I had a friend who was a joy to be with. He was funny, clever, perceptive. He was creative and energetic. He was all those things. Even more so when he drank. Then he would take that one last drink and turn all those talents into cruelty. He was manipulative, sarcastic, able to find your weakest spot and drive a dagger through it.
For years I thought that alcohol — or an excess of alcohol — was the root of that behavior. I didn’t get it. Until one day he decided he needed to stop drinking and I got to see the real man.
The real man was manipulative, sarcastic, cruel — and careful. Sober, he knew when to cover up, when to rein in his mean streak. But the mean streak was as much a part of his character as all those positive qualities. Like them, all alcohol did was unleash them.
I’m not sure whether I preferred my drunk friend or my sober one. I learned how to evade his nastier qualities. I developed shields to make sure that I and those close to me would not be hurt.
Eventually we drifted apart.
I was reminded of him during the recent debacle with Mayor Rob Ford. He excused his behavior as occurring in one of ‘his drunken stupors.‘ He essentially used the excuse people have used for bad behavior for generations. It wasn’t me; it was the drink. There was a time when you could literally get away with murder if you could show you were too drunk at the time to know what you were doing. Yet, the evidence is mounting that you do know what you were doing, you simply have trouble remembering it. Alcohol interferes with long term memory formation.
There was even a time when driving drunk was not a big thing. Everyone did it. Even Attorney Generals and Premiers were caught doing it. Thirty years ago it was swept under the rug; now careers — lives — are ruined by it. Good.
Even if drinking was the cause of your problems, no one lifts the glass to your lips. There are tons of strategies to avoid alcohol or drug abuse. Yes, adicition happens but so does recovery.
I have been a lifelong drinker. I’ve occasionally done things I wish I hadn’t while drinking. I’ve also done things I wish I hadn’t when I was cold sober. I am well aware that my emotions are not more intense but more unrestrained when I drink.
That’s why I’m careful to know what I’m feeling and thinking before I ever put the glass to my mouth. That’s why I know when to put the glass down and walk away from the situation.
Because I don’t want to be that guy.
But that’s ten minutes.