By Jackie S.
The next installment of Caroline Knapp’s story digs deeper into the life of the functional alcoholic. She talks about the difference between perception and reality. How it looks to the world like she is holding it all together, but inside she is falling apart. Like the Smokey Robinson tune, she used humor to hide her tears. By deflecting her depression and sadness through humor, she was able to hide her depression from everyone – even from herself.
I was a young lawyer working for a large financial institution and a woman married to a very controlling perfectionist. Therefore, I lived in two completely different worlds. The only place I would refuse to drink was on the job, but I had to do that part of my life perfectly. I appeared for all intents and purposes to be a workaholic ( c’mon – do alcoholics do ANYTHING part way?) and can remember twice rewriting contracts on New Year’s Eve, continuing until the wee hours of New Year’s Day. How could I possibly be an alcoholic if I didn’t even drink on New Year’s?
Later I understood why so many of my compatriots referred to that holiday as Amateur Hour. And still I worked, often late into the evening. My boss expected long hours of me and my co-workers and we were happy to oblige. I became the comedian. Everything that we worked on was high tension and it was my job to provide comic relief with suave finesse. I could do this because as long as I was at work I would not drink. The drink was the reward at the end of a very long day of work and crafted humor. By the time I got home, the husband was already asleep. I could go to the basement, pull out my bottle and relax until I passed out. When I was able to work late, I had the perfect life.
However, there were many days when I was able to leave the office at a normal hour and that is where a large part of my drinking story lies. I need to share with you a story about metamorphosis – the transformation of Jackie from woman of power in the workplace to dominated mouse in the homestead. And all of this would happen on the bus ride from the office downtown to the house in the upwardly mobile urban bedroom community. As I said before, I was married to a controlling perfectionist. It was not until later in my life that I learned his bullying behavior was really an attempt to deal with his own underlying lack of self-esteem. I was a strong and confident woman and he needed to break me like a wild pony.
On days when I would leave work while it was still daylight and head to my home, I would board the bus with an air of assuredness. Slowly but surely, on that bus ride home, that self-assured woman would dissipate into a puddle of uncontrollable fear and anxiety. Who would be waiting behind that front door when I came through it? Would it be a sullen father figure ready to belittle me or an angry tormentor, ready to castigate my very existence? Or maybe I would just get the silent treatment. That would leave me fretfully trying to figure out what I had done wrong and trying to fix it, without even knowing what “it” was. On those nights, I did what I could to pull together dinner and clean up afterward. Then I would busy myself with “work matters” on my laptop at home until my torturer would go to his office to “work” and then to sleep. When he left the main part of the house, I was free to retreat to my safe harbor, the basement and my bottles.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I was killing myself ever so slowly. And as Catherine stated in her story:
In periodic flashes like that I’d be painfully aware that I was living badly, just plain living wrong. But I refused to completely acknowledge or act on that awareness, so the feeling just festered inside like a tumor. Gradually eating away at my sense of dignity…as long as the outsides of your life remain intact…it’s very hard to accept that the insides, the pieces of you that have to do with integrity and self-esteem, are slowly rotting away.
I was leaving my self-esteem and integrity in pieces and puddles on the basement stairs. And for a time, each morning, I would gather up what was remaining and charge into the next work day.