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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My One-Tweet War with Tyrannosaurus Rump

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

It was a glorious day in early October, 2015. It seems a lifetime ago. Or perhaps an alternate universe ago? Definitely a different reality.

Anyway, a Twitter notification popped up on my phone, letting me know that @realDonaldTrump was following me.

Really? The “real” Donald Trump was following me on Twitter?

Assuming it was a parody account, I hopped over to check it out. And Hoe-Lee Ess-Aitch-Eye-Tee—it was really the for-real real Donald Trump following me.

Okay, maybe he let his youngest kid play with his phone. Or maybe his handlers were busy following everybody that fell into his “target demographic” of middle-aged white males. Or maybe it was all a game to get a follow-back and then dump me.  Who knows?

Current events at the time were mostly swirling around the recent Umpqua Community College shooting. Tyrannosaurus Rump was tweet-defending Dr. Ben Carson’s suggestions that people hit active shooters with chairs.

Out on the campaign trail, the T. rump was getting massive amounts of free media coverage for talking about how there is no gun problem in the good ol’ U.S. of A., only a mental health problem. Here’s just one, tweet-based piece of that coverage from a Washington Post reporter:

philip-bump-on-trump

So, mere minutes after realizing I had a titan of industry as one of my Twitter followers, I sent this tweet out to my newest fan:

my-trump-tweet

I sat and waited a bit for a response from Trump or any of my fewer-than-400 followers. If only I’d known the trick of putting a period before his address. Okay, I still probably wouldn’t have gotten all that much of a reaction, but I can dream, can’t I?

The minutes turned to more minutes, and soon I went off and did something else…like took a nap, or maybe put away some laundry. The TV was on. I know this because that’s where I heard the Tyrannosaurus Rump going off about the mental health vs. guns stuff—the stuff that prompted me to send my not-all-that-clever Tweet.

I saw no further notifications. I hadn’t provoked some backlash from the T. rump’s followers, leading to a ‘blowing up’ of my phone.

I popped onto Twitter an hour or two later, and quickly realized I was down a follower from the last time I had logged on.

Could it be?

No!

Not only had the T. rump given up on following me, the man who would become the leader of the free world (barring any religious-conversion-inspiring results from election recounts) had done this:

blocked-trump

Blocked.

I was blocked.

The tweet that I had thought was a total throw-away, a barely-conceived idea that I’d bounced out into the world, because of some audio of T. rump I’d heard over the local news–had upset the Tyrannosaur (or had alarmed his handlers) to such an extent that I was no longer allowed to even view the stream-of-garbageness that flows from his fingers, into his phone, and out to the worldwide web.

To this day, I cannot even see the wit and wisdom the T. rump shares with the world…I mean, except by looking at any other media outlet anywhere, all of which seem to be obsessed with reporting on tweets from the Tyrannosaurus Rump, or by logging into my dummy Twitter account that I set up mostly for the purpose of playing along with @Midnight’s hashtag wars.

Still, it hurts to know that I caused so much strife to someone who was just reaching out, looking for a friend. How could I have been so careless as to cause so much hurt? Why did I let my mean spirit provoke an instant blockage?

Yes, the man who would unthinkably become the leader of the free world had been so traumatized by my nasty comments that he would cut himself off from me for good. Citizens be damned.

Remember–your President Elect will not tolerate disrespectful tweets.

No, really, remember it.

And if I go missing, well, I regret nothing…well, at least not where that tweet is concerned.

But, really?

That’s what got me blocked?

My friends say worse sh*t to me on a daily basis.
Daily.
I kid you not.
And he’s going to have access to nuclear weapons?
Oh, good god, I probably shouldn’t have made those Tyrannosaurus Rump comments.

Another Round: American Roulette

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Pour another round.

Put another round in the chamber.

And let’s play another round of American Roulette.

Dizzy?  Go ahead and get off.

Dizzy? Go ahead and get off.

I’m not talking about felt and chips and all that. I’m talking about American Roulette—where we add more and more rounds, to more and more chambers, in more and more guns, point them all at our own collective head, squeeze the collective trigger, then act all surprised when anybody dies.

Then as the bodies are cooling, we start in on a round of all our favorite follow-up games.

Of course it starts with a round of “America’s Next Top Mass Murderer.” This is where media outlets decide what becomes a national story. It’s a complex formula, involving body count, victim age/status, and location. We have so many shots fired so often, in so many places, that we just can’t let any old killings grab hold of the public imagination.

Hell, the public doesn’t have enough imagination to keep up.

Adult males getting gunned down in the “bad part” of town—doesn’t rate unless there’s an insanely high body count. Okay, that’s pretty much true of any killings in the “bad part” of town.

Nightclubs—the same.

Men wiping out their families? Pffbbt! We’ve grown surprisingly numb to the idea of an “estranged husband” gunning down his wife, kids, and maybe a few additional members of his extended family. But moms gunning down their families? That just might work.

Schools—you can maybe get some traction there, although college shootings are getting pretty passé, as are high schools. Elementary schools—still pretty damn shocking.

Churches—those rate pretty high.

Movie theaters—those practically ARE churches.

So, how about grocery stores? public parks? malls? restaurants? Maybe a library or a museum? How about a nursing home? But, really, I have to defer to the experts for how to rank all of those.

Then, once we’ve determined that a mass-shooting is heinous enough to warrant a spot in the public imagination, we move to a round of “Wheel of Blame,” sponsored by the good, pro-murder folks at the National Rifle Association.

Really, it’s just another form of rigged roulette—38 spaces on the spinning wheel, at least 30 marked “mental health” or “mental illness.” When we get lucky, the wheel stops on one of the random spots marked with something we can really get mad at—like racism, or pop culture, or some “foreign” religion.

Because when the wheel lands on something we can get mad at, then we can do something symbolic in lieu of doing something that might actually lower the body count—like take down a flag that hasn’t had any business being associated with any part of ‘the government’ in the 150 years since that cluster of slavery-supporting traitors failed in their effort to destroy the Union. Or we can blame some movie, or some TV show, or some rock star for inspiring a murder spree. Or we can yell at the President to bomb ISIS, or to stop talking to Iran—because that will fix problems right here at home, where we like to kill our own.

Of course, the Wheel mostly lands on “mental health” or “mental illness” and we don’t have to do anything except say “fix the mental health system”—as if there is some magical way to grant psychotherapists the ability to pluck out those who are going to commit mass murder, plop them into a treatment program, and prevent them from ever getting their hands on all the readily-available guns and ammo out there.

But remember that when you spin that Wheel of Blame, you absolutely must avoid the spaces marked “guns”—those spots just go to the house—instant bankruptcy. Go ahead and say guns and lax laws that allow easy access to guns had a role in gun violence. You’ll get nowhere. Our gracious NRA sponsors, the politicians and media they own, and the screaming devotees of the Cult of the Shiny Metal Bang Bang will all see to that.

And even though it’s gotten pretty tired and unnecessary, we’ll run another round of “Not the Time”—wherein such insightful luminaries as draft-dodging, teen-loving, rock-n-roll has-been Ted Nugent, along with other NRA pets, can tell us that now is not the time to talk about gun control—not in the wake of such a tragedy—as they question the patriotism of anyone who would politicize the deaths of people killed by guns—oops, I mean killed by people with guns—oops, I mean killed by bad people with guns.

What’s so great about “Not the Time”—even though it’s getting really tired—is that we’re almost never more than a few days away from a mass murder, even if we are more than a few days away from a mass murder that really caught the public’s attention.

Oh, hey!  Now give it up for a round of our newest game show: “Open Carry Chucklehead Brigade”—y’know, that trending ritual where gun enthusiasts decide to go stand outside recruitment centers, or in malls, or near schools, or wherever the latest killing took place, brandishing their big, long weapons out of some bizarre sense that such behavior is supportive of those who are suffering the aftermath of gun violence. Hey…uh…guys…we’ve all been talking, and…uh…nobody feels safer because of your presence. For most people, a group of sweaty guys standing around with big guns does not look like safety. It looks like a meeting of the local chapter of the Future Mass Murderers of America.

I know there are plenty of rounds of plenty of other games I’ve left out—like the obligatory round of “False Equivalencies” (people die from using cars, and knives, and dental floss, and ice cream, and…), and the round of “Enforce The Laws That Already Exist” (as if the NRA hasn’t already made sure that most of those laws have no teeth), and the round of “There Are Already Too Many Guns Out There to Fix the Problem” (got it–too tough, don’t try!). But, damn! Those games are getting so dreadfully boring.

So, where were we?

Oh, yeah—pour another round.

Somebody else is picking up the tab.

Or maybe you are.