Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Which I Encounter the Wrath of a Using Alcoholic


This actually happened some months ago, but I never got around to writing about it because I was busy with other things. But here I sit between tutoring appointments today, and my memory was jogged by the fine sense of well-being I'm getting this summer, sitting here in the Writing Center. I flashed back to how it was last summer, when half the time I was hungover in here and wilting in the July heat.

When I was drinking, one thing I never did was show up to class drunk. That's not unheard of; I've heard about teachers who were fired for that, or were hauled off to rehab as a means of saving their job. Still, at least once a week I would teach hungover; usually I'd picked "non-teaching" days for that--the students were at work in a rough draft workshop, or we were watching and discussing a film, or we were doing something that didn't require my brain to be 100% fast and firing. (This is not an excuse.) Actually, the longer I've been sober, the more I realize that even when I wasn't drinking or hungover, my brain still wasn't 100% there. Have you ever watched Intervention on A&E? You see these people drunk, high, and sober, before and after. The transformation of their personalities always gives me pause. Chronic drunkenness is not just a chain of temporary impairments. It's an entire attitude, a way of being. It's as if a sick person is in a generalized funk of resentment, anger, and blame-making. Once sober, the cloud lifts, life gets better, and you realize most of the crap pulling you down was just crap of your own making.

Chelle's mom noted something like this at dinner last week. She confided to Chelle that she'd watched me a bit at the table over dinner (I was sitting across from her) and could see the change in me. "Her eyes just sparkle!" she said, and Chelle agreed that yes, that's exactly it. I'm here.

But back to teaching. I was never a horrible or disinterested professor; I've always gotten good reviews; students find me funny; they learn from me; they like me. But now they LOVE me. (Oh, I'm sure there's always the random student who thinks I'm an old meanie, but seriously. Just yesterday, into the lab strolled a student I just failed last semester, but we both knew that was likely to happen, and she didn't have any bitterness for me. In fact, her face lit up at seeing me, and she waved. "Hey, Joyce!" she said ... so you tell me.)

This brings me to the aforementioned angry alcoholic. He's a guy I knew vaguely in college who had found me on Facebook. Nothing alarming; I'm friends with tons of old college friends on FB. In fact, with some of them, I've made a better connection with them now than I ever did when I was in college. This guy--let's just call him Tom--turned out to be into horse racing, so we hit it off right away and spent a lot of time talking about the ponies. Along the way, he let drop that he was in an unhappy marriage, marrying his wife on a whim in Las Vegas, and that he liked to drink. I had been very clear about being happily married and gay and a recovering alcoholic, so the appropriate lines were drawn early, and all was well.

But then, you know how alcoholics are. We just don't "get" boundaries. When we're under the influence, boundaries evaporate like drops of water on your skin on a sweltering day. One day it was clear to me that Tom was drinking because of WHAT he said to me. I won't get into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that he was intrigued by my being a lesbian and was interested in hooking up with me and his own ex-girlfriend with whom he'd had an extramarital affair, since the ex-gf was bi-curious. Suffice it to say also that I flatly turned him down.

I asked him if he'd been drinking, and he said, "Of course! That's what I do."

So I just said, "I can tell," said goodnight and signed off. I figured Tom would be one mightily embarrassed man in the morning, IF he remembered the conversation at all. So I wasn't judging him. It's just what alcoholics do. I have some pretty fuzzy memories of completely inappropriate things I've said and done, so it's not like I can point an accusatory finger and say he's evil. All I will say is that he was drunk.

The next day, however, Tom remembered the conversation clearly and started pushing the issue again. Since it couldn't have been more than 11:00am his time, I doubted very seriously that he was drunk again, unless he hadn't gone to bed at all and was doing a weekend bender. Or sometimes you can wake up hungover with your blood alcohol level still over the legal limit, down a quick shot or beer or Bloody Mary to stop the shakes and the headache, and then you're on again. So who knows?

In any case, when I politely said no thank you again, and then informed him that I would have to unfriend him unless this conversation turned to other topics, out came the rage. Alcoholics don't deal well with rejection, either. And an alcoholic would NEVER think that they actually deserved rejection. Oh, no. If you reject them, then it's because YOU are the fuck-up.

I got accused of quite a number of things. He knew I'd graduated from college with honors, so he first accused me of sleeping my way through college with my professors. (I feel pretty sure my professors would be amused to hear that one.) Then he called me a spoiled rich brat (and of course, since I was in foster care when I applied to college, we all know that one bends reality quite a bit). I probably would've cut him off from his abusiveness at this point, because words like "whore" and "bitch" were being tossed at me, but since he was sending this stuff to me in a series of enraged messages on Facebook, I couldn't really shush him.

I was shaking my head and thinking, "Boy, this guy's got a bushel full of resentments," when Tom then went for the jugular. He knew I'm a teacher. So he went off on some tirade about how teachers are all on power trips and that I probably have taken sexual advantage of my own students for grades, and that I should surely know that students mostly hate their teachers because the curriculum is shit and we're just in the business of producing people who can't think for themselves. I don't help anybody in my job; I just hurt them. I reckon I got accused of doing every awful thing any teacher has ever done to that guy.

That was about enough for me, so I shot Tom back an email that said, "You have crossed a major line and I am now not just unfriending you, but I am blocking you." And that's exactly what I did. Now he can't see me, I can't see him, and he can't contact me. Out of sight, out of mind.

I suppose if Tom ever gets sober, it may occur to him that what he did was shovel a lot of his own shit right onto my poor little ole head. Me, only because I just happened to be the person standing there. I suppose he thought the proper thing for me to do was to just let him do that because he happened to be mad. Why? Because that is how alcoholics think. Everybody on the planet is there to accommodate them, and when you don't do that, you, too, are the Royal Bitch Queen.

Tom is, of course, an extreme example (although every last bit of this story is true). But see, experience is a good teacher. He reminded me all too clearly of how everybody perceives things as they WANT to perceive them. If something shakes our self-esteem, or would make us feel bad, or would make us look at something we don't want to see, instead of just dealing with it, we sometimes will concoct an entirely false narrative that better suits us so that we don't have to deal with our shit.

It's why I try to not take things personally anymore. I have no control over other people's stories. What I do have control over is whether or not I'm buying their narrative.

In the case of Tom, there was no point in even trying to engage him on that one.

Now here's a student. Back to work ...

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