Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Fundimental Unfairness of Addiction

God, this is awful. Horrible that this exists. Some of the logic I just can't grasp or totally endorse. But so beautifully and painfully written. As the adult child of an alcoholic/substance abuser, I find my empathy strained. I have been hurt. I have been neglected and abused so that my father could use, so that he could serve the unholy twin gods of whiskey and cocaine. I have my challenges in life, but I have never been reduced to helplessness, and for that I am grateful. Truthfully, I want someone to blame.


Some artists have to contend with this unending misery in order to create. And then some get swallowed by it. My own brother went down the rabbit hole of drinking too much and I watched helplessly from a far distance as he went missing and turned up dead on the floor of his own apartment. I had said that he was burning too intensely to carry on for long, and rightly predicted that we would have to contend with putting him in the ground. The circumstances surrounding his death are clouded partially in mystery, but it is well documented by the Navy that he was having a major drinking problem before he died. He was 25.

I want to blame my father, or his father who schooled him in the ways of the bottle and emotional abandonment. I want to rage at the loss of my brother, my college fund, at my hopes for family normalcy. I want to show him how he made me feel worthless. I want to level these things at my dad. But then I look at him, and I see a frail, sickly, and finally sober shell of what my mom says swept her off her feet in hopeless romance. I don't see the man who wrote her drippy romantic, soulful poetry. I don't see the young man who pushed me on the swing as a very small child.  I see someone who, if faced by the full measure of my experience, would crumple like burnt tissue. He's there, burnt already, and holding his shape by sheer force of will. A whisper would scatter him.

Really, that dynamic, romantic artist is gone. Like the angelic boy soprano he was, when he hit puberty he did not mellow into a mature tenor. He cracked and was no more. He couldn't ever after carry a tune any more than he could carry responsibility or joy. He couldn't deal. He was a lead pencil in a broadband world. His capacity was reduced to nil.

I hear from him every few months now. I see that he is trying to be somewhat present in my life. He calls after months of forgotten or failed attempts to remember I am a part of his family. I hear his remorse. If I wanted to reconcile with my father, he is still here on this planet. I see his desire for my forgiveness. I blankly and without much feeling absolve him, my hands in a nonmagic gesture of benediction. I tell him I need nothing from him, not so much because it is true, but because I know I will never truly get what I need, not from him anyway. I am letting him off the hook. I have given what I can to him. I have thrown years of love down a dark hole to him, but he never took my lifeline. He only memorably told me that he wished I was born male so he could punch me in the face. No amount of telling me feebly that he loves me now will erase that. That takes bigger, more fearless and transcendent love that he just cannot produce or hold in his heart. I am left to work on it within myself. Despite being told I am worthless, I have to believe in my worth, love myself, and somehow forgive a man who probably was too wasted to remember saying that to me and shattering me into fragments.

Maybe only other addicts can really understand him, really help him. I am from the other world, with all my judgements and moral superiority for having never fallen prey to the bottle or the freshly chopped line. The hole in me mirrors the hole in him. I fill it with minor peccadilloes, perhaps. I am no saint. But somehow my need to consume Chex Mix doesn't seem to interfere with my ability to love others, although perhaps parts of myself. I am sometimes driven by the desire to be perfect, even though that conceit is the worst form of self-loathing.

But, lacking perfection, how am I to offer myself to the world? How do I consider myself worthy of the love I want in my life? I can bake a killer cake, save the life of a sick person, and even comfort the dying. But what if people knew that I couldn't save my brother? I couldn't heal my father? I couldn't be enough to stop the gnawing monster of addiction from greedily devouring the people I cared most about? Does it matter how kind or good I am? I will bet it does, to people with the capacity. But some people lack that. You can call down to them forever, and ultimately have to rise up from the chasm's edge and step back, lest you fall in yourself.

I am not an addict. I know I can go to Al-Anon for support if I wanted to. I just don't want my father's failings to define me.

I am trying to resonate with kindness and compassion in my life. This lesson is a hard one. It is going to take a lot more work. But I am alive today. I am aware today. I am grateful for that. The frustrated tears I shed over this are just part of the landscape. I don't have to be perfect. I just have to be trying to be good. That is enough. That is a lot more than others may have. Just by virtue of looking at this and attempting to unravel the Gordian Knot , I am better than I was on days when I merely felt sorry for myself. One day I will claim my destiny and cut the knot with one stroke and be done with it. Alexandrian solutions are not lost on me. In the meantime I hope I can at least see it for what it is: a yoke bound to an ox-cart. Just a symbol of what could be. Can I combine my conqueror's heart with the will toward compassion? I can try.