Lately, what with the combination of the holiday/new year blahs, general discontent with my relationship, an ailing cat and rather significant birthday on the horizon, I feel as if a drunken squirrel has taken over my brain. This drunken squirrel mind likes to leap from precarious thought to precarious thought with no rhyme or reason, nary completing one cohesive sentence. And it never chooses a nice strong branch, a healthy branch on which to alight for a while. Oh nooooooooooooo. That would make far too much sense for drunken squirrel mind.
Now, when you think of drunken squirrels, you might assume they are fun drunks, maybe even slutty drunks. Put a little lampshade on them and watch them go. But, not my drunken squirrels. My drunken squirrels are of the more maudlin variety. This drunken squirrel would be found alone at the end of the bar nursing a big bowl of nuts and asking the bartender to keep pouring the sauce as he chews off the barkeep’s ear about he ‘coulda been a contenda’. “If only I’d found my Bullwinkle, I coulda been a real Rocky, ya know?” My drunken squirrel mind is a bit of a downer.
After a day of watching from drunken squirrel go from introspective to petulant, it finally got sobered up with a bit of perspective with a call from my old friend, former boyfriend, Gary.
To be perfectly blunt about, Gary is a loser. Well, maybe that was more mean than blunt, but I’m afraid it’s true. Gary lives off disability and goes to AA meetings. Oh, and watches sports on TV. That’s it. There is not a shred or ambition or curiosity left in the man. He is merely existing and seems to be OK with that. I’m all for practicing contentment, but I don’t I think that opting to vegetate your life is actual contentment. It’s like he’s simply opted out of life and it’s hard to maintain a relationship with someone who has done that.
Gary and I met in the dorms at college. He had a huge crush on my roommate (who didn’t?), but he ended up with me. It made sense, we had a lot in common – we both came from families with active alcohol abuse and we both felt a bit out of place surrounded by classmates who seemingly came from much better circumstances. Later, both our parents died before we were 25, and both of us followed our parents’ leads into alcoholism. While we only dated for a couple of years, we remained tight long after. In our 20’s while I was reeling out of control, I could always count on Gary to bail me out financially so despite whatever turmoil I was going through I always a roof over my head and wine in the fridge. Gary was the stable one, the one with the good job. Me, well, not so much.
Gary decided to get sober about a year before me. I can’t remember whether it was mandated by the court or by his employer. But, he took his sobriety very seriously, and started to attend AA meetings. Me, I stopped drinking when finally got serious about getting treatment for my depression. Sure, my route was much more expensive and time-consuming, but I just didn’t see the use in going to meetings where all you did was rehash how awful you were when you were drinking. Besides, in my humble opinion, drinking is just the symptom of psychic pain and if you treat the source of the pain, the symptoms kinda go away on their own.
Over the ensuing years, I plugged away at therapy and Gary floundered. He had decided to quit his stable, well paying job to pursue his “dreams”. And I really do admire people who do this, but there is a big difference between taking a calculated risk because you truly believe there is something better out there for you, and foolishly jumping into something simply because you’re discontent where you are. Soon the tables were turned, and I was the one bailing him out financially.
Eventually, Gary had his own mental crisis after one of his schemes fell apart and he became suicidal. He checked himself into the local county hospital as he feared he was going to hurt himself. In some ways, I was relieved. Finally, I thought, he would start getting treatment for his depression. The hospital hooked him up with state and local resources to pay for his treatment. And ultimately, he hooked up with a therapist who then qualified him for permanent disability. When he told me, I was pretty well outraged, though he was pretty pleased for himself. I mean, he had barely begun getting his depression treated and he was being written off as permanently disabled? Give me a freakin’ break. While I wanted to see him get the help he couldn’t afford, it ticked me off to no end to see him given a free pass to just opt out of life.
So, now Gary lives comfortably on his disability checks in a small apartment in a not so good part of town. He takes his anti-depressants unquestioningly and chose not to pursue the therapy that was offered him because he “felt just fine now” that he was on his meds. He still regularly goes to his AA meetings even though it’s been close to 20 years since he’s had a drink. And he watches TV. Even though he has all the time in the world now, he doesn’t pursue any hobbies, much less dreams. His world has become very small, and it’s all of his doing.
Labels can be dangerous things, if you take them seriously. Gary has fully taken on the labels of alcoholic, depressive and disabled, and he seems to have no interest in transcending them. It makes me sad and it makes me mad.
Every moment is new, even though it often feels like the same old shit. Once I was a really fucked up young woman, and soon I’ll be qualifying for wise old cronehood, not mention AARP. My drunken squirrel of a mind can and will sober up. In fact, I think it already has.