[CW: descriptions of ways alcoholics and people under the influence of alcohol behave that can be harmful, especially to others]
Okay, this is becoming antertaining – yes, fingers, ants. “Ants” pretty much sums it all up.
So, cast of characters:
Mo – the “friend” who manipulated me, then moved
Ron – the “friend” who keeps saying things that make me feel like I’m doing everything wrong
Carl – the person I know is actually my friend, even though he occasionally annoys me
I was telling my music therapist, Wakana, about the above individuals – all of whom I’ve had crushes on, by the way – in a rather interesting session on Tuesday.
Wakana is convinced Mo is an alcoholic, based on what I told her of his drinking habits. She told me that with alcoholics you never know what you’re going to get. There’s the sober personality, which may be more or less consistent, but once they’re under the influence they change. They can be unpredictable. They may become more affectionate, more expressive, more willing to do fun things like sing karaoke … and/or more volatile. They can do stupid things like cause all sorts of crazy drama and try to use you to get back at people who hurt them.
Generally I prefer not to be around people when they’re drunk. They do ridiculous things that draw everyone’s attention so people can’t participate equally in the party, they have a fantastic conversation with you and then don’t remember it the next day, they yell about people who hurt them instead of focusing on the fact that you’re right there trying to be a good friend … and that’s if you’re lucky. That’s not the same as having a drink or two and getting buzzed/tipsy and slightly inhibited, that can be fun. But in the right group I can have a great time and be ridiculous without needing a drop of alcohol, and I prefer to be around people who are the same way. Like my college friends, whom I haven’t seen since New Years.
But the people I’ve been engaging in activism with seem to think that “getting drinks” is the ideal / go-to social event. If I want to connect with them beyond volunteering together, I kinda feel like I have to put up with this behavior. But then, am I really forming any kind of meaningful relationships if they’re drunk?
Maybe I can go for like an hour or two, and then leave before they’re like legit drunk. It’s probably better for me anyway. When I was going out with Mo I often wouldn’t come home until well after 1am. My husband, Fox, said he was okay with it, but even so, it wasn’t fair to him. And when he found out what Mo had done, he was furious. It feels wrong, highly disrespectful, to risk falling into that pattern of behavior again. (Not to mention I was spending money we don’t have.)
Ron will drink sometimes, but ze’s not into it quite as much. Ze’s expressed willingness to engage in “sober solidarity” with me at such gatherings. But zir pattern of what essentially comes down to emotional abuse is similar to another thing Wakana said alcoholics tend to do: unpredictably becoming enraged by actions that seem innocuous (she used the example of putting an object down in the wrong place). It’s nearly impossible to feel safe and be oneself around someone when they behave that way.
We agreed that I don’t necessarily have to cut things off completely with Ron; I can talk to zir about how zir behavior is affecting me, and draw clear boundaries. For example I can tell zir that “When you made the comment about me wanting to be with ‘the cool people’ I felt hurt and like you were devaluing my friendship with Carl. I need you to respect my right to spend time with whomever I please.” and “If you have a problem working with Carl, you need to find a way to resolve that problem – with him directly, not through me. I am trying to do what’s best for the party; that includes asking for advice and/or assistance from whomever I think may be able to help us accomplish our goals.”
If Ron can’t respect that, then I’m gonna need some space from zir. I’ve worked way too hard to learn to love myself and feel confident being genuine. I love – need – the freedom and power I’ve found, the ability to be assertive, the ability to act within a group and trust that people respect me, value my contributions, mean it when they say positive things about me … and will try to work out any issues with me, directly. I can’t let one or two people undermine all that. No way!
Now, it can be easy for me to put Carl on a pedestal, but that’s not fair to anyone. He’s one of the people who seem to think “being social” means “getting drinks.” I don’t think I’ve ever been in a casual, social, non-activism-related situation with him where he wasn’t drinking. When we first started interacting with any regularity it was because he’d heard good things about me and wanted to recruit me into another organization he’s in. He buttered me up until I agreed to join. Next time I saw him he was drinking, can’t really speak to how influenced he was. We had a great conversation, during which he hugged me a couple of times and kissed me on the forehead and cheek. It felt really good. It’s part of why I started developing a crush on him.
Since then I’ve pretty much always wanted more attention from him than he’s given me, but I’ve learned to adapt. I’ll hang out with the people who are available, and eventually find my way over to where he is. He usually seems happy to hang out with me then. We’ve had good phone conversations and in-person conversations, for which he has been sober. He’s hugged and kissed me on the cheek while sober; it’s felt genuinely affectionate (and appropriate). I’ve been able to talk to him about a couple issues that have come up in our relationship and, while awkward, the conversations have led to a better mutual understanding. I think sometimes I want a closer friendship than we have – and maybe than he wants – and maybe I just need to take a step back.
But at the end of the day, I know I can talk to Carl. I know he respects me. I know he has my back. And I know he’ll laugh at the bad jokes I send him.