby Dee Dee Acquisto

We got the phone call around 10:30 pm on a Sunday night.  Our good friend had been in an accident, and his wife–his childhood sweetheart and the mother of his two children–had been killed.  Ted* was  in a hospital in New Jersey, with 10 broken ribs and a concussion. In shock.  No doubt.  He was now a widower.   This had happened as they pulled into their own driveway, after going out to dinner.  They had left their 18-year old son home.  He heard the crash and rushed outside in time to watch in horror as his mother died before his eyes.  The driver who killed Arlene* fell drunkenly out of the car and passed out on the front lawn.   Ted was told that his wife was dead as he was being evacuated by helicopter to the hospital.

The drunk driver, a 40-year-old, bleach-blonde ex-L.A. actress had left a party drunk, and gotten into her car to drive home. Neither her husband, nor anyone else at the two parties she had attended that day had taken away her car keys, or prevailed upon her to drive her home.  Along the way, she rear-ended another car stopped at a red light.  She then sped away from the scene of that accident, careening down dark, two-lane roads at speeds over 50 miles per hour, so as to evade the night’s first victim, who followed in pursuit of her license plate number. Our friends were turning into their own driveway, after a quiet dinner out.  The actress’s SUV jumped the curb and slammed into the passenger side of their small sedan.

The actress and her crackerjack defense team didn’t dispute her nearly .27 blood alcohol content.  Yes, she was drunk, they said.  But she wouldn’t have lost control of the car had she not been pursued.  Yes, she was drunk, they said.  But Ted turned too slowly into his own driveway. The defense team seemed to treat the fact that she was nearly three times the legal limit of .08 as incidental. As if the accident was not her fault at all. As if her irresponsible over-consumption of alcohol was as unimportant as the color of her Tahoe. And the actress seemed to concur. In fact, at no time during the trial did she ever admit culpability. At no time during the trial did she ever say “I am deeply sorry.”

The trial lasted two months, and cost both the state of New Jersey and the actress hundreds of thousands of dollars.  She was convicted on the lesser of two counts, and she spent almost three months in jail awaiting sentencing. In anticipation of the sentencing, those of us who loved Arlene–and watched her family struggle on without her–wrote letters requesting that the actress be given the maximum sentence.

I wrote one of those letters, not without mixed feelings. I am a recovering alcoholic. I wrote one of those letters, requesting that the actress go to prison, to compensate, even if inadequately, for some of the life she drunkenly stole from Arlene.

Now perhaps I should have compassion “for those of us still sick and suffering, both in and out of these rooms” as the 12-Step programs suggest. Perhaps I should remind myself, “there but for the grace of God go I” as is further recommended. Perhaps I need to work on forgiveness.  Perhaps I will get there someday. But for now, this is what  I know and what speaks loudest to me: that until the day of her sentencing, (when, not incidentally, it might favorably  impact the judge’s decision), the actress never publicly  acknowledged her part in Arlene’s death. No admission of responsibility. No acceptance of blame; in fact, she and her defense team tried in every way possible to divert responsibility for Arlene’s death to the victims. (Exactly how fast is a driver supposed to turn into his own driveway?).  That was so wrong.

This is what I also know:  that until I admitted and accepted what my drinking had done to me, my children and my family, I could not truly recover. Until I could publicly say “I am Dee Dee and I am an alcoholic” –until I could truly acknowledge and accept the consequences of my behavior (what some of us call “wreckage”), I could not and would not recover.

It appears, however, that killing a wife, a mother of two, a daughter, a beloved sister,  a cherished friend, a gifted, beautiful and artistic spirit–seriously injuring her husband, and leaving her sons without their mother–has not been enough to convince the actress that she is responsible.  She seems to believe it really wasn’t her fault.

And apparently the judge agrees.

In the courtroom on March 1st, he pronounced a sentence of three years, the minimum allowed by law. Given the current judicial/penal system, this means that the actress will probably only serve 85 percent of this sentence (30.6 months) minus approximately three months time already served. That calculates to about 2 years and 3 months in jail.  For taking a human life while driving while intoxicated, that sentence is a slap on the wrist. There are individuals doing harder time than that for selling weed.  Paraphrasing Arlene’s distraught son after the sentencing, “She took my mother’s life, not her necklace.”

Of course I realize that no amount of prison time will bring our friend back. But I was hoping that in receiving the maximum sentence allowed by law, the actress might begin to acknowledge and accept her responsibility for this crime, and might use that knowledge to redeem her own life and make it something estimable and worth saving. But no, the message is clear:  the penalties for taking a life while driving drunk in New Jersey are minimal and moderately inconvenient–like being sent  away to a rather spartan community college.  Maybe she can start a theater group there.

 

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Drunk Sex, How I Miss You (Sometimes, Anyway)

bar kiss for drinking diariesBy Rachel Kramer Bussel

I stopped drinking, pretty much for good, over two years ago. I don’t tend to stare longingly at people drinking in bars, or feel too wistful, but the times when I’m overwhelmed with temptation for alcohol are usually times when I’m consumed by the desire for…desire–for getting fucked, along with getting fucked up.

To put it simply, I miss drunk sex. Well, one kind of drunk sex. I certainly don’t miss the “I’m going to drink so I get up the courage to put the moves on someone.” I tried that last year and while I got my much-fantasized-about makeout session, it was so not worth it, and was also just a one-time thing (as opposed to the let’s-move-in-together relationship I’d pictured). So now every time I see the person, I feel like an idiot. I also don’t miss waking up in someone’s bed and not knowing their name, or getting drunk just so I could get in the spirit of sex. Nor do I miss drinking in the hopes that it would make me look more attractive to someone I wanted to get with.

But I am a bit nostalgic for the sweet, swoony buzz from a good drink or two–the kind that used to make me feel warm and liquid and a little light-headed. The kind of buzz that made me both ferociously horny and oblivious to who saw me making out (or more) in taxis, restaurants, wherever. I miss the bliss of getting lost in both the alcohol and the person I’m with so that it feels like there is no tomorrow.

It’s hard to get to that place of utter focus on sex and just sex, for me, anyway, with the umpteen thoughts, doubts and uncertainties racing through my head. When I am able to reach that place of body over mind, of sensation over stress, though, sex provides both pleasure and relief, along with a way to feel closer to my partner.

The whole reason I stopped drinking is that it didn’t obliterate my thoughts, doubts and uncertainties; at least, not permanently (if it did, well, maybe I’d return to vodka). As soon as the buzz wore off, my feelings would just return with a vengeance, and no amount of hot sex or even being in love could make them go away.

I remember exactly when I stopped drinking, pretty much for good. I was buying fifteen of my closest friends dinner and martinis to celebrate a book deal (ah, hubris!) and getting increasingly wasted. I told everyone I had to leave at 9 for a podcast interview. About sex, my primary beat. Well, 9 rolled around, and went, and I was getting perilously close to the appointed time. I wound up calling in from my taxi home, then blathering away about orgasms from my bed while the room spun around me.

Some things are fun to do drunk, and maybe it’s just me, but trying to act serious and professionally knowledgeable isn’t one of them. I later became good friends with the host of the show, who said she had no idea, but still. I knew.

(Listen here if you want to determine for yourself whether I sound smashed: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/datingroadkill/2007/02/13/a-surprise-valentines-day-show).

I was never one of those savoring-the-fine-wine types of drinkers. I was more like, “Which drink will get me out of my head fastest?” The drunken podcast was the culmination of one too many mornings waking up feeling like I’d made a fool of myself the night before. That, plus coming from a family of alcoholics, made me decide that the best course of action was to quit cold turkey. I allowed myself the occasional (once or twice a year) drink, but even that–I’ve recently decided–is a bit too much for me to handle.

I don’t know if not drinking makes me a better lover or not. I think it probably makes me a boring date. The other night a really hot girl asked in a way that could only be called overtly flirty what I wanted to drink. “A seltzer?” I said in the hesitant way I still have, knowing that’s about as big a buzzkill of an answer as one can provide, since I’ve also sworn off Diet Coke. “I’m a cheap date,” I tried to joke.

“A seltzer with…” She looked at me so intensely, I truly wished I could add something boozy, if only to let her know that I thought she was hot and that I was potentially interested. I think some people take my non-drinking as an automatic sign that I’m not interested in them, which just isn’t true. I hate that drinking is so often the way we define our sexual interests, as if those of us who don’t booze it up are also celibate.

That being said, the kind of sex I’m most likely to be having right now is with my boyfriend, and it is, with rare exceptions, wild, kinky, rough. There’s spanking and choking and bondage and dirty talk and blowjobs and it all happens really fast and furious. There’s no way I could relax enough to submit sexually to him if I were wasted, and I wouldn’t want to be anything other than fully present. I need to be alert to make sure that what we’re doing is safe, to fully process and enjoy it. If I were drunk (or if he were), I’d fear that we might go too far and do things we might regret. With my thinking faculties intact, I can exult in the enjoyment of pushing boundaries.

Perhaps for some people, being drunk gives them permission to “go wild” in a sexual way, but if I’m with someone I want to be with, I don’t have those qualms at all. I like kinky sex, I like pushing my own personal erotic envelope. I get off on the occasional moments of fear or uncertainty that come with trusting someone else to set the tone, rules, and course of the sexual action. If my senses were dulled by drinking, I’d miss out on all the nuances of our play. I trust my instincts more when I’m sober.

That doesn’t mean every time I have sex it’s perfect and magical. But when it’s not, I deal with it; I figure out a way to either make it better or pause and restart another time. When I drank, I rarely checked in with myself like that. I thought I needed sex, and the feeling of being attractive, to “make” me feel better. Now I know that even the hottest sex isn’t a panacea.

Still, sometimes when my boyfriend orders a drink, I’m tempted to have one of my own. It looks fun, easy, comforting. In some ways, it’s not so much about sex as wanting to fit in, because not drinking makes you stand out in most any bar, and for someone who craves others’ approval, that’s not always easy. It’s not that I’d spiral into nightly drunkenness if I had one drink, but it’s infinitely healthier for my psyche, not to mention my body, if I abstain.

Maybe simply remembering my days of drunken sex, as hazy as they are, is enough, but even if it’s not, it’s the choice I’m making. I’ll leave the hot, drunk sex to someone else. May they enjoy it!

Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) is a New York-based author, editor and blogger. She’s edited over 25 anthologies, including The Mile High Club, Do Not Disturb, and Best Sex Writing 2009, and is host of the monthly In The Flesh Reading Series (inthefleshreadingseries.com). In her PG life, she blogs at Cupcakes Take the Cake (http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com), for which she’s appeared on The Martha Stewart Show.

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Wine and Serenity on Superbowl Sunday?

cgon175l-1I don’t know about you, but my Sundays (and some Saturdays) since September have been filled with football. I have a husband and a son who are fairly smitten with watching overgrown boys run around a field in any type of weather throwing and chasing a ball, and then falling upon one another to retrieve what seems to be as valuable as the Hope diamond, ignoring that they are potentially crushing someone else’s–or their own–skull.

It is commonplace on these long weekend afternoons for my two boys to sit on our family room couch, snacking on thick, extra dark pretzels (paying no attention to the crumbs and salt bits that fall in between the couch cushions), tossing a football and tackling one another or our dog during commercials–and drinking. If my twelve-year-old is feeling really hyped up for the event, he’ll ask if he can have a soda–usually saved only for special occasions in our house–while my husband opts for a cold Saranac Black & Tan, his beer of choice on these special game days.

When game time begins and all players–and viewers–prepare for the coin toss (or on some days the pre-game show needs to be screened first), that’s my clue to take to the living room. I’ll usually curl up on the couch, with either a cup of tea or a glass of wine close by–book, newspaper, and laptop at the ready for at least four hours of quiet time (save for the occasional shrieks coming from the next room).

Once in a while, my husband will gently request (“quick! come fast! hurry up!”) that I come and join them to watch a replay of some player running 40 or 50 yards down the field and then doing some kind of tribal dance in the end zone (that’s actually my favorite part). I oblige for the sake of my son–wouldn’t want him to think that his mom isn’t a woman with varied interests.

And then, I retreat to my corner in the next room. Happy. My husband chugs his beer and my son his soda, and both scream at the TV. I sip my wine (or tea), cozily engaging in my reading and/or writing. So, in truth, it turns out that football days are not so bad. This coming Sunday is the almighty Super Bowl. There will probably be a lot of noise coming from our house as of 6:30 pm EST when the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers take to the field (full disclosure: I had to ask a friend who was playing). I may hide out at a neighbor’s house. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll put down my book, opt for a beer, and relocate to sit with the boys, pretending that I actually care.

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Live Music Makes Me Want to Drink (& Dance)

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I don’t know about you, but live music makes me thirsty. Whether it’s the soft acoustic sound of a female vocalist (which may inspire a glass of sauvignon blanc), or the pounding of the bass guitar blaring from stage speakers (definitely a Sam Adams beer or equivalent), music and drinking do not always–but often do–go together for me.

So it seemed the perfect evening when I discovered that the City Winery in NYC, a small restaurant winery/restaurant/music venue where I’d recently sat up close for a Shawn Colvin show (dining on flat bread pizza and sharing a bottle of Malbec with my hubby), was hosting a night of music and wine. Not just any music, but the Top 20 Songs of ALL TIME (voted by listeners of a New York radio sation, 104.3) played by a cover band. With my husband’s nod of approval, I booked us two tickets.

We arrived at the City Winery at about 7:00 and had our choice of tables. Once we were seated, our placemat announced the event: “Top 20 Songs Paired with 20 Wines!” This would be a night to remember. Thankfully, there would also be a smattering of 6 small food courses.

On our right sat a youngish couple–he was a music-lover and chef at nearby restaurant whose family owned the largest chain of head shops on the East Coast (no joke); his wife was a wine-loving bartender. To our left was a table of three 30-something women, all married  but clearly out for a girls’ night of fun.

The band, all the way from Long Island, got on stage and started with the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” which was paired with a glass of Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain. From there, musical highlights included Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” Bruce’s “Thunder Road” and of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”

As the music and wine countdown progressed from number 20 to number 1, more and more people–mostly women–got looser and got up to dance. And that’s when it hit me, live music makes people happy. And alcohol makes people less inhibited (or me, anyway) and freer to shake their booty. I watched these women strutting and waving their arms, and I knew exactly how they felt–free of judgement and inspired to move with the beat. It was beautiful. One of them even snuck onto the stage, dancing behind the band members while they played, and waving to her two friends beside me. It was hilarious.

My husband isn’t a big dancer, so I just bounced around (a lot) in my seat, clapping, shouting and waving my arms in between sips of a Cabernet or Pouilly Fume. I contemplated getting up and dancing with the gals who bonded as they boogied, but decided to stay in my seat. Music and wine. It was just pure fun.

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