As a longtime non-drinker or -druggie, I’ve always felt like a eunuch at an orgy, but I actually have no trouble shunning all the cocktails and pharmaceuticals that could easily be mine.
I was never that into them in the firstplace, and I treasure being the most clearheaded one in the room, not to mention the only one who doesn’t have to tip anybody. The real problem is keeping my distance from all the people who do the cocktails and drugs, the ones who tail me every night like rats following a windswept hamburger wrapper.
I’m not talking about desperate cases like Amy Winehouse, the type that would horrify you into immediate action in an attempt to spare them their doom. I’m referring to the annoying lifetime users, the ones who are never going to die—or admit they have a problem—and who tawdrily draw you toward them while repelling your goodwill with their endlessly messy behavior.
Unlike so many other illnesses, addiction is one that you can do something about by saying “Yes, yes, yes.” But the folks who won’t attempt to get better because they’re convinced their daily drugging is “manageable” while fucking you over time and time again are to be avoided, partly out of tough love and largely out of “Tough shit!” Why waste your time with these people unless you’re married to them and have joint bank accounts?
Thanks to years of traumatizing experiences, I’ve learned just how to spot the abusers, because they usually don’t barrel into a room and announce themselves as such. First of all, they’re the ones who came 40 minutes late to meet you, all sweaty and out of breath, seeing as how they operate exclusively on druggie time. (Last time, they were only 25 minutes late, but that was just to throw you off.) They always come with an entourage of enablers (i.e., people who are so enamored with the druggie that they’ll forgive them of every lapse as long as the druggie throws them an occasional crumb of attention. Besides, they’re fuckups themselves.)
Also, the druggies repeat every trivial thing they say at least eight times, talking over even your most urgent utterances. You can screech the fact that a world-famous religious figure has just been shot down the hallway, but they’ll simply reiterate what they just said about the horseradish dip being too spicy, gleefully oblivious to any larger picture outside that stupid bowl.
Paranoia generally enters the equation, too, as with the stewed clubbie who always asks people, “Does what I’m saying make any sense to you?” (Absolutely; the stuff he says is generally so simple that a Bachmann campaign manager would get it.)
Worse, the drugs often bring out a lurking arrogance, unleashing a torrent of dissy instructions that ignore the fact that “You need to . . .” should never be how a falling-down mess starts a sentence.
Last year, I met a restaurant worker who had me in his oily palm as he told me how sober he is, how he cries over the fate of those less fortunate, and how he relishes criticism so he can improve himself even more. “Watch out, Captain America,” I thought as I fell under the spell of this hero, a nouveau gym-bunny messiah who was prone to yelps of “I love myself!” as I shrieked, “I love yourself, too!”
But whenever I ran into the guy after that, his eyes were always rolling in their sockets like pinballs, and he looked one pharmaceutical shy of totally unconscious. His whole spiel had clearly been a line of bravado that he spews in order to convince his victims that he’s in control and positively soaring. (Or maybe he actually means it at the time. Who can guess the thought processes of someone so aggressively brain-buzzed?) In any case, I promptly crossed him off my calendar (something druggies never seem to have, by the way). There’s no one to be avoided more than someone who is rocked out of his mind as he robotically screeches, “I’m sober!”
Another thing to look for is the split-personality effect. Some abusers are your flamboyantly demonstrative best friend one minute, and the next, they’re silent, sullen, and unable to even pick at the various scabs on their faces. You never know which to expect, so you learn to brace yourself for constant disappointment and surprise. The really sad thing is that a lot of these people are way more fun when they’re smashed, the drugs making them sparkle with fun stories and great spirits. “Get wasted more often,” you want to urge them, but you refrain, knowing they’re probably better off standing upright and alert, even if boringly so.
They usually are wasted anyway. Another guy I hung out with last year insisted he’d cleaned up and gone organic, but every time we went out, he’d disappear halfway through the night and come back 10 minutes later with white powder on his face, his whole body shaking as if he’d just been electrified. He looked like a doughnut with epilepsy. Sure, it’s an addiction, and you have to be understanding, blah, blah, blah, but if someone bolted in the middle of a date for some shopping, eating, or gambling, wouldn’t you have a right to know about it?
I’m not trivializing substance abuse. People should feel free to befriend these lifetime druggies and help, support, or even enable them, if that’s your dark desire. But I hope it doesn’t dampen anyone’s high if my approach is to pack up my compassion and run far, far away, toward the nearest Jamba Juice. Does what I’m saying make any sense to you?