Merry Christmas! If you read this blog, I’m guessing you’re an addict, or you love an addict, or both. There’s clearly a tension between the two “sides,” especially during this festive season.
It’s been a theme throughout my life.
My dad was considered a genius. He never went to college, but he picked up computer skills in four years on an aircraft carrier in the Navy. He also had people skills—he could tell jokes, pick up foreign languages, play the guitar, and from all accounts was the life of the party and everyone loved him.
I was born in upstate New York, where he had his first job, at IBM. We moved to Florida, where he worked for NASA. We moved to Minnesota, where he worked for 3M and traveled for them around the world—Australia, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, England. He was appointed as an instructor in the Graduate School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on April 19, 1968.
On May 9, 1968 he died of an overdose of paraldehyde and alcohol in a Madison motel room. It was 12 hours from the time of ingestion of the paraldehyde until he essentially drowned in his own lung fluids. He was 32 years old.
I was eight. They said he had died of a stroke. I knew that wasn’t true but also knew not to ask any questions.
I went on to become a rebellious teenager. I made a suicide attempt when I was 16, and while I was in the hospital my mother told me the true cause of my father’s death. They released me two months later, and I promptly began smoking as much pot and drinking as much alcohol as humanly possible without overdosing. A year later I was pregnant by my drug-dealer boyfriend.
Thus Vince came into the world, and having someone to take care of turned my life around. He was also my insurance policy against trying to kill myself again. I would never do that to a kid.
I finished high school, went to college, got a 2-year degree. I got a job, worked full time, went to night school full time, got my bachelor’s degree. I got a better job, then a better one, and then a better one. I bought a car, then a house. Then a better house. I went to grad school and earned a master’s degree. I moved to England, came back, bought my Mini Cooper as a souvenir. I’ve been on an African safari, saw Iggy Pop in concert in the south of France, ate a club sandwich in a brothel in Dubai. I sold the grand house and rented a fantastic apartment with a view of the river and a driver and concierge and a pool and champagne happy hours every weeknight.
And yet I was swimming against the tides of addiction and mental illness—the legacy of my dad and the reality of my son.
How have I managed to live such a full life? First and foremost, I am not an addict. It’s that simple. I love a stiff cherry gimlet in a dark bar, but I can stop at one or two. If I couldn’t, I doubt I would be alive to write this. So if you’re not an addict, count your blessings, every day. If you are, I love you.
I love you because I know how hard you struggle, and how easily you just say, “Fuck it” and crack open that beer. I know how funny and smart and tender you are and what a selfish jerk you can be. I know how guilty you feel about how you’ve treated me and how pissed and resentful you feel toward me for my meddling, hinting, and guilting. I try to understand you, and I sulk because you don’t seem to spend a minute thinking about me.
Relationships: the source of, and answer to, all of our problems.
Charles Dickens wrote, “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” This year, let’s keep trying to understand and love one another.
To paraphrase Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol, “God help us, every one!