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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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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Beware of “Texts from Last Night”

Texts from Last NightLeave it to my college kid to enlighten me about the website, Texts from Last Night. I’m not sure why, but it seems that the website has a large following–enough that it has spawned a book with the same title–wholly devoted to the strange things people text as the night goes on. Not surprisingly, alcohol (and drugs) are involved in many a late night text.

For example, a random sampling from the website included the following texts:

“The best part about drinking boxed wine is you can blow up the bag and use it as a pillow.”

“Let the vodka take you where it will. Like Pocahontas, but wasted.”

“Its ok, the prom king gave me his crown to puke in.”

“Hurry up this bar wont let me order big pitchers of beer for just myself.”

“I just hope my dad was drunk enough to not remember the whole convo we had about anal.”

“The weed is temporarily burning the grammar section of my brain library.”

And my personal favorite: “Him being a republican bothers me way more than his coke problem.”

Perusing the site, I was able to search texts by area code and categories such as “Best,” “Worst,” and “Random.” Not surprisingly, the most common theme after booze/drugs is sex.texting

Here’s a bit on how the founders describe their mission:

Texts From Last Night (TFLN) was founded in February 2009 by two friends for reasons that may or may not include: the tendency to press send more easily as the night turns to morning, friends’ social habits, disgraced government officials, exes, law school, closing down bars and leaving tabs open, general debauchery and/or a common disgust for all the negativity surrounding the ‘sexting’ phenomenon.

We prefer texts, not conversations. We reserve the right to post portions of conversations without duplicating the entire thing. It’s not because the entire thing isn’t funny, but the funniest texts are those we can all relate to, so without the context of the conversation, they become really funny.

Our goal was to create a site that was revealing in nature while concealing the identity of everyone involved. This is why we only ask for an area code to accompany your text messages.

We don’t want texts that are offensive to the point of being viciously personal, racist, exceedingly profane, violent or excessively graphic in nature. It’s a very hard thing to judge, but we’ll do our best.

In this day and age, we know that little is sacred in the way of information. After reading through the texts posted in recent days on this website, I felt the need to warn our readers that booze, too, can burn the grammar section of your brain library. And even worse, your text–once intended for a specific recipient–may end up featured the following day in the “Best” or “Worst” sections of the Texts from Last Night.

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A New Study Links Alcohol to Unsafe Sex

couple drinking in bedIt will come as no surprise that drinking lots of alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with bad decision making. But up until now, scientists had yet to come up with a direct cause and effect relationship regarding alcohol and unprotected sex.

In the January issue of the journal Addiction, a new study reports that researchers in Canada conducted 12 experiments to test the theory. The results–yes, rather obvious–confirmed that drinking alcohol affects decision-making, and the more alcohol one drinks, the more impaired the decision making. As the results show, for every 0.1mg/mL increase in blood alcohol level, study participants were 5 percent more likely to engage in unsafe sex.

While the findings may not seem overly newsworthy, they do confirm the direct connection between alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases. The study’s conclusion states that  “alcohol use is an independent risk factor for intentions to engage in unprotected sex, and as risky sex intentions have been shown to be linked to actual risk behavior, the role of alcohol consumption in the transmission of HIV and other STDs may be of public health importance.”

“Drinking has a causal effect on the likelihood to engage in unsafe sex, and thus should be included as a major factor in preventive efforts for HIV,” said principal investigator Juergen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, in a statement. “This result also helps explain why people at risk often show this behavior despite better knowledge: alcohol is influencing their decision processes.”

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For College Students, Drinking Proves a Good Excuse To…

In less than a week, my daughter will be off to college. Sitting on a beach chair a few weeks ago, her eyes glanced at her computer screen under the glare of the sun and the ocean only steps away. I assumed she was watching some incredibly gripping movie from which she couldn’t tear herself away. But when I inquired, she rolled her eyes and explained that she was watching an alcohol awareness video—a mandatory assignment for her university.

Despite the efforts made by educational institutions, new psychological research suggests that the pitfalls from all those jello shots and games of beer pong aren’t bad enough to make students stop drinking.

On the USA Today website, an article, “College Drinking is Liberating, and a Good Excuse,” reports on why the efforts to raise awareness are not working.

“We thought if we could demonstrate to students that their performance deteriorated under alcohol, they would be convinced that their alcohol consumption has put them at risk,” says psychologis E. Scott Geller, director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech. But “knowing that one is impaired, physically and even emotionally, did not seem to reduce alcohol consumption.”

Geller, who’s been studying alcohol awareness since the mid-1980s, states clearly that the alcohol education hasn’t worked. “We have shown in several studies that their intentions influence their behavior. If they intend to get drunk, it’s difficult to stop that.”

Going for the effects is what it’s all about. One student, Brandie Pugh, a senior at Ohio University, says in the article: “I think everybody’s aim is to get drunk on the weekend. It’s not about the taste of the alcohol. It’s about the effects of it. It’s about the lowered inhibitions.”

In another study, researcher Laina Bay-Cheng, an associate professor of social work at the University at Buffalo-State University of New York, found that when teenagers drink, they think they can use their intoxicated state as an excuse for their actions. Students in her focus groups–there were 97 teens ranging in age from 14 to 17–described alcohol as emboldening and said it offers “liquid courage,” a phrase other researchers also have cited. Colleges, she says, need to “acknowledge and reckon with” alcohol’s appeal.

According to Bay Cheng, another result of drinking is that it can be an excuse for young women to “act out being sexually assertive, carefree, liberated,” she explains. “If you have sex, you’re a slut, and if you don’t, you’re a prude — but drinking allows you to do both. You can go out, get drunk, have sex and the next day say, ‘I’m still a good girl.'”

In the USA Today article, Pugh goes on to say that she has seen this scenario play out on her campus repeatedly: “‘I was drunk so I hooked up with that guy.’ ‘I was drunk so I missed my class this morning.’ ‘I was drunk so I got in a fight.’ If it’s something they’re not proud of, it gives them an excuse.”

After next Wednesday, I’ll hope from afar that my daughter doesn’t ever feel that she needs to use alcohol as an excuse for anything.

 

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