Slow with Liquor

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Nelsan Ellis, known to most as the character Lafayette Reynolds, a gay, V-dealing short-order cook, medium, cousin to Tara Thornton, and friend to Sookie Stackhouse on the series True Blood, died July 8th, 2017 of a heart attack. More specifically, Ellis died of complications following heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Ellis, who, in real life, had a wife and two young children, was only 39 years old when his attempt to put down the bottle killed him.

I can’t claim to know the full extent of Ellis’ alcohol abuse, or whatever other factors might have contributed to his untimely death. But the thought that his efforts to end an addiction to alcohol was what ultimately killed him should give us all pause.

Lafayette with a drink

Ciao, bitches!  Ellis has left the building.

The good ol’ U.S. of A. still has a massive alcohol problem, in terms of use, perception of use, and understanding of impacts. Sure, we’ve gotten all M.A.D.D. and managed to sharply decrease drunk driving—or, rather, to at least make drunk driving illegal and unacceptable—for the most part. Still, almost a third of all deaths in automobile accidents involve alcohol.

President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis raised a big stink about declaring opioid addiction a national public health emergency, citing a 142-deaths-per-day figure for deaths by drug overdose (which includes all unintentional drug overdoses, not just OD by opioids, which sits at 91 per day for 2015).

And while opioid abuse has been climbing towards alarming, our nonchalance about alcohol abuse is still confounding.

If you look at deaths in the United States directly attributed to alcohol, they are at about the same level annually as deaths by gun (including both homicides and suicides), or annual deaths in automobile accidents–or right around 80 deaths per day.

But when you factor in all the deaths involving alcohol…those primarily attributed to alcohol (diseases, alcohol poisoning, and such), and those deaths where alcohol was a significant factor (car crashes, suicides, homicides, all other forms of accidents involving alcohol) then the total number of alcohol-related deaths rises to over 230 per day (albeit, intruding on other categories of death).

But how many of us, in our puritanical, cold-turkey, I-can-quit-anytime-I-want culture of addiction-denial and personal responsibility even realize that heart failure from alcohol withdrawal is a thing?

Sure, we’ve seen movies, TV shows, and even documentaries depicting the horrific sickness and potential death that comes from withdrawing from opiates–“kicking” heroin being a dramatic staple of drug addiction stories. But how often do we see any depictions of the danger of alcohol withdrawal, or any kind of realistic portrayal of the dangers of alcohol use and abuse?

As a culture we celebrate drunkenness and binge-drinking…until we don’t.

Think of a recent comedy you’ve seen, or at least a recent R-rated comedy. If it had scenes involving alcohol, what happened in those scenes, and what messages were conveyed? I’d venture a guess that the messages included the idea that binge drinking is, at its least problematic, an awesome escape from life stressors, just a way to cut loose and have fun; and that at increased levels, binge drinking is still pretty hilarious—leading to some wildly comedic pratfalls and other scenarios involving what would probably be fatal, or at least permanently-disabling, head injuries—all played for laughs.

Moving beyond such comedic depictions, chronic, excessive drinking might become marginally less comical over the course of a film. But, ultimately, movies tend to show us that people who chronically drink are able to get it together and turn their lives around in the space of a montage, or perhaps following a heart-felt speech from a loved one. Think Trainwreck, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, How to be Single, or maybe as far back as Knocked Up—I could go on and on, and back through decades of movies. But at least I now realize that I spend a ridiculous amount of time watching comedies on DirecTV.

Such messages of hilarity are typically upended in more ‘serious’ fare, like Flight, starring Denzel Washington, or Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. Or, at least they’re sort of upended.

In Flight, Denzel’s character, Whip Whitaker, saves (most of) an airplane full of people by flying while wasted, then tries to quit, but relapses, then corrects the alcohol relapse with cocaine, in order to become jury-pleasing honest and speak beautiful truths.

In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, realizes what a disappointment he’s become, and we flash forward from Blake staggering off stage to throw up massive quantities of Jack Daniels between alleyway dumpsters and nearly losing a friend’s child in a mall, to several months later when he is clean and sober, and everything is hunky dory—except that he doesn’t get the ‘girl’ who is about half his age.

Beyond just Hollywood portrayals, think of how you, and other people you know–friends, family, co-workers, online acquaintances–talk about alcohol. A stray comment about the urgency of a drink to take the edge off some negative experience. Expressing a desire to wash away the workday with a bottle. An impending vacation where one intends to aggressively day-drink, evening drink, and late-night drink.  Drinking memes suggesting alcohol is just a comically enjoyable part of life.

I don’t mean to get all holier-than-thou. I’m more-than-guilty myself…of the drinking, of the denial, of the comments and laughter about, at, and around drunkenness. I’ve got no end of irresponsible drinking stories to spin—going back decades. As a matter of fact, I’m currently nursing a vicious bacon-grease burn that was birthed into this world by the midwifery of a bottle of Kirkland brand vodka.

And I don’t want to suggest we all drop our sense of humor.  Just maybe stop and think about it awhile.  When drinking is played for laughs, or treated as just something we all do, how much longer does it take anybody to get serious about problem drinking? How much easier is it to stave off the idea that maybe we should tone down the booze intake?

I also don’t want to imply that Hollywood is responsible for anybody’s personal decisions and habits. However, we as a culture endorse a lot of pro-booze, and pro-binge-drinking messages, while slapping a little “drink responsibly” disclaimer in tiny letters and hushed tones, after our big, bold cries of, “Hold my drink! Woooooooo!”

On the other hand, we portray opioid abuse as a disturbing descent into hell, and a national emergency.

Perhaps that’s because, except when alcohol abuse results in a sudden, accidental death, or the relatively rare withdrawal-based-heart attack like that suffered by Ellis, death by alcohol is often a long, slow process, while opioid OD seems much more shocking, short-term, and immediate. We’re allowed to see alcohol abuse as amusing…something people might grow out of after a few (or a few years of) wild exploits, whereas opioid abuse seems like a wholly disturbing, sudden collapse into hopelessness.

But we need to look at whether those perceived differences are real, or just a matter of cultural acceptance versus cultural rejection, normalization versus novelty, and indifference versus shock. We, as good ol’ Americans, enjoy our drugs, and, like all things American, X-treme is where it’s at!  Be that a quick-and-painless death by extreme, or a decades-to-death extreme.

So, I’ll just bring this all to a close with a quote from Ellis’ character, Lafeyette…

“All the shit I done in my life – the drugs… the sex… the web site. I did it so my life wouldn’t be a dead-end, and this is where I end up. Now what kind of punchline is that?”

Or perhaps just…

“Ciao, bitches.”

(Drink responsibly, and all that…there are plenty of ways to find help, like via your insurance company, or https://www.aa.org , where you can find local meetings…not that I’m endorsing any particular source of help or another…call 211 or a local crisis line if you want to look for some other options…crisis line locator at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/our-network/ or perhaps https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help –the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, where “find help” is even in the name of the link).

 

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New Year’s Resolutions 2017

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Is there a statute of limitations on when New Year’s resolutions just become resolutions? I’m going to go with two weeks, since that allows me to fit this in.

In years past, the resolutions have been (intended as) a comedic venture, topped off with a dollop of at least one sincere resolution. But 2017 is arriving without a lot of my usual smartass spirit. Personally, things are moving in some pretty positive directions, quelling some of my natural tendency toward smarmy negativity. On a larger scale, things are potentially very scary, with all manner of sleazy, old (mostly white) men trying to bankrupt/kill/crap on everybody and everything that they can…and maybe, in light of recent allegations, also trying to get peed on.

I’ll try to keep it light and all, but…uh…whatever…here are my New Year’s resolutions for 2017…

  1. Use real bookmarks, ffs. Yeah, so this hardly seems like an ambitious goal. But I figure, why not start with something totally doable. See, whenever I start up a new book, I tend to grab the nearest, least necessary (for other purposes) flat item to use as a bookmark. Recently, this has begun bothering me in increasing degrees, as if it is some baseline, pointing out my overall laziness—especially since I actually own numerous bookmarks—from the kind of free things that come from book stores or in the mail, to fancy, laminated, yarn-tassled, and even metal bookmarks, stamped with inspirational quotes and whatnot. If I’m going to continue resisting the encroaching press of digital reading devices in favor of real paper-and— well, ‘board’ doesn’t exactly sound right, as in ‘board books’—but books with paper and covers of various substances, mostly derived from trees and other plants—then I can at least take the time to pull a decent bookmark from my scattered collection to honor the passing of the pages.
  1. Be in the world…at least a little more. One of those aforementioned positive personal changes is that I will be moving back to a schedule where I will be awake at semi-normal hours, and off work at hours when some other people I might want to see might also not be stuck at work. When your schedule is, as mine has been for the last 13+ months, overnight, including weekends, you don’t tend to just drop into parties, or dash out for a hike or a movie or a meal because a friend or two found themselves with some free time. You tend to spend your days off trying to force yourself into wakefulness during enough daytime hours that you can take a stab—or at least a weak swing—at normalcy…normalcy being things like not drinking a beer or three at 8:00 a.m., because that’s when you’re winding down from work…normalcy being things like not having to take a vacation day or two just to see some friends who live in the same flipping town, but don’t live on the same schedule as bats and opossums…normalcy being able to know for sure whether your months-long feeling of fatigue and dread is really something akin to clinical depression, or just the result of your work schedule. Looking forward to knowing that staying up late, or a lack of sleep, is more a lifestyle choice than a career-centered choice.
  1. Be in the world…like, beyond the personal. I realized recently that all my “community involvement” in recent years has slipped down into the realm of cash donations, and the occasional phone call or (usually online) petition. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. I sign up for regular online donations with various organizations…at least until the ‘card on file’ has to be replaced due to security breaches, or one of numerous other reasons banks use to perpetually switch out the cards they issue, and I find myself ignoring the emails about my payments not processing. Still, there was a time…like the bulk of my life prior to my later-in-life stint in grad school, where I was engaged with the people around me…all trying to make a difference and shit. I rode along with my mom doing meals-on-wheels when I was in elementary school. In fact, the bulk of my pre-adult “community involvement” was whatever my mom enlisted me to do…and my mom’s level of community service was, and still is, legendary—well, at least among a cluster of Lutherans in suburban Oregon and at least a few other far-flung places. As a parent, I obsessively volunteered at the kid’s school(s)—and occasionally with her sports teams—up until she hit Jr. High–because, for most of that time, I was working out of my home—until that previously mentioned grad school stint hit. Did I mention I’ve never been a particularly high-energy person? Anyway, I want to find some way back into community involvement…charity or not…although my adjusted schedule still might make that a bit tricky…unless I want to donate time in the mornings before I go to work. Maybe I’ll just make sure I reinstate all those security-threatened, lapsed payments to various organizations.
don-bob-gor-hair

–Will the presence of this ^…make this ^ more popular?  …Or should I just stick with this ^?

  1. Go full Bob’s Big Boy with the hair. I feel like I might be cribbing this from past years’ resolutions. I almost always have some kind of hair-based New Year’s resolution, and really, you can only make so many different hair-based resolutions when you’re a guy working an office-casual job. Anyway, if you’ve ever seen the mascot for Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, you know that his thick head of hair involves a part on one side, leading into a wave that culminates in something that—well, looks like an actual wave—like, on the ocean—or maybe like a shark fin and its wake as it cuts through the water. At any rate, I usually blow off getting my hair cut until I’ve got that basic Bob’s Big Boy thing starting up. Once my, as Frieda would say, naturally curly hair (although, really it’s more naturally wavy)—makes it past the 2.5-inch mark, every strand that is able clusters into a group, and fights to look like a surfer’s dream…or surfer’s nightmare…in fibrous protein form. With the Donald moving into the Presidency, sporting that ridiculous, spun-candied-glass, televangelist-inspired, hairdresser’s nightmare on top of his head, I figure my Big Boy wave will come into fashion—or serve as a sign of the impressive power that I wield. In conversation, I may have to start spitting out sentences more incoherent than those that I usually use (no small feat), so that people will realize I have a power haircut a la Tyrannosaurus Rump, and that it’s not just more of my lackadaisical grooming combined with sleep-deprived babbling. Either that, or I’ll just start getting it cut more often, so I don’t have to deal with the waves at all, and will only have to endure M telling me my latest haircut makes me look like a gorilla. But, secretly, I think she likes my gorilla look, so…

Finally…

  1. Write more, write often, write regularly—or alternately—Less wasting time on social media…more clogging up my small corner of social media (as well as writing for reasons beyond social media). When I started the blog, the idea was to do a post a week…I figured that was a fairly modest goal, although coming up with topics, and writing anything that I feel like sharing can be quite the challenge at times. 2016 proved exceptionally rough, since upwards of 70% of all media attention was devoted to some assclown who is apparently about to be the most powerful man in the world, finally matching his beliefs about himself with a cliché people frequently use about the job he is about to take over. Of course, that only left 30% of media attention to be divvied up between things Kardashian, things involving lesser reality-TV stars, and every other thing happening in the world. Whatever the specific ratios, it was difficult finding the motivation to knock out pieces about how people should maybe not use mental-health diagnoses as insults, and perhaps try to make it a bit more difficult for people in the U.S. to shoot each other, when that aforementioned assclown was able to get so much media attention by suggesting that insults are the answer, and violence and vindictiveness are just good ol’ American solutions to political problems. So, yeah–may have to tune a lot of that out, to prevent the reeking verbal diarrhea of short-fingered vulgarians from getting me down, and allowing me to count myself out.

Well, so much for keeping it light. Umm…is it too late to say ‘Happy New Year’?

Suey Park Out of Context, or How a Bunch of (Liberal) White Guys Proved that #CancelColbert was Necessary and Didn’t Even Realize It. Part One: She Said What?!?

Way back on March 27 or so—an eternity in Twitter time—Suey Park, a 23-year-old writer, comedian, and activist, in response to a post from the Twitter account of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” (but not actually Stephen Colbert’s account), started a (Twitter-based) campaign: #CancelColbert. Park’s point (overly simplified): using racist jokes to mock racism isn’t really an effective way to combat racism, or particularly funny. The outcome: a bunch of (mostly) white (mostly) guys told her to shut up and learn how to take a joke.

Colbert’s original segment, which aired on Wednesday, March 26, mocked the racist name of the newly-established “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation,” in part, by claiming that Colbert (in the person of his mock-right-wing character) was establishing his own charity, named after an Asian character with a racist name, in support of “Orientals…or Whatever.”

Late on Thursday, March 27, “The Colbert Report” Twitter acccount posted a tweet announcing the establishment of the foundation for “Orientals…or Whatever,” which, due to a limited number of available characters, and a lack of forethought, made the use of the racist terminology that much more blatant.

It was at this point that Park entered the (Twitter) picture, calling for the cancellation of “The Colbert Report,” by pointing out that mocking racism with racism is still a form of encouraging people to laugh at racism and racist stereotypes. Park has since explained that she is a fan of Colbert, and did not literally mean that she believed Colbert’s show should be cancelled, but that she was using hyperbole as a means of calling attention to a particular idea. In other words, a Twitter campaign called #PleaseKindlyAskColbertNotToUseRacistJokesToMockRacism is much less attention-getting than #CancelColbert.

Never mind that Colbert had used hyperbole (involving racist stereotypes uttered by Colbert’s clueless commentator character) to make his original joke, Park’s hyperbole was, at first, dismissed as the misguided ire of somebody who was not aware of the context of the joke, and soon thereafter, dismissed as the ignorance of somebody who did not understand comedy, or, more specifically, satire.

The dismissal was accompanied by an insistence that if Park just recognized the context of the joke and/or was capable of comprehending the joke, she would recognize her mistake, demurely apologize, give a little giggle, and we could all feel good about our (her) little misunderstanding.  But to believe such an outcome is possible one has to assume that when Park started the campaign, she had no idea who Colbert is, or what his comedic persona involves.  To believe that Park misunderstood the joke because it was out of context, one has to believe that Park saw the ‘partial joke tweet’ and believed that the joke was not related to anything else, and was being presented as a self-contained idea.

Not surprisingly, all the people who insisted or implied that the joke was lost on Park because the Colbert Report tweet existed outside of the joke’s original context were, themselves, choosing to take Park’s criticism out of context. Rather than give Park credit for understanding the joke, and recognizing that Park was actually criticizing the joke, and with good reason, many Colbert supporters/Park detractors kept coming at her with a variation of, “It was a joke. Don’t you get it?” When that didn’t get the desired result, objections to Park slipped, unfortunately but all-too predictably, into the territory of personal attacks—refusing to hear Park and meet her ideas with careful consideration, because it was much easier to tear her down, in many cases by resorting to stereotypes of women, people of Asian descent, or women of Asian descent.

It didn’t help that virtually every news story, in almost every format, explained Park’s campaign as the result of a joke tweet that was made out of the context of the original segment that was aired on “The Colbert Report.” Rarely was any space given to explaining Park’s actual position, as it was much easier to state or imply that Park’s misunderstanding was the real problem.  After all, when a news organization devotes several small chunks of time, over the course of several days, to an entertainment-related news story, why bother to insert any challenging ideas into that story?

I recognize that there have been plenty of occasions of people taking Colbert’s (and others’) satire as a serious statement of position, and reacting out of that misunderstanding. But that is not what happened here. To continue to insist that Park was upset because she misunderstood a joke is to continue to willfully and deliberately misunderstand Park.  Even worse, it is continuing to willfully and deliberately misunderstand Park because that is much easier than considering the implications of what she is saying—that maybe by laughing at Colbert’s joke, people are complicit in supporting racist stereotypes.  In that light, misunderstanding Park serves a very important ego-defense mechanism for people who may not, at base, be so much in disagreement with Park as afraid to acknowledge that their own behavior might be a part of the problem.

Of course, it’s natural for people to become defensive when they feel they are being called out on something. But rather than taking a little time to try and take in a criticism and give it some consideration, a large number of people reacted swiftly and harshly to Park’s criticism.  And “it’s a joke, calm down,” quickly turned into something much more vicious.

To reiterate, Park was saying that to use racism to mock racism still encourages people to laugh at racism and stereotypes, when it would be preferable to just steer clear of racism and stereotypes altogether.

To state it another way, using racism as a punchline keeps racist stereotypes in common use as something to laugh about. It involves maintaining a low standard for how we choose to interact, and ensures ongoing marginalization of several groups.  For instance, it is easy to recognize that a skinhead with swastika tattoos extending his arm and barking “Heil Hitler!” is racist, and it is easy to avoid being racist in that same way.  It is also easy (although apparently not easy enough for Dan Snyder and many others) to recognize that naming an organization that allegedly supports an ethnic group by using a slur against that ethnic group in the name of the organization is a racist thing to do.  Park was urging people to consider a little higher standard–perhaps one where Snyder remains the punchline/butt of the joke, rather than people of Asian descent.

So, maybe rather than insisting that Park just needs to learn how to take a joke, or how to understand a joke, it would be better to do the work of learning how to listen to other viewpoints, rather than just reacting to them without even taking them in.  Hammering on somebody for their lack of understanding, while demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of that person’s viewpoint, would be funny if it weren’t so sad.