Category Archives: alcoholism

CTFlyer200

My alcoholic father has a child we never knew about

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Cary’s classic column from Tuesday, January 22, 2008

 

Write for Advice

Way back when, he gave up rights to the child, but now I want to know my half-sibling.


Dear Cary,

Until a few years ago the only issue I had with my dad was his drinking and resulting behavior. A family member recently uncovered a secret that my dad has been keeping for ages. When he was very young he and another woman, whom he was never married to, had a child. To my understanding my dad tried to provide for that child, but the relationship went sour and the mother asked my dad to sign away legal rights to another man (the person she eventually married and who I believe she is still with today).

My sibling and I have asked questions and have only gotten some answers. My dad is not interested in finding this child, but is not trying to hide from the child’s finding him, either (i.e., he keeps his name listed in the phone book). So, we have a half-sibling out there in the world and have been asked to leave it all alone. My mom supports this notion, stating that doing otherwise would only complicate things (i.e., future family functions or airing the laundry of the past).

I have decided to respectfully leave it alone — for now. My sibling, on the other hand, was for a time on a quest to find this person (with no success as far as I know). When my parents divorce (this is certain) my dad will have a reasonable amount of time to get his life in order and his addiction corrected (i.e., discovering new and healthy coping skills). If he chooses to continue drinking (and I do believe that, to an extent, addiction is a choice), he has been warned that a relationship with me will not be an option. (I’ve carried his weight for too long … I’ve set my boundary.)

Should this be the case, I will then look for the half-sibling because it would no longer “complicate things” due to the ending of contact with my dad. If he gets himself together, however, I will potentially lose this option … unless I go against my dad’s wishes. Knowing that a part of me (my dad) is out there calls to me and nags at me from time to time. (Do I have an entire additional family out there? Am I an aunt? Would I be accepted as part of their family? Rejected as part of “him”?)

Even though my dad has lost just about all respect, I don’t necessarily want to go against his wishes (but at the same time a part of me could give a shit about his wishes). So what do I do? If I do nothing, will the internal nagging go on forever? Do I continue to wait it out to see what my dad does with his life? (As if I haven’t been waiting long enough already!) Or do I go about finding this person because I have some right to know him or her, given our bloodline connection? I realize that this person may not want to be found, and may not want a relationship with other half-siblings, but how am I to know this for sure if I don’t find the person and ask? Any thoughts?

Mesmerized by the Possibilities

TuscanAd_2015

Dear Mesmerized,

A secret in the alcoholic family is like a precious jewel or a newborn child, a thing to marvel at and a cause for rejoicing. I imagine a family gathered around its secrets as though around a warm hearth, celebrating with a birthday cake and candles, passing secrets down through generations like jewelry. Why am I imagining this? I do not fully understand. It is certainly not a literal thing; it is more like a dream. But stick with me here and let us see where this goes.

I note how you calculate the effect of your choices, worrying how people will be affected. I suspect this has much to do with the relationship of a child to her alcoholic father.

Let’s go back a few years. The child of the alcoholic watches his condition. She dreams he will overcome. She tiptoes. She considers her actions carefully, not wanting to hurt the parent or abandon him or draw attention to his frailty, but guarding her flank too, knowing how he can lash out.

She develops theories. She considers whether the parent’s condition is a choice or a sickness. It becomes a central matter, like the existence of God: Is his ailment partly his choice, or is it wholly not of his making? Does he deserve my sympathy and pity or only my scorn?

She conditions her choices on his condition. If he is well, she can move about freely. If the parent seems vulnerable, she reconsiders.

Your concern for how your actions will affect others is nice but it is excessive, and seems to be the legacy of a childhood with a man whose shifts of mood were mercurial and catastrophic.

You had a father who could not be relied upon and trusted, who would not shoulder the burden, who put his burdens on you to carry. He left you resentful and wounded. Step free from this alcoholic father for one precious moment. Make a decision based on your own desire to know. You speak to me of what is right, as if I should know what is right! How am I to know what is right? Something happened in your father’s life and you want to know about it. You want to know your half-sibling. That makes sense to me. It is in fact the only thing in this situation that does make sense to me: You want to know the truth. I want to know the truth, too. That I understand. The feelings of people are something to consider, but in this matter I think you need to honor your desire for the truth.

Oh, people in your family will react. Sure. Of course they will. You can count on people in your family to react. There will be repercussions and effects no matter what you do. Your silence and inaction have their effects as well.

Do what you need to do to know what you need to know. Take up this quest.

I’m aware of the downside. But the upside is that you become a beacon in the room, a ray of light: You broke free. You took some action. You faced a secret.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

I finally found my dad — drunk on skid row

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Write for Advice

 

Cary’s classic column from

I thought I could bring him home, but he got loaded and disappeared


Dear Cary,

Recently — within the past couple of months — I went on a search to find my father. I can count how many times I’ve seen him in my life and it’s only a handful. He’s been an alcoholic his whole life and has been in and out of prison.

One of the main reasons for my search was to find my sister that I never met. So I finally reached his cousin, then his sister, then him. When I talked to his sister she said he’s living in a homeless treatment facility. So I had to call and leave messages and then he would call me back. We started talking more and more. At first it was a little strange and uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to respond or what to talk about, but somewhere within me, I felt something I never felt before. It was like a little space within was filling.

During this time I was having car problems. I actually had one car in the shop and borrowed my grandmother’s extra truck and it broke down too. So my dad had experience fixing cars so he volunteered to fix the truck. I went and picked him up and he met one of my daughters (the other one was at her dad’s) and he stayed the night and fixed the car the next day. We had a pretty good day. We had a good dinner, and overall good visit. Besides the fact he was hitting on my friends, which was weird and creepy LOL.

But anyway, we continued to talk on the phone more and more. One mistake I made was offering to let him stay at my house when he was done with his treatment. So after a couple of weeks go by the place he was staying at moved his job to a different facility. That’s when he came to me and said he would rather stay with me. He said, “I am just getting further from you.” Well, I had already offered but knew it was too soon, so I said, “OK, when do you want me to pick you up?” It was like a day or two. Then I went after work to pick him up.

He was with some of his friends he must have met and was completely drunk, not just a little drunk but can’t-walk-straight drunk. I was furious. I was so angry that he did that, and I couldn’t believe my other daughter was waiting at home to meet him and was so excited and here I have this drunk grandpa? Different things were going through my mind, like how could he do this? How could he do this to my kids? So I said to him, “So you’re drunk?” He said, “No, I just had a beer.” I said, “NO, you are drunk.” He said, “Well, I don’t have to be.”

I was angry. He went behind a building and I left him there. I felt like punching him. So I went home and thought about why I was so angry. One reason is because that’s what he chose his whole life over me. Drinking is the reason I didn’t have a dad. So I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he met us and then still chose to do that. He didn’t think to himself, Look at what I’ve been missing out on.

I figured he would just go back to his facility and maybe call me when he was sober and I haven’t talked to him. I left a couple of messages and he hasn’t returned my call. I called the facility yesterday and a guy told me that he never came back and he’s living on the streets and he’s always drunk. Now, in some twisted way, I feel bad. I don’t think I should but I do. Should I go find him and try to help him? What should I do?

R

Cary Tennis' Loire Valley Writing Retreat

Dear R,

Here I am writing about alcoholism again.

Outrage and sadness arrive fresh daily. How could anyone get used to news in a letter such as yours? How could anyone be unmoved by this tale? How could anyone shrug it off?

There is always hope. But hope is a kind of torture. It deprives us of a tidy exit. It will not let us turn our backs.

He can always try again. Chances are, he will. No matter how many times he goes back to drinking, he can always walk into an AA meeting and be welcome there. Men sometimes try 10, 15, 20 times, drinking, sober, drinking, sober, in and out.  The doors of AA are always open to anyone who wants to quit drinking. You don’t have to be sober to go there, or clean, or employed, or even awake.

Your father has hurt you deeply. He has not behaved well. He has spent time in prison. Many alcoholics have done this. Yet when we hear their stories, we do not hear the voices of criminals. We do not hear the voices of unfeeling psychopaths. We hear frightened, lonely voices; we hear the voices of small children afraid of the world and uncertain how to proceed. We hear the voices of people who got trapped in something they didn’t understand and could not escape, who spent years in agonized struggle against an enemy that kept defeating them through trickery and brute force. We hear the voices of people who wanted to do the right thing, who were drawn to feelings of happiness and contentment, the esteem of their comrades, joy, laughter, ease, success, comfort, fulfillment. But something went wrong.

It tears you up. There’s no way around that. And again and again the thought that comes to mind is, We should do something about this! What might that be? Is there anything we can do?

If we are drunks who have recovered, we can do things. We can spend more time in the world of wet drunks, salvaging whom we can. Yes, we can do that. And perhaps part of my outrage is my private knowledge that I am not doing enough, that I could do more. It is difficult work picking drunks up and trying to get them sober. There is no guarantee of success. But what is our outrage for if not to spur us into action?

And what can you do? That’s another good question. I wonder if it might help you to work as a volunteer to help other alcoholic men who have lost everything.

How do you arrive at the truth that is big enough and bright enough that you decide to take action? Might this moment be an instance in which your own outrage spurs you to some kind of social action? What if it were possible for you to spare some other son or daughter your particular grief? What if you could help someone else’s father sober up and get off the streets? Might that give your soul some cherished respite? Might it bring some feeling of justice to this bleak scene?

We know what we can do and what we cannot do. We can make ourselves available to individuals and to social service agencies to bring a little comfort and possibly recovery to the many alcoholic men and women who live and die on our streets every day. We can learn as much as possible about the effects of alcoholism and take steps where possible to avert its bloom in those who can still turn back. We can advocate for more resources for those agencies and group that seem to have some success. We can advocate for more research into the medical aspects.

What we cannot do is cure it the way we cure an infection with antibiotics, or the way we set a bone so it will heal straight and be as strong as it was before. Perhaps one day a sure cure will be found. Until then, our methods are the well-known ones: the 12 Steps, rehabilitation facilities, medical interventions, psychotherapy, harm reduction, etc.

Alcoholism, like cancer, remains mysterious and resistant.

I’m going on a bit. I know that. I am speaking my own opinions. I am speaking my own outrage born of compassion for you and what you have had to suffer. It makes me mad. It makes me mad and I wish I could fix it. I wish I could take you in my arms and make it better. I wish I could clean up your dad, put him in a suit and send him home to rest up for a few weeks before taking on a new job on the railroad, or in construction, or as a scientist or labor representative or clerical worker or insurance man or mechanic or ship’s mate or any of a million other roles the world has waiting, even in a time of high unemployment.

I wish I could fix it but I can’t. So it makes me angry. The world shouldn’t be like this.

But it is.

So do this for me: Seek solace in those around you. Cry when you need to. Admit that it makes you angry and cry at the gods when you need to. If it helps you to go out and work as a volunteer so that this story is not repeated more often than it has to be, then do so.

One last thing: Embrace this. This is not merely a bad thing that happened to your otherwise perfect life. It is in fact your story. It is what your life is about. It will bring you strength if you face it and allow it to shape your future. So carry it proudly. You are part of a world of people who have seen this and know what it is like, and it is possible, I swear it is possible, to draw strength from this.

 

WhatHappenedNextCallCary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

Our friend got drunk and went to a hotel room with a bunch of Marines

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Write for Advice

Cary’s classic column from TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2008

We think she’s out of control, and we think she should tell her boyfriend.


Dear Cary,

I am writing to you to get advice about a friend of mine who has some rather troubling issues that I fear may one day turn into very serious issues that will affect her entire life, and not just for the short term. My friend, whom I will call Jan, has been my friend for 13 years. We went to high school together. Jan rooms with another mutual friend from high school, whom I will call Lisa. All three of us are 26.

To make a very long story short, Jan went out one night with one of her friends (whom I don’t know very well), and got really, really drunk — so drunk in fact that Jan and her friend decided to go to a hotel room with a bunch of Marines that they had just met that very night. Lisa and I were up until 5 a.m. trying to find Jan, who had been drunken-dialing us with worrisome messages like, “I lost my friend, I can’t find her! I’m in a hotel room. Come and find me!” CLICK.

We did find Jan and her friend and brought Jan home, and immediately I knew something wasn’t right with her. Lisa got the full story from Jan’s friend, who then went home. As it turns out, Jan had consensual, unprotected sex with one of the Marines.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Jan is notorious for having dangerous (unprotected), drunken liaisons with boyfriends and strangers alike. This happens frequently enough that Lisa has unwittingly become a “guardian” figure to Jan, having to rescue her on many occasions. Jan acknowledges, when sober, she has a problem, but refuses to take any steps to solve the problem. Rather, she blames everyone else (“You and she didn’t come with me to the bar!”) or tries to avoid the subject altogether (“I know, I know! Can we not talk about it right now?”). Lisa, for how kind and absolutely fantastic she is, is just too averse to confrontation to put down her foot and say, “Enough is enough! You need real help, and I am not going to come to your rescue at 5 a.m. anymore.”

Now, the kicker is that Jan is continuing to have sex with her long-term boyfriend, and she absolutely refuses to tell him about her encounter. (She hasn’t gotten the results of her STD tests back yet, either.) I personally don’t know Jan’s boyfriend well enough to talk to him about it, and even if I did, I’m not sure if it would be my place to do so. However, I worry that Jan is putting her boyfriend in jeopardy by risking infecting him with any STDs she may have. Lisa, on the other hand, knows Jan’s boyfriend really well, but she doesn’t feel it’s her place to get involved and is uncomfortably passive about the situation. I equate this situation to Jan’s pointing a strange, unknown firearm at her boyfriend and pulling the trigger, not knowing if it will fire blanks or a bullet.

My respect for Jan has waned so much that I fear I may not be able to look her in the eye and consider her a friend. She is a 26-year-old woman, handling adult problems like a child. Worse yet, she is possibly endangering the life of someone she claims to love. (She has been with her boyfriend for eight years.) Her fear is that he will leave her, and he very well might, but doesn’t he have the right to know and make an informed decision, at the very least to ensure he uses protection when having sex with her?

Do you have any advice for how we should handle this situation? In your opinion, it is our responsibility to confront Jan’s boyfriend with this issue if Jan won’t? Also, do you think that Lisa should continue to be Jan’s guardian figure, or do you think that she is unwittingly enabling Jan by always being there to bail her out?

Concerned Friend

France_Ad_fix

Dear Concerned Friend,

The boyfriend has a right to know that he may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease.

If the test comes back clean, that proves nothing. She is engaging in a pattern of behavior that may result in infection at any time.

She doesn’t need to tell him that she got drunk and went to a hotel room with a bunch of Marines. She just needs to tell him that because of her behavior he may have been exposed to an STD.

Informing him carries certain risks. The most likely risk is that they’ll break up. That would be unpleasant but probably for the best. There may be a risk of physical violence as well. Has he ever threatened her or her friends with violence? Some people respond violently to traumatic or upsetting news. If he is violent, she should be protected when she tells him. There should be someone capable of controlling him there — a friend or a police officer.

If she won’t tell him, someone else will have to tell him. Who will that be? Health department policies on partner notification differ widely from state to state and county to county. If she won’t do it, then you and your friends have to figure out a way to make sure it gets done.

Tell her that he has to be told and he is going to be told. Don’t let her talk you out of it. Instead, use the fact that he is going to be told as a way of persuading her to tell him herself. Maybe she will reason that if he’s going to be told anyway, she should do it first.

Then fill her purse with condoms.

Really. I mean, if she’s going to keep on like this — and she shows no sign of stopping soon — then she has to start putting condoms on the men she has sex with. Otherwise she’s a public health risk. She may be too out of control to actually be sure that her partners wear condoms, but put them in her purse just the same. Future partners may choose to wear a condom if one is available.

Remember: It isn’t just about her and him. It’s about those Marines, too, and about anybody else who might cross her path — or her boyfriend’s path, because we don’t know what he’s doing, either.

There is a limited amount of useful information on the Web; InSpot.org is a good place to start. See also this discussion and this article that discusses a survey of American doctors on the question of partner notification.

As I read over your letter, I keep coming back to the phrase “consensual, unprotected sex.” You say she had “consensual, unprotected sex” — while drunk, in a hotel room full of Marines. The sex was with a Marine and it was consensual. OK. She had just the Marine — while drinking. OK. Maybe they were both drunk. We don’t know. And there were a bunch of Marines. She was drunk in a hotel room full of Marines. Marines are strong young men trained to kill. OK. They are also trained to be gentlemen. OK. And, well, it may have started out fun, but at one point she was dialing her friends on her cellphone, crying out for help, calling for rescue, crying out that she had been abandoned. She was drunk and afraid. It does not sound like an episode of “The Love Boat.” That’s not to say she was raped. But perhaps we could say she had sex with a Marine under conditions of traumatic fear blunted by drunkenness. That’s not good.

I picture that hotel room full of Marines and your friend, drunk, abandoned by her friend and hungry for something, seeking something, vaguely aware that once she starts drinking she often can’t stop or control what she does next, vaguely aware that whatever has been happening to her lately is happening again, and every time it happens it seems to get a little more out of control. When I picture that hotel room and what went on there — maybe with just one Marine but maybe more than one, given that her shame may be overwhelming and her memory incomplete — when I picture her desperation and her hunger for whatever it is she was seeking at the end of the night, and then I hear the phrase “consensual, unprotected sex,” I marvel at the gulf between the language and the event. Perhaps this language indicates the gulf between your world and hers as well, and between the full horror of what happened and our willingness to imagine the full horror of what happened.

So I wonder what she says to herself about it. I doubt she says to herself, “Well, I went and had unprotected consensual sex with a Marine again, darn it!” I wonder what she would say if she could speak freely, with deep emotion, to someone she completely trusted. I wonder how it seems to her — that she was abandoned by her friends and ended up being taken advantage of? That they were nice guys but things just got out of control? That it would have been great if she and the one Marine could have just gotten off alone by themselves? And did she, in her heart of hearts, do it to get back at her boyfriend for some slight real or imagined?

I also wonder in what sense it was truly consensual. We are animals and we feel fear. Drunk, we do things to survive. We can feel when there is a killer in the room. We can feel when a killer’s reflexes have been trained. We can feel when it would be unwise to resist. Given our animal nature, the instincts that drive us when we are drunk and incapable of rational choice, given our desperate pretense in the face of implied danger, to say that it was “consensual” is to say what? What does the phrase “drunken 26-year-old woman in a hotel room full of Marines” say to you? Does that say the same thing as “consensual, unprotected sex”?

The more I imagine what went on in that room, the more I wonder if you and your good friends have come to terms with, or admitted to consciousness, the full terror of the event. No one probably knows for sure what really happened in that hotel room. Has anyone uttered the word “trauma” in relation to these events? Imagine the trauma to her roommate. Imagine her own traumatic shame when she woke up. And where did she wake up, or come out of a partial blackout? In the hotel room with the Marines, or in her car, or on the street, or in her own bed? Shame and degradation hide behind the phrase “consensual, unprotected sex.”

So beyond the public health issue of notifying the boyfriend, the emotional trauma of the event needs to be acknowledged, and she needs to get some help. I am convinced, having been out of control at times in my 20s, that we do not just go out of control for no reason. It happens in context. It happens because of feelings, because of our inability to control our response to alcohol, because we are hurt, cut off from friends and family, fearful about survival, unable to process and admit to ourselves our feelings about other things, and it snowballs. It escalates. One out-of-control incident leads to shame and humiliation and fuck it all, who the fuck cares now, might as well get out of control again because my friends did not rescue me the first time, so fuck them too, they must not care about me, and since they don’t care about me I must be pretty worthless, and if I’m worthless you’re worthless too, you shit, we’re all worthless, so what if I give my fucking boyfriend an STD, he should have been there to protect me from those Marines and protect me from myself, too. So fuck him. Fuck you. Fuck it all.

This is the way we end up dead. It snowballs. We stop caring. We enter into a spiral of shame and anger and humiliation, hopelessness, betrayal and self-betrayal, abandonment and apathy. We shut off. It’s too much to feel. We go dead. We shut off by drinking more and by abandoning ourselves, by giving ourselves away in pieces like a car parted out to thieves.

Cary Tennis Connecticut Writing Retreat

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
Nothing is a Ruse, Judith Lindbloom 1992 (portion)

El Farolito

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Judith, abstract expressionist, El Farolito on 24th Street in the Mission for lunch after the meeting, talking about William James,  the God thing, William James says, Look, we are scientific men, Christian men, honest men, and we cannot deny what we see: People are having experiences; they have these experiences of another world and then they change. What are we to call this? How can we, as scientific men, pretend that this is not real? So something is going on, basically, is what Judith and William James and I agree about in the Farolito on 24th near Florida Street.

How did she get 33 years sober, hanging out with de Kooning in New York, marrying Steve Lacy because he needed a wife even though she preferred women, and living in that apartment at 23rd and Potrero since 1979, watching the giant construction cranes across Potrero at SF General Hospital, and my plate of al pastor, and the uncanny feeling of holy rescue one feels sitting across from somebody who rampaged through 1950s New York art scene fucking everything that had a can of cadmium yellow and a canvas stretcher, everything that had a gallery show even a group gallery show and a collection of Chet Baker records not too many because he didn’t make too many because he died young and pretty and messed up, toothless and beat up and strung out in the Fillmore … thinking how does that familiar miracle happen to this woman who is nothing but trouble for years just fucking up everything until finally one day she gets it and stops the bullshit and just keeps painting every day for the last 33 years in her studio at Hunter’s Point until the abstracts are piled up to the ceiling and still she keeps going because it’s the only way to God for her, it’s the only way to know herself, her raspy, Winston-ravaged throat, her New York by way of Chicago combination of exasperation and exultations, half the time having no idea what she’s really saying but agreeing, as we agree about William James and what he was seeing in 1890, that the old religions are crumbling yet people are having these experiences of something beyond, something other, something anti-rational that says everything you believed up till now was wrong, relax, surrender.
Let the impossible happen.

Let what you don’t know guide you.

Me and Judith in El Farolito. She talks incessantly about dying. How she’s ready. How it’s a pain in the ass. How people are taking care of her. People are taking Judith where Judith needs to go. People are buying Judith lunch. People are driving Judith to meetings. This is community.

This is how community works, a loving community around a single person without any blood relatives nearby, this is how we close ranks around someone who tore through New York in the 1950s and is still painting abstract expressionist and still listening to jazz LPs on her turntable in her Hunters Point studio and still wearing those khaki painters’ pants the hipsters wore in New York: that faded black-and-white photo of her on the door of her Hunters Point studio: Who is that woman she’s with, her lover? A friend of de Kooning’s? Who is that woman? How did she get there? And how did we get to this table at El Farolito?

We moved into her building in 1990 and she said, “I’m the one with the great flat. You’re the ones who got the not-so-great flat.” We became friends. We went to demonstrations together.

I am giving her rides. We are taking care of her. We are closing ranks around her as she threatens to slip away from us.

Nothing is a Ruse, Judith Lindbloom 1992 (portion)

Nothing is a Ruse, Judith Lindbloom 1992 (portion)

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

“I hate everybody!” plus Cary rambles on about rambling on

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Write for Advice


Dear Reader,

I thought that every time I do a column I would write something but today I don’t really want to write anything about myself. I really do not like writing about myself. Or do I? Actually, what happens is that initially writing about myself is frustrating because I do not set out with a topic. I find it hard to find my own subject. So I just dive in, and am unsatisfied with what I write because it is vapid. But then out of that awareness of vapidity will arise a subject.

Now, there’s some wisdom in that: Just beginning to write will bring one to one’s subject. It is intolerable to write gibberish; that is a built-in mechanism: We eventually find what is meaningful because to jabber on is painful. I don’t know if it is painful to everyone; some people jabber without showing that it pains them, and thus inflict pain on others. But they must be in some kind of pain! Perhaps they are not aware of the pain they are feeling. Me, I have a low threshold of pain, psychologically. I can easily slip into feelings of abject despair. So I cannot jabber senselessly for very long. I seek meaning like a life raft. The chaos that surrounds us is terrifying, and when my own consciousness mimics that chaos, I panic. I must find something that means something. What arises from that encounter is my subject, which starts out to be my own orneriness, or my own resistance, or my own reluctance to write about myself.

I write all the time. I write morning pages sometimes. They help me stay sane. Morning pages help me identify the hidden themes that are likely to crop up throughout the day.

Here’s something of possible interest about human nature. I noticed the other day that when I met people the first thing I was asking them was, What part of the city do you live in? What neighborhood? As I was falling asleep I was wondering why I was doing that. Then I realized, we had the real estate man out here looking at our house. We are thinking of moving. I’m not sure exactly why we would move but having lost my job and being in a very expensive city, and not wanting to work too hard, wanting a slower life, and less house to take care of (this house is big, actually; and it’s got what is for San Francisco a big backyard). There’s painting to do. There’s a lot of work that has to be done on the house and I just, after my cancer surgery, I’ve really changed my attitude toward the house. I like it and all but I’m not as interested as I once was in learning all the trades.

I thought sheetrock was really interesting at first. I wanted to learn plumbing and electrical. Just to know how to do that stuff. So I learned a lot about that but now it’s not interesting to me. I just want to live in a house.

What was interesting was how unconscious was this force that was driving me to ask people where they lived. I got great satisfaction out of hearing where people lived, but it wasn’t connected to any conscious, analytical plant. Maybe it should be. Dennis lives near 22nd on South Van Ness. Judith lives at 23red and Potrero. I’m just storing these little addresses away. I’m like a walking Google map.

Anyway, it’s Wednesday, so I’m answering a letter:

France_Ad_fix

Dear Cary,
 
Today, Happy Easter, I have reached the point of determining that I hate everybody. As churlish as that may sound, it makes sense when I really start to think of how my intimate partners and family have consistently betrayed me in spite of the fact of me doing the right thing, holding up my end of the bargain, being supportive of them, trying not to allow them to put their “crap” on me.

My dad was abusive emotionally, mentally and physically (yes, he is an alcoholic.)

When I think of my marriages (yes, multiple) the one that I had children with and tried to keep together with another alcoholic for 12 years was fouled up because of his attachment to his messed-up family instead of ours. There were times when we seemed to make inroads to intimacy and love, but then he would go back out to the insanity of alcohol and drugs. The end came to me when he went on a coke bender with his sister, while my mother was on her deathbed.

The most faithful earliest intimate partner whom I should have married, but remained close friends with, confided in me TWENTY years later that although he wanted to marry me and had asked me several times, his father threatened his inheritance and my life if he did.  Different culture. By the time his dad died, I had already been married and was done having kids.

So here I am.  Pissed as hell. The last marriage I had after seeking recovery for codependency turned out to be a big lie too. He said everything I wanted to hear, until we got married.

After I made choices to turn my life around and make a better life for me and my kids, I had to ask myself, Why do I have to do all the work in this marriage and what the hell am I getting out of it?

It gets worse. I dropped out of my church, because although not as dogmatic as most “religions,” what they were preaching was absolutely not helping me cope with the circumstances of my life. I was really tired of feeling like I was the only one responsible for the continuation of an institution that would only condemn me for trying to live my life as I felt was best for me.

The most recent love of my life (which was yes, unusual because of our age difference) was stifled because of the determination of his family and what they wanted for him as well.

Cary, it’s not like I am sleeping around, drinking or drugging. Just trying to maintain a home for my teenage kids and work independently. But there did come a point in time when I said I am totally sick of feeling like the “taskmaster” for everyone, especially my intimate relationships.

In walks the young love of my life who for once made me feel like a complete woman, just the way I am. Only to be shunned because he can’t follow his own heart and be with me instead of the traditional way the family thinks things should be.

I had even been to a marriage counselor, who really didn’t help me other than saying our age difference was typical for an affair.

So here I am. I hate everybody. I am so fed up with everybody’s horse****  and no one being authentic or intelligent enough to carry on a decent conversation.

My darker side is about to come out in the worst way, as I am ready to start having unscrupulous sex with any man ready to go.  I don’t even know how to go about that. How do you do that without getting AIDS? 
 
There is so much more vitriol but I am sure you probably have seen the heart of the issue I am having already with my very rude awakening. Please help me unravel the crap so I can get to a better place.
Thanks.
Rudely Awakened

Connecticut_SlightlySmaller

Dear Rudely Awakened,
This is the kind of letter that in the old days I would spend a few days on. I would read it and think about it for a few days. But I don’t have that luxury anymore. And maybe that’s a good thing. So I am going to say a few things that may help.
For one, I don’t know enough about you to venture a guess. I don’t know what culture you are from, or how old you are, or really much of anything except that you are fed up and angry. And I know you’ve had some marriages and are now on the verge of doing something reckless and possibly self-destructive.

OK, that’s a start. I do know what it’s like to feel fed up and like doing something reckless and self-destructive. Maybe there is a clue there, having to do with your codependency. Here’s a thought. Maybe your codependency is linked to a poorly developed love for your self. That would account for why you feel like a taskmaster and a victim.

Maybe you have reached a point in your recovery from codependency where you are ready to make a new leap. Maybe your anger is a signal that it’s time to truly leave behind your codependent husk and emerge as some new being. Maybe the anger is the kind of anger that burns off a residue.

But as I say, I don’t know enough.

Here is what I suggest, though. I suggest you do some more reading on codependency and try to find in yourself the connections between how you were raised, your father’s alcoholism, your known codependent traits, and get a sense of the typical spiritual trajectory of a codependent. That is, consider that personal psychological growth occurs in stages, and those stages are marked by a feeling of crisis. Recognize that you have reached some kind of crisis which it is your job to enter into and understand. This may be done by talking it through  with other people in Al-Anon, if you are connected with that program. It may be done by taking a thorough route through the steps of Al-Anon.

That would be my interpretation: That you have reached a point of personal crisis that has a meaning which is yet to be determined.

So identify the things that are happening. It may be that long-buried feelings are starting to erupt, and those may be connected to your father and your family. I do notice that family plays a big role in your dissatisfaction. It may be that while you are identifying the family conflicts present in other people’s lives, what is driving that is your own inner conflict with your own family and your family history. So I would look for mirrors and echoes. That’s what I would do. Look for mirrors and echoes and order and consistency. Look for the patterns and ask how they have brought you where you are. Ask how you can change those patterns.

To do this, you will want to refrain from acting out. Rather than act out your frustration, sit with it. Talk it through. Write about it in a journal. Be aware. Just seek awareness.

So, as I said, knowing so little about you as an individual, that is all I can offer. I hope it is helpful.

Newsletter_NEW_Dec13

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

I need support from my brothers in a messy divorce

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

 

Write for Advice

 

Hi Cary,

Your column spoke to a writer’s heart. It encouraged. It gave strength. It had passion and power.

It would be lovely if you would continue to offer advice.

That said, I need some support and advice. I’m in the midst of a contentious divorce. Friends started telling me several months ago that this was bad before I realized how the situation had deteriorated. How this divorce was not just another breakup, but a Shakespearean-level tragedy.

Collateral damage is beginning to pile up as my spouse (well, it is my view of this) gathers the orcs for her raids. To give some idea of her mindset, she had an order of protection placed on me when this started. It was vacated and recently when she attempted to have me arrested, a witness was present who was able to tell the police, “He didn’t do any of the things she claims.”

Okay, she lied to get the OP. But here is the kicker. Following that initial OP among the first calls she made was to my daughter, crowing how I’d been kicked out of the house (my daughter was also removed from the house as a result of the OP, not legally, but in fact).

Among the casualties are the relationships with my brothers.

There is a concept when relationships like these go sour to blame the victim. I’ve heard, several times now, “You ought to make up with your brother.” These souls treat me as the issue. I’m to blame for what has happened.

I won’t bore you with this. Let’s summarize this as I wake in the morning, look myself in the mirror and I feel damn good about myself. My brother? He is offering protection to a predator. And, no it isn’t my wife.

More collateral damage appeared this week. The divorce has been going on for eight months. In that time I’ve spoken to my second brother once, maybe twice.

This week I needed some emotional support. I made the mistake of calling on the second brother. Our discussion had nothing to do with the family. I was asking for professional advice on dealing with my attorney. My brother is nationally known for mediation and recently retired from the bench.

He quickly started in on me. I was to blame for not getting a prenup. I was to blame because I can’t articulate why there are bells and whistles in my head when I’m asked to work with a vendor suggested by my divorce attorney. I was to blame because I was asking for advice and he had only a few minutes to consider his answer. (Ummm… eight months and two phone calls in the midst of a contentious divorce?)

I stopped him finally and said, “Why am I to blame here? Why can’t you just accept the feeling in my gut? I’m calling for emotional support. I don’t see a lot of it.”

At that point he hung up. I was upset, but not yelling or angry. I was under assault and I had to stop him. My defense was reasonable and within the boundary of normal given the offense. And that statement above? That was the extent of my protest.

Nevertheless, I’ll be blamed as being angry and confrontational.

There are a few ways to deal with this as I see it. Maybe you can help me see additional ways? I’m thinking a handwritten note that lays out that I need emotional support, not blame, is in order. But writers, we can be so snarky can’t we? ;)

I could also walk away, as I’ve always done. I walk away and I seethe in anger. That seems a mistake.

Or, I could write that letter (or this letter). Put them aside and know that this brother is a detached jerk. That I asked for too much from him. Anything I say (or not say for that matter) confirms to him and others that I’m the problem.

Jump, if you want Cary, to the idea that I was the family vessel that received the blame. It would be true. Jump to to the understanding that this is a family of survivors of alcoholism.

There is a policy for dealing with family turds like this that I located on the web. It is called ‘state occasions only.‘ I like that idea.

And, I like summarizing the situation like this: my brother (1) is an ass who threw me under the bus to protect a predator and brother (2) we’re just distant.

Your thoughts?

Patrick

France_Ad_fix

Dear Patrick,

What you need is support. You’re not going to get it from your brother. But you can find it in lots of places. I suggest you set out to find the healthy support that you need.

It will help to have a clear picture of what this support is. It isn’t exactly the same as being told you are right, or were right in your decisions. But it’s being affirmed as a human being with rights and feelings. It is the kind of support found most often in 12-step groups, men’s groups, and in private sessions with therapists.

Your relationships with your individual family members is a separate issue. Do not go to them for support. There are many reasons for this. The most basic is that you’re not going to get the support you need from them. So it’s illogical to go to them. Beyond that, going to them exacerbates the problem because it brings up deep emotion rooted in family history.

In order to stop going to your brothers for support you may first need to understand first why you are doing it, when it’s not the best thing. You are probably doing it because of a lifelong wish to fix something, to have things the way they ought to be, the way they were supposed to be. So in order to stop going to your brothers for support you may have to accept the fact, in a deep way, not only that you come from an alcoholic household, but deeper than that: You’ve been hurt by this and suffered loss, and it is not recoverable. You have to accept the loss. You have to grieve. Now, it may be too painful to grieve. It may feel as though your entire world, your future, your self, was bound up in that dream of having the family work the way it was supposed to—i.e., having brothers you could turn to in times of distress.

That’s a very sad thing. It’s sadder than just knowing you had an alcoholic family. It’s really about having to let go of a wonderful dream. I know how sad that is. I had a wonderful dream, too, of how I thought my family should function, and for a long time this dream would precede me into a room; I would be thinking, if I just go back there, if we just have a family home, if this, if that . . . it will be just like my ideal childhood. But guess what? Even this ideal childhood is a wish, some kind of fantasy. My childhood wasn’t ideal. It’s just another place that I can pretend was trouble-free; it’s another fantasy.

To break free of the fantasy means accepting that it’s never going to be the way you wish it would be. It’s not. You don’t have to castigate your brothers. Just accept that they are the way they are, and that they’re not the appropriate people to turn to for the kind of support you need right now.

Find a group of men who are going through divorce. If you have anger issues, find a group of men dealing with anger. If you have substance abuse issues, or sex and relationship issues, or issues with food, or money, or your family, find appropriate groups where you can share your feelings and get support.

Remember: The support you need is not going to come from your family right now. So be smart. Find the support you need where it is most likely to be found: among fellow sufferers, fellow travelers, people who’ve been there and are offering a helping hand.

Now, a note about the column. (I’m putting this at the bottom because I don’t want to lead with stuff about me. That makes the column less of a service.)

I am writing the column one day a week right now and feeling my way through the transition from a full-time writer for Salon to a freelance writer, teacher and entrepreneur. My first love at the moment is novels, followed by short stories and then poetry, and if I can find a way to do everything I will. If the column slips away a little bit as I pursue these other things then that’s how it is. The last thing I want to do is keep writing it when I’m not in the spirit of it and drive it into the ground, like somebody who keeps dancing because he doesn’t notice the music has stopped.

I’d like to go out clean, on top.

So we’ll see. It’s partly a money thing and partly a creative economy thing, partly a creative ecology or infrastructure thing, and partly, to tell the truth, I feel like what I did for 12 years was write this thing every day and that was a particular kind of challenge. I gave it everything I had every day for 12 years and doing it just once a week is not the same. I can’t afford to do it five days a week because I have to make money.

So we’ll see. Again, thanks for the good words.

And remember: Your brothers are not going to give you the support you need right now. Go to the appropriate source for the support you need.

Connecticut_SlightlySmaller

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

He’s sober but he steals hotel towels!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cary,

I’m dating a man but I’m uncomfortable with some of his behaviors. He is about eight years sober and attends Alcoholics Anonymous regularly. He and I dated about four years ago and I adored him but couldn’t tolerate some of his bad behavior so the relationship ended. He seems to have grown a lot in the last four years and I was excited and hopeful to give the relationship another chance.

However, he still doesn’t follow the same rules of society that I do. Here are some examples of things he’s done in the last couple of months: He’s tried to sneak into places that he should be paying to enter; he’s takes the towels from hotel rooms; and he outright lifted a towel off of the maintenance cart and took it home.

He knows I’m uncomfortable with his behavior. He jokingly asked if I would feel better if he returned the towels to the hotels (and I said yes).

He occasionally will tell me things he did before he was sober. For example, he said he flooded a vacant house on purpose. I hear no remorse from him when he tells these stories and it seems unlikely to me that he ever worked the Step 8 the way it was intended to be worked.

When I reentered a relationship with him this time I went in with the attitude of keeping things light and taking things day by day. But now he is asking more of me and I’m losing interest in him.

I don’t know if I should just ease out of the relationship or if I should let him know why I’m cooling off. It seems only fair to tell him why I’m backing away, but I don’t want to create a scene either. I would want to stay in the relationship if he was working on changing this behavior but I know I can’t change him.

Your advice sure would be appreciated.

Sunshine

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Sunshine,

You can’t change him. But you can place before him the opportunity to keep going out with you, and let him choose. You can say to him, I like you a lot but I won’t go out with you if you keep stealing towels.

Then it’s up to him. I’d choose you over hotel towels and I don’t even know you that well. But you’ll just have to find out what he wants to do.

Maybe he has a different definition of stealing. When people are drinking sometimes they have a different definition of drinking. Like beer is not drinking. Or one glass of wine is not drinking. So maybe to him taking a towel is not stealing. Maybe it would have to be fifty towels for it to be stealing.

If there is a definitional problem at the heart of this, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, may help.

I get what you mean when you say you can’t control his behavior. You’re powerless over that. But he’s not. He is capable of making choices. So put the choice before him. He may be motivated to change his behavior when he contemplates the benefits to be obtained.

There is, of course, an apparent contradiction between his attendance at AA meetings and his attitude toward stealing towels and sneaking in places. Maybe he hasn’t read the AA literature on stealing towels and sneaking in to places. (Just kidding. I don’t think the literature expressly contemplates such activity; one is left to make such connections on one’s own.)

But let’s not go there. His membership in AA is his business. The thing that properly concerns you—and it is a proper concern—is that he acts dishonestly in front of you. That troubles you. It should. So just tell him it’s a deal breaker. And then stick to it.

Now, you’re not his AA sponsor, and neither am I, and it’s none of our business, but I am a writer and writers are curious and like to create hypothetical scenarios for sheer amusement. So personally I would find it amusing if, say, his sponsor were to recommend that he take a rigorous textile inventory of himself.

Or of his house. How many towels has he got in there? And how could he make amends? Should he visit each hotel and walk around the halls until he finds a housekeeping team hard at work, and just casually throw in the towel? (Speaking of which, maybe his resistance has to do with a resistance to surrender, i.e., he refuses to throw in the towel.) (Groan.)

Anyway, I like the comic possibilities. It could be his quest. Like “My Name is Earl.” You could film it and put it on YouTube.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

Breaking Down the Breakup (I think I should leave but I’m not sure how)

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

 

Write for Advice

Dear Cary,

I have been reading your letters for years, and usually I can find plenty of guidance through your responses to others. This time, I would like your thoughts directly.

I am a divorced mom of an elementary school child. I was married for a long time, and got divorced after my husband revealed years and years of extramarital affairs. It was a nightmare, but it’s been about six years now. I have rebuilt my life with much help from counselors, friends, and supportive family. I am starting to regain my professional life (I was once an incredibly high-achiever), and am used to the regular hassles of having to raise a child with a man who continues to treat me without much regard. I found much to relate to in your letter to a woman in a similar situation, and found comfort in your metaphor of a ferris wheel where everyone has turns on the highs and lows.

I do things slower than many, and it wasn’t until two years ago that I was ready to try dating. I met a lovely, sensitive, artistic man, and we’ve been through a lot together, between my wariness to date again and his health issues. We’ve struggled through because we have a lovely and deep connection. But after many ups and downs, we are parting ways. Or trying too. We have broken up a number of times, but this time at least for me, I can’t figure out any other ways forward. And I don’t think there’s anything to do about that. But I’m writing to you for your reflections because you are very insightful about these particular issues.

The man struggles with both mood issues and alcohol. He has suffered many different health problems, and has diligently trudged from doctor to doctor in search of answers, through traditional medicine, holistic health, and back to traditional medicine. He has had diagnoses of food allergies, depression, anxiety, and more recently, fibromyalgia. suffered a pretty large breakdown after his last switch between systems, and has worked hard to regain stability. He sees many different doctors regularly, is taking medicines and having his psychiatrist adjust them when problems arise. He works with a counselor, a psychiatrist, a family doctor, and a specialist. And he is working through his drinking issues, although he does not have them figured out. He has spent some time in AA, but didn’t last long there (for some semi-legitimate reasons, like a distaste for higher-power-culture, as well as for some less compelling reasons that point to him just not being ready yet).

All through our relationship, we have maintained an incredible friendship. I am so much myself with him, and I can talk to him about anything. When he is feeling well, I love thinking of our life together. But of course, he is unpredictable. He has been working at his health and well-being much longer than I’ve known him, but so many of his issues have responded to his past six months of work–but not enough that I feel confident moving forward. His drinking is a large concern for me, but is not something that I see in my daily life with him. That is, I know he struggles because he tells me so; but I am not with him when he drinks. The issue that I see most, and that is the cause for my lack of hope more directly, is his mood. When he is not feeling well, he cannot communicate effectively or, even, normally. It looks like he doesn’t know the rules for fair fights, but it turns out it is much more than that. He can’t hear what I say. He’ll be upset about something that happened two days ago, he’ll let it fester, and when we speak again, he’ll throw in kitchen sink complaints about all the things I do that drive him nuts. And there’s no speaking to him at this point, because he cannot hear. He takes anything I say in these conversations and turns all the words around. He has these problems with everyone in his life, at work, with family, with friends.

The heartbreaking part is that he knows this is a problem. He doesn’t want to be this way. He sees doctors and tries treatment and apologizes. He is a lovely, sincere person with a lot of beauty inside him, and a lot of struggles. But he doesn’t have it figured out, yet. That, and his drinking. And perhaps they are connected. We’ve hit the point in our relationship where we would move forward in some kind of larger commitment, which I can’t do under these circumstances.

My friends and family like this new man. And they also wish for something easier for me. They say things like, “He’s such a lovely fit for you, but you’ve also been through so much already. I wish it were easier.”

Cary, I’m not sure there’s any answer here beyond the one facing me, which is to continue to say no to circumstances I cannot manage. But it is heartbreaking. I find it difficult not to compare. My daughter’s father calls several times a week to talk to her, piping Facetime scenes of him and his cooing, round-faced sons into my kitchen. He has stomped on every significant relationship in his adult life, leaving a trail of heartache, debt, and lawsuits. But he is funny and charismatic. His reward? Marrying a smiling rich woman, and having babies. I see that, and then I see this man who can’t win for trying (that’s not to take away levels of personal responsibility). And I also see me–I am trying to work my way through this crap with honesty and without taking the easy way. Things are mostly fine in my life, but I have given up hope for another child, which I always wanted (I’m about to turn 40). And after this dating relationship, I feel so sad. I feel sad about the world, and how it works.

You should probably know that I am an INFJ. I realize I feel things bigger than most people.

From

A Possibly Dramatic Empath

Connecticut_PatCary1

Dear Possibly Dramatic Empath,

I think that this man is not suitable for you because of his many problems. I think you will need to let him go. This is not a workable relationship.

So how can I help? Maybe you need help implementing the breakup. So let’s break down the breakup.

First, whatever regular communication you have ceases. Communication changes from something you do routinely for emotional satisfaction to something you do only to tie up loose ends related to concrete commitments you have made during the relationship. That means if you feel like talking to him, don’t. That means if you have the thought that a certain performer he likes is in town and maybe he would like to go, don’t. That means if you want to explain something to him about why you feel sad it’s over or how you think he might improve, don’t. It means not communicating with him.

Second, it means physically disentanglement. If you have entangled monetary accounts and property, separate the accounts. If you owe him money, pay it; if he owe you money, collect it. Distribute or dispose of any joint property. If things he owns are left at your house return them. If things you own are at his house go and get them. Be thorough.

Third, any standing arrangements you have, such as meeting regularly at a cafe or going to the same bar: renounce them. Enact a new routine that takes you to places he doesn’t frequent. This isn’t because there’s anything traumatic or problematic about seeing him. It’s just the concrete way that a relationship is taken apart so that it no longer exists.

Often in seeking to know when a relationship is over one will wait to feel some subjective state of completion. But the relationship is not about your inner state; it is a tangible thing made up of interactions, commitments and property. You take away the interactions, commitments and property and the relationship is over.

You will still have feelings but that’s OK. You’re always going to have feelings. The important thing is to separate the feelings from the relationship. You will do better dealing with your feelings once you can deal with them as your own feelings, rather than as problems in the relationship.

I wonder if you will feel guilty. You might. I know you’d like to help him. The sad fact is that you can’t. Al-Anon is useful for that. It is also useful to take stock of both your inclinations to help others and your history of helping others and being victimized by them, starting with your ex-husband. Al-Anon can help you with that as well. We, the readers of your letter, don’t know exactly what happened but it is clear that he deceived you for years. So one thing you will need to do in the future is enact security precautions: In relationships with men, insist on knowing what the ground rules are. If it is supposed to be an exclusive relationship, be like an arms inspector: demand proof. That may sound crazy but it is simple logic: A man you knew intimately deceived you regularly for years. His deceptions were probably discoverable. Unless he was a trained spy with excellent trade-craft, his deceptions were discoverable. There was a trail. You didn’t see it because you didn’t look hard enough for it. Had you proceeded on the assumption that men regularly deceive women, you would have discovered it. So let that experience form the basis for a new, less trusting, more security-conscious practice regarding men and sex.

I’ll bet your ex-husband is some kind of narcissist or sociopath. So try not to date a narcissist. Try not to date a sociopath. If you’re not sure, ask up front. Say, “Excuse me, but before we date, can you tell me: Are you a narcissist, or a sociopath? Do you routinely lie to women to manipulate them into sleeping with you and then hide your other affairs from them for years just so you can feel powerful and in control? Because if so, maybe I’m not your gal.” Now, I know that sounds silly, and the narcissist or sociopath of course will act baffled and confused, or maybe compassionate and understanding, but the relationship won’t go very far. He will decide that you’re not the woman for him. Some non-sociopathic guys will just think you’re too weird, but some will find it interesting and will want to know more.

Also try not to date anyone who has a problem with alcohol.

That is my advice to you: Break up with this man completely. Visit Al-Anon at least six times, enough times to really be able to decide if it can be helpful to you. And exercise some security measures with men.

 

Newsletter_NEW_Dec13

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

Unemployment is making me depressed

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Write for Advice

 

Cary’s archival column from WEDNESDAY, JAN 4, 2012

Unemployment is making me depressed

 

I lost my job, came back to my hometown and now I’m lost

 

Dear Cary,

I’ve been reading your column for about a year now, and really believe you might have some words of wisdom for me. I hardly know where to begin in describing my situation. I am single, no kids and 52. Two years ago I lost my job as a professor in a field that is now archaic, that field being Russian language and literature. And so I found myself not only unemployed, but, at the age of 50, seemingly unemployable.

At first I reacted to all this in the worst possible way. I drank too much and experimented with pot for the first time in decades. I also moved back to the closest thing to a hometown I’ve got (my mother moved us to this liberal Oregon enclave in 1977). However, I did get a grip on myself, quit the pot, which, anyway, only increased my anxiety, and cut out the excessive alcohol intake. My problem is I thought I would enjoy being around my family again. In fact, it’s complicated. My mother is in her late 80s and I do get something out of helping her out, but I have real difficulties in living in the same town as my “identical” twin sister. “Mary” just loves my being back in town, has never minded the twin thing. I have always hated it, even though I have always loved my sister. I didn’t think it would be much of an issue when I decided to move back, but forgot how much the stupid comments bothered me (e.g., “You guys sure look alike. You must be twins!!”)

Mary dropped out of college, and subsequently led an alternative, tree-hugging kind of lifestyles. She smokes prodigious amounts of pot and is an alcoholic. She is married to a man, “Mike,” who I think of as a real brother, but he drinks a lot, too (although he does not smoke weed). They seem to have a master/slave type dynamic. Mary would cut her arm off for him — and for me, for that matter. He often is irritable with her. And it’s hard for me to not be, as she is, well, almost childlike and, frankly, boring to talk to after she’s swilled several beers and gotten good and stoned, which is every night. Literally, she talks about yard work, what she ate for lunch, what mundane things she’s going to do or did do, and so on. She isn’t into reading, seems to have almost no curiosity about the world. I often don’t know what to talk about with her so I find myself sitting in stupefied silence while she babbles on. To compound matters, I am renting a small studio apartment from the two of them, as I can’t afford anything better, and if I can’t make rent, they let it slide.

Even worse, my sister runs a landscape maintenance business and I have been working as her assistant about once a week as I struggle to launch a translation business (takes a lot to reinvent myself in this new profession and this also is very discouraging — to be mowing lawns after struggling so hard to attain that damned doctorate). In my first year here, when I was drinking heavily myself, I often felt suicidal, but what stopped me was the pain that would inflict on my mother, and also on Mary. I have, thankfully, pulled out of that dark place and am now “merely” depressed. I miss the identity my former profession gave me, and I hate Mary’s neediness. I had to really work to create some personal space for myself — Mary and her husband would love me to hang with them virtually every night as they are largely bored with each other. Mary makes noises about cutting back on drinking. The pot is something I don’t see her ever giving up. I doubt if she’ll go very far with the cutting back on drinking because it’s what she and Mike do. He even distills whiskey. And he’s big and can drink without getting as drunk as Mary, who is slender and pot-addled, as well.

I think I could deal with all this, though, if I had a job that provided me community. I miss teaching. I miss being independent. I am not a gifted technical translator thus far and have tried to get work at the local community college and in various staff positions at the local university. I’ve tried for several office jobs and nonprofit jobs. I think my three postgraduate degrees and my age make me unemployable in this economically distressed area. I feel like I have no identity of my own, and that I am living in some kind of nightmarish limbo. Most of all, this situation with my sister oppresses me. I never realized how much socialization I used to get from my work. I am, in fact, a social person, outgoing and personable. But without going to bars and drinking, I don’t know how to get that fix and so now I spend a lot of time alone, and while I like my own company I feel like part of me is withering. Yes, I am tutoring on a volunteer basis for the community college that won’t hire me, and I’m working out at the local recreation center. These help, but I don’t have friends of my own. I never thought I would be in this situation. I never thought I would find it so hard to branch out.

I guess what I’m asking for is how to deal with this? I halfheartedly fantasize about moving to China and Korea and teaching English as a second language, not because I want to teach English as a second language (which I did for a couple of years way back in my globe-wandering days). I would miss my two cats, and I’d feel bad for deserting my mother and Mary, who are both so thrilled that I moved back here, but that’s about it (not that that’s a small thing). But I miss teaching, I miss having colleagues and a professional identity and a life of my own that has nothing to do with my family. I could also try to find something of a writing/editing nature in a bigger town — Portland or Seattle. I also think, well, if I could be successful at this translation gig, then that might be enough — especially if I could attend professional conferences now and then.  In short, I don’t know what to do about my current lot in life.

Floundering


InternationalOnlineAd


Dear Floundering,

It sounds like you are experiencing depression and a kind of “social death” as a result of your unemployment and return to the family. So your life task now is to regain your social life, to locate, in this temporary wasteland, people among whom you can again exist vividly. You need people who can actually see who you are. Since you are largely about ideas and knowledge, you must be around people who can see those ideas and that knowledge. The way you accomplished that in the past was to have a job, but you may have to find other ways to accomplish it now. That is OK. Many people are having to do this. Our culture is being rearranged in certain fundamental ways. There will be much support for this, as millions like you rearrange themselves culturally and geographically. We will see in the years to come a new definition of “job” as we find new ways to acquire necessities and also new ways, outside of “jobs,” to define ourselves socially and “be seen for who we are.”

Here is the bottom line: The people around you now do not see you. You have become invisible. That is the source of your anguish. It is also your existential condition, but we will get to that. For now, it is vital to note that your family cannot see you. Your twin cannot see you. You do not exist in their eyes. What they see when they look at you is something of their own creation.

Deprived of your social identity by unemployment, exiled from a place where you had standing, you have returned to the condition of childhood and its murky, undifferentiated selfhood.

You have disappeared.

It’s weird, isn’t it? We return to the family, thinking we will be seen, but we are not seen. Rather, we disappear.

I must say, I think part of the reason we resort to alcohol and drugs in such situations is that the threat of nonexistence causes us to panic. Ideally, we ought to understand that this panic is merely the recognition of our essential condition. We need not panic. We are merely being brought back to reality — the reality of our groundless, shifting, temporary existence; the reality of our mortality and smallness. Our panic is occasioned not by some calamity but in fact by the arrival of truth and the loss of an illusion.  So, while you fight to regain your social identity and find some comfort in it, do something else as well: Welcome this groundlessness and discomfort; make friends with it; meditate upon it; it is your existential condition.

The world of languages is the land of the traveler. So in a more practical sense, here is what I suggest: Seek out other language people. Seek out people who will get your Russian puns. Go to movies in Russian. Place ads in the paper for work as a Russian tutor.

Also: Define your mission. Give it a clear purpose and an end date. You have come here to help your mother in her final years. That is why you are enduring this. With your mother’s death, your chief reason for being here will also disappear. So plan for that. Begin looking in Portland and Seattle for jobs. Don’t worry, you don’t have to take a job yet. But begin looking.

What makes it so hard to be seen today? Does it not seem to you that our world is one of constant distraction? Does it not seem that the attention of people is not on us but on their devices? As they peer into their devices, do we not lose something of their attention? Are we not jealous of all that attention being sucked up by devices? Do we not mourn the death of their seeing us, the death of being vivid and central in others’ sight on the street?

We wish to be seen and now we are competing with many devices for the attention of the passerby.

So we post videos of ourselves on the Net. If the Net is where the attention has gone then that is where we must go to be seen.

Those are some things to think about.

Now, as an addendum, here are some things I read as I was thinking about your situation. I found them interesting, so I’m just putting them here at the end. Perhaps you will find them interesting too.

On the effects of unemployment and depression

Here is something interesting on  the Loss of Work Contacts and Depression:

“According to an Institute for Work and Health Issue Briefing, researchers conclude that the loss of social contacts with colleagues has a more harmful effect on the unemployed than the loss of income (Helliwell, J.F., Putnam, R.D.,September 29, 2004, “The Social Context of Well-Being,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.) Workers who have abruptly lost their jobs have also lost their social support system and are forcibly isolated with their stress.”

Also this on Unemployment as social death: “Long-term unemployment affects many facets of a person’s life besides their income. According to Ernest Becker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Denial of Death, losing our role in our culture is a kind of social death (1973.) In a culture that values hard work and believes that anyone can get ahead who is not lazy, long-term unemployment is a shameful prospect. The person has lost the social contacts once enjoyed in the workplace and has lost the sense of playing a role in society at large. Besides the self-doubts raised by rejection after rejection from employers, the long-term unemployed person faces rejection from society as a whole. Accusations that the unemployed spend their days loafing on their couch and collecting unemployment checks are not uncommon and are a defense of the American core belief that people who are poor only have themselves to blame.”

An interesting text called So, What’s Work? (See the section on “connectedness.”) It comes from Dr. Elijah Levy  of the Thinking on Things Institute.

Though this may seem a little tangential, I was touched by this and it made me interested in seeing the movie “Losing Tom.”

And finally, though this may seem even more tangential, here is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writing on  “psychological death.”

© Copyright Salon Media Group

Write for Advice

 

WhatHappenedNextCall


Newsletter_NEW_Dec13

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
CTFlyer200

I can’t stop smoking pot

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Write for Advice

 

Classic column from November 3, 2010

 

I can’t stop smoking pot

I love smoking pot, but I think I may have a problem. I smoke it every day, and when I can’t get it, I drink

Dear Cary,

I smoke marijuana every day. There are times when I don’t smoke, but I’ve definitely smoked almost every day for several years. I’m an extremely functional smoker (stoner?) — I’m in grad school, I have a part-time job, I have a good relationship with my family, I have a social life, etc. I usually smoke alone — most of my friends don’t smoke or only smoke occasionally. I usually wait until later on in the day to get high, but I’ll sometimes smoke before I go to school/work/coffee/meet up with friends.

Smoking is relaxing, it’s fantastic, I really love getting high. I don’t do hard drugs — I only smoke weed. I’ve researched the topic and I’m not overly concerned about the health ramifications. [To the people who are rushing to comment that marijuana is VERY HARMFUL (psychosis! cancer! we don’t really have proof, but it’s terrible for you! etc!) — please don’t waste your time.]

I have a history of depression — it’s genetic and occasionally situational. I’m not severely depressed — but I definitely have depression that waxes and wanes. I’m sure that I’m partially self-medicating, but as medicines go, weed is a pretty good one. I’m definitely psychologically addicted to marijuana.

My family, employers and some friends would be shocked and upset if they knew how often I smoke. I come from a conservative/religious background and I feel guilty about the tension I’ve created between my public and private life. I doubt anyone would explicitly say it, but most people I know would prefer that I develop a drinking problem as opposed to being a stoner. More important, they’d prefer I not be addicted to any sort of substance.

I enjoy drinking — but I enjoy smoking far, far more. When I can’t get weed, I use alcohol as a substitute. I’ve started combining the two — and my drinking has increased. Smoking weed is great, but having a few drinks and smoking is sometimes even better. I’m concerned that I’m developing a drinking problem. I’m pretty sure that I’ve flirted with developing a drinking problem in the past, but smoking weed has helped me avoid that. Should I stop drinking? Should I restrict my drinking? How concerned should I be about this whole situation?

I’d really appreciate your advice.
J.

OnlineWorkshopAd_generic

Dear J

How concerned should you be? You should be very concerned. From what you say, it sounds like you’re one of us, an addictive person who probably can’t stop on his own and is headed for trouble. Look at what you’re doing. You’re substituting one drug for another. That’s a sign. You’re doing it every day. That’s a sign. You can’t stop. That’s a sign.

If I were you, I wouldn’t even bother to try and stop on my own. I’d just skip that futile step and get into a program.

I mean, sure, you’re free to try. But here’s the thing. We know an awful lot about this. There are so many of us addicts, and many of us are really smart. We know the ins and outs. We have a vast reservoir of knowledge, firsthand accounts, personal experience, medical data, psychological data, systems, programs, literature, societies, support groups, blogs, forums, meetings, specialists, retreats, rehabs, hospitals, books, tapes, movies …

This is not some mysterious problem you just came up with. If you walk into the world and say, I’m an addict and I’m asking for help, you are going to be showered with help, perhaps more help than you want, and you are going to have the opportunity to get free of this thing and live well and happily without it.

So, frankly, I think you should just get into a program and skip all the intermediate steps of losing your job, losing your friends, crashing cars, being homeless, going to jail, etc. Why bother? Just get into a program now and stop before you really, really, really have a problem.

I’m speaking from experience. I used to smoke like you do. I hid it and felt guilty about it but I really, really loved it. And I didn’t see anything wrong with it except that I was getting addicted to it. But eventually all the normal things happened to me that happen to most people who get addicted to things. I lost jobs, friends, lovers, places to live, clothing, self-respect, health, energy, dreams, reputation. You name it, I lost it. And I didn’t have to. If I could have stopped earlier, I wouldn’t have had to do that. Of course, there are reasons having to do with character why I didn’t stop. And of course there is the fact that I just fucking didn’t want to.

But, hey. It doesn’t have to be that way. You could get into a program now.

So why not? Why not just say fuck it, it’s clear where this is heading, and I don’t have to go there.

It’s going to be obvious to everybody else around you where this is headed. If you choose to keep going, you’re going to be the only one pretending that you don’t know where it’s headed.

Once you’re addicted to something, stuff starts to fall apart. Once you’re addicted to something, you’re no longer free, and you’re no longer present. You’re gone somewhere. You begin to lose your life.

That was when I stopped: when I became conscious that I was losing my life. But it took a long time. I was betraying my principles and hiding my real life.

The real damage was that I was losing my self, my soul, this innocent personhood to whom I had pledged myself, that I would be a good person, that I would not be a failure, that I would become good at writing and would be a person I could admire, that I would fulfill some kind of promise.

Where did that promise come from? Where did that inkling of virtue come from? You could call it what you like. You could call it the soul, or the divine, or just innocence, or God, or just moral consciousness, or just man’s innate reason. There was a part of me that knew better. And I didn’t listen to it for a long time.

But finally things got too bad.

So you could stop before things get there. You could just go to a marijuana addicts anonymous meeting and start listening to people’s stories. Many stories start out as yours does. Things change over time. It is hard to maintain an addiction that is steady and does not cause deterioration or does not spread. I think that’s because addiction changes your overall habits in life. It tends to take over. It undermines your reasoning and decision-making.

You’ve got something that you’re lying about, that you can’t control, that is making you feel guilty, and you don’t have to do it.

You’ve obviously got a problem. These kinds of problems only get worse without intervention. So go get some help. Stop smoking pot and stop drinking. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll be re-integrated into your family and your social world, and you won’t have to be hiding things, and you’ll have more energy and clarity of mind as well.

And don’t try quitting alone because that doesn’t work. You’re going to need help.

So that’s my advice. You can stop. You really don’t have to do it. You can change your life. And you’ll be happier after you do.

© Copyright Salon Media Group

Write for Advice

 

WhatHappenedNextCall



style=”display:inline-block;width:336px;height:280px”
data-ad-client=”ca-pub-4630029477743257″
data-ad-slot=”1953599260″>

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube