“Fallen Soldiers”

Proving that Facebook is still good for something, I got inspired enough to return to the blog.

My friend Ben posted some pictures he took yesterday.  They weren’t of his kids, or his food.  He was documenting the sheer number of “fallen soldiers” – empty nips, beer cans, bottles of bottom shelf liquor – spotted around business parks while he was taking his lunchtime constitutional.

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We all see empties around the city.  For some reason we don’t really pick up on them the way Ben did yesterday, being that these particular empties seemed a lot more incongruous on the grounds of a business park in the suburbs.  Ben called what he documented “discarded evidence of alcoholism.”

And he’s absolutely right.

Day-drinking is fun, and funny, until it isn’t.  Until it becomes necessity.  Until it becomes the dirty secret that compels us to tell our coworkers that we’re “going for a walk,” like we’re just taking a break from the project at hand, to sneak off to the parking lot (or, in my case, the supply closet) to drink.  And we’re not sipping and savoring, wherever we are.  We’re furtively and desperately chugging, praying for that “relief” to wash over us so we can just FUNCTION.

Because as I’ve said countless times, drinking – for us – is not about pleasure.  It’s about drowning the howl we’re trying to keep from roaring up.

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Ben’s pictures broke my heart.  Because I remember what this is like.  Buying something that can be smuggled in, making excuses to sneak off somewhere to drink it, stuffing gum and mints into your mouth to mask the fumes, repeating this as many times as is needed throughout the day.

AND THEN – figuring out how to get rid of the empties.

Personally, I didn’t want to litter.  I still had enough shame around what I was doing to grasp the importance of proper disposal.  If you haven’t amassed an embarrassing number of empties in your hidey-hole, you can get away with stuffing them in your purse (arranging them against other objects to avoid the tell-tale clinking noises when you leave).  I also didn’t want to just dump them out into any old trash receptacle on the street, in plain view of everyone.  I preferred the dumpster in the alley next to a popular chain restaurant.  (You know – just sauntering down a dirty alleyway in my kitten heels and bolero jacket, like you do.)  Then a quick toss into the dumpster, and you’re good to go.  Until you have to do it again.  And again.

Can I tell you how EXHAUSTING that is?  Honest to God – it’s like a second full-time job, day-drinking is.  Except no one is supposed to know you’re doing it.  You’re pretty sure no one knows you’re doing it.  And that might be true.  For now.

And I’ll tell you something else – every last one of us knows how fucking insane this is.  But we HAVE to do it.  We tell ourselves that when things calm down a little, when there isn’t a deadline looming over us, this won’t be necessary anymore.  But when you’re an alcoholic, that time simply never arrives.  Because at this point, you ARE the crisis.  The ongoing, seemingly unsolvable crisis.  But you don’t see that.  And so the shitshow continues, with no intermission.

I saw those pictures, and said a little prayer.  Mostly of gratitude, because I haven’t lived that life in almost 16 years now.  But also for those parking lot drinkers, those smugglers of artificial solace, the people who’ve painted themselves into a corner and don’t realize that they can walk out of it at any time.

Ben put it all better than I could (unsurprising, since we were in graduate school together and he always could outwrite me):  “…addiction is never invisible, if you know where to look.”

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(All Photos courtesy Ben Kauffman.)

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