• The Toxic Issue

    Taking to the Drink

    The Toxic Issue
    Stealthcare

    Notes on care of the body as resistance from the mind of someone who's piecing it together.

    Rubybrunton

    Ruby Brunton is a New Zealand-raised poet and performer who now lives in Brooklyn. She spends a lot of time thinking about how to create community and education alternatives. Find her on Twitter and Tumblr.

    Ruby april

    Stealth Care

    Taking to the Drink

    There is a river of alcohol running through Ruby’s sex life.

    Once as a teenager, my father had to collect me from the roof of a car where I was more or less passed out and spent the next day making my hangover even more unbearable as punishment. He handed me an orange to eat while he explained calmly and quietly how disappointed he was in me. Not because of the drinking, but because he had been so looking forward to his weekend holiday with my mother and I as he was spending the year in another city doing a writer’s residency. Now he had to discipline me. He helped me to the bathroom as I emptied my citrus-scented sins into the bowl. The success of his punishment was not in that it stopped me from teenaged drinking, but in that it taught me to be wiser, stealthier, about how and when I drank. His punishment had lasting effects. I think about it now because of all the  wasted time I will never get back. I think about it now because during that night of teenage drinking, I narrowly escaped sexual assault by vomiting into a guy’s lap.

    Sometimes you’re lucky. Sometimes you walk away from a situation knowing the danger you put yourself in and wonder how you managed to walk away unscathed. Sometimes the danger excites you. Sometimes you take a risk because you want to feel numb or because you don’t know yourself or because you simply don’t have anything better to do. Peer pressure is real. So is curiosity. 

    There’s a river of alcohol running through my sex life. The banks of that river are the rest stops where I’ve felt safe, trusting, confident enough not to need a drink or two. Sometimes, it feels like the most common phrases in my social interactions are, “let’s meet for a drink” or “drinks?” or some such variant. And yet I want to keep drinking, even though I know I have successfully stopped and could again.

    As my body changes so does its reactions to alcohol and everyone knows you can’t spell changes without ages. Alcohol has been part of my social life since I was cough cough years old. Growing up in a small city with nothing much to do for kicks meant most of us were raiding our parents liquor cabinets or asking older siblings (or strangers) on the street to buy it for us. My parents weren’t big drinkers, my mother liked the odd glass of wine or a gin and tonic (“the working class cocktail” she called it) and my father preferred to keep his mind from fogging, at least when I knew him. Making theatre and writing poetry requires that you avoid hangovers when you can. My parents tried to teach me that in order to be disciplined about your art, you need to be disciplined about what you put into your body. Like most of the infinitely valuable advice they gave me, I ignored it. 

    As a socially awkward youngster, drinking was one way to fit in, to feel more comfortable. Besides, almost everyone in my small, sleepy New Zealand city drank. It was a way to feel like less of a nerd all the time. After family tragedy, it became my way to cope. No one can feel sorry for you when you’re tipsy and having a good time. I’m still looking for moments of respite from the pain of memory, trying to feel at ease with the unbearable lightness of modern conversation. I’m still interested in the way alcohol alters and adapts my moods, and interactions. 

    Managing your vices is a slow process of discovering which levels of intoxication you can handle, which decisions you should not make while under its influence. Drunken dates get messy. There are so many other things you can do, like shopping. Drinking not only has an impact on your decisions but also on your impressions of people. There’s a reason Britney said, “Don’t you know that you’re toxic?” Do you really think you met your soulmate and he ghosted, or did you just meet someone who made you laugh after three whiskeys? After my one and only drunken brawl, I now feel I cannot drink gin, my mother’s favorite, unless the situation calls for an angry drunk.

    To be stealthy about your chosen poisons means being aware of the toxic effect they have on us even when we willingly continue to imbibe. We can respect others’ decisions about what they put in their bodies and we can do our best to understand why. We can reserve judgement about other people’s actions and offer support instead. There are plenty of beds that I’ve woken up in which I do not think I would’ve climbed into had my inhibitions not been shall we say … reduced. Beds without sheets, for example. I tell these stories to myself and others, sometimes as a warning, sometimes for the joke. Sometimes I need a reminder that what I’m remembering is suspended in the realm between clarity and cloudiness. Sometimes I need a reminder of what’s fun to me about being drunk. We’re not hopeless just because we are capable of making bad decisions. It’s hard enough to survive this life without berating yourself over a particular coping mechanism.

    Part of coming to terms with my relationship to alcohol has been a begrudging acceptance of its continued role in my life. The appeal of drinking, like so many of the toxicities of modern society, is hard to escape. The desire to feel less bad, or like someone else for a minute, is hard to escape. The need to feel like a person capable of normal human interaction without the constant fear of putting my foot in my mouth or saying too much is hard to escape. Over the years I’ve learned to make wiser decisions, to be healthier, to depend a little less and enjoy a little more. It’s an ongoing path of learning and not everyone will have the same method or produce the same results. Go easy on yourselves and each other.

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