Is it okay to bring up the topic of alcohlism?

Dare I bring up the taboo topic of alcoholism?  I think this topic is one of the leading reasons that people carrying heavy bags stuffed with past pain opt not to write.  If you have an alcoholic in the family, then you know that generally, the A word is not to be uttered aloud (except behind locked doors).  At least that’s my experience.  Denial and alcoholism seem to go together like bread and butter, which I am wildly fond of.  Not that I eat it very often… but when I do, usually at the occasional fancy-ish restaurant, it is an instant bell ringin’ party in my mouth. Drenches me in pleasure every time… Hey, come to think of it, my alcoholic step dad loves bread and butter too!  I’ve only written just over a hundred words and already I have come full circle!  Phew, I can call it a day… no need to waste any more time exposing family secrets.  See ya later…

I’m not really here to expose family secrets.  But there comes a time in a woman’s life when she is finally sick of playing along with the denial game.  My step dad is an alcoholic.  I always felt somehow exempt from the impact, since he was not my real father… Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet vantage point for me, as a scrupulous student of the human condition.  I sure got to peer into an interesting slice of life from age six all the way up to the present (though I don’t choose to see him very often these days… go figure).  Very interesting indeed.

Speaking of slices of life, let me back up a few steps, to the generous, steaming slice of life God served me last night.  A client invited me to a shmancy food and wine dinner at the Claremont Hotel.  Naturally, I accepted with zeal.  One winery, Frog’s Leap, teamed up with an almost too cool for school chef to co-create a food and wine adventure for [privileged] people who dig on eating and drinking and spending money.  I was particularly thrilled since though I enjoy wine and food, I do not have much experience intentionally pairing them and diving into the myopic world of nuance implied when the two converge.  So I went as a student and an explorer.  I felt shy about stepping into such an unknown world… But I told myself that I was on duty as a writer, collecting data, spying on otherwise unexplored pockets of humanity, and then suddenly I had the upper hand and the fear melted into pure eagerness and curiosity.  This is my new tactic for facing the unknown, for standing up boldly in my life.

Does that mean I wasn’t nervous when I arrived at the “reception”?  No way, Jose.  I felt totally awkward.  But a civilized older gentleman immediately offered me a glass of chardonnay and with a haughty splash of cool, crisp sweet intoxication in my hand, I was that much more prepared to face the room full of equally awkward humans putting on confident, friendly faces and making frivolous conversation.  A woman who turned out to be the fiancé of the “dictator” of Frog’s Leap admired my necklace, which graciously opened our floodgates into a sea of congenial small talk.  Honestly, I felt terrified.  But then I relaxed and felt outward into her, into the space, and I realized that she was just as uncomfortable as I was, beneath her façade of graciousness.  Her energy didn’t seem to be dropping much below her upper chest.  Relating with her felt like relating with an endearing, tightly coiled spring.  I am not a natural born schmoozer and boozer, can you tell?  (But sure, I can get it up in a pinch, when needs be…)

Soon enough though, it was time to sit down for dinner.  Phew!  I made it through the hardest part~ having free reign of the room.  And I was careful not to guzzle my wine out of nervousness.  (I have a pretty low tolerance for “the stuff”)  Good girl, Athena!  You get a gold star!!!  You get a Scoobie Snack!!  Ahem.  So we were seated, and then we got to hear from Mister Frog’s Leap Himself!  I swear he WAS my step dad, but in another dimension, where he got to use his double edged affinity for wine and numbness as a friend and an ally, rather than an unmentionable demon.  He was charming, charismatic and a great story teller… much like step dad.  Clutching dearly to a beloved glass of wine, he sprinkled our ears with stories, our brains with information about how he came to make wine, about his passion for organic production… Sometimes listening to so much information is work for me, but I was naturally captivated by this congenial lush.  I loved hearing about why fostering rich, healthy soil creates such an elite, quality product!  And even more, I loved hearing that he was not interested in advertising as an organic grower.  Nowhere on his bottles does it say, “organic”.  He said (don’t quote me) that he’d rather walk the walk than talk a big talk.  My companion for the evening could not understand this, and insisted that he HAD to advertise… after all, a living must be made.  Mister Frog’s Leap was quick to inform my date that there are more worthy endeavors in life than making money… such as INTEGRITY and PASSION. (Though he confessed to be like 21 million dollars in debt!  Eeek.)

That was the moment that I fell in love with Sir Leaping Frog.  Did I say “FALL IN LOVE”???  Yup.  But how can I fully open my heart to this man whose choice to drown his body in poison on a daily basis, I far from approve of?  This is the little pocket of tension that fascinates me.  It’s that tipping point where judgment and pure acceptance scrape together like a symphonic screech of metal on metal.  I saw this man, easily felt his heart, his passion… and simultaneously, he kept shape shifting into my own step father as he stood at the front of the room grasping fast to his perpetually draining glass, wooing us all with his increasingly sloshy antic dotes of a life story that has unfolded with heaping scoops of synchronicity, risk and adventure.  What’s not to love about that?

I’ll tell you what’s not to love… What’s not to love is what has not been forgiven.  I certainly have compassion for my step dad.  Honestly, I’ve always felt a little sorry for him.  I pity the chains he binds himself with.  I imagine what it must feel like to live an entire life investing so much energy in concealing one’s true self.  I don’t think there is a single person in my step dad’s life who he really let’s in to the most true, raw and intimate reaches of himself.  Duh, he doesn’t even seem to grant HIMSELF entry into that shameful (???) chamber…  Don’t tell me that this doesn’t break your heart even a little… I mean, we all have those places we hide within ourselves… But some cases are more crippling than others.

I have not forgiven him for drinking and then driving with me, my mom and my little brother in the car on a regular basis.  How do I do that?  Just let go?  Right now?  Just like that?  The thing that terrifies me about forgiving sometimes, is that if I forgive, I am afraid that it will encourage the imagined offender to repeat the same offense.  As if forgiving is the same as saying, “That’s okay, I don’t mind that you drove drunk and put your family’s life at risk time after time.  No sweat.  I don’t mind that you never listened to me, or to my mom, or to your son… that you just obliviously talked over us all and got away with it time after time.”  Should I just be glad that we’re all still alive?

At least he is a happy drunk.  At least he didn’t yell or hit or pass out.  He was the most benign kind of alcoholic there is.  The kind that can so easily slip right through the marginal cracks in our perfectly fractured society.  God blessim’, he always held it together.

After the dinner last night, after seven glasses of wine (no, I didn’t drink them all, JESUS!!!), Mister Frog’s Leap invited us all to the bar.  No thanks.  As we wandered out, he bid us farewell with a sleek little glass of grapa in his hand.  He begged us to visit the winery and I pinky swore that I would.  I really want to.  He confessed that he was not seeing straight.  Shrug…

Ahem, Athena… Are you ready to forgive?

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