The impossibility of medicating with alcohol
It’s normal (for us anyway) to put away more booze than usual during the holiday season. But a realization dawned on us throughout this last week—that our drinking was a bit more debauched than usual. Naturally we pushed this realization back, rationalizing it as a concern about excessive liquor spending. When Nana and Papa offered to keep the kids on the island for an extra week and we went home without them, we had friends over and drank every drop of alcohol in the house, rationalization was no longer possible. We weren’t just drinking. We were medicating.
It was a stressful year. Work has been demanding, commuting sucks, and there are always expenses. But these are manageable stressors. Even if you can’t predict a client will renege on a contract or your dishwasher will flood the kitchen, you can predict that this sort of shit happens, and you cope with it.
News items like Sandy Hook are another matter. The massacre threw out our equilibrium—the sense that you can rely on unthinkably horrific things not happening. The idea of sending your children to school every day at 8:30 and collecting them safely at 2:30 felt unshakably secure before December 14.
It’s not that we think a similar event will happen in our neighborhood. In almost no sense is our personal sense of safety compromised by what happened in Connecticut.
And it’s not that we expect something that cold-bloodedly horrific to happen in the US again any time soon. The odds are vanishingly small, the event devastatingly random. Who would think of targeting small children?
It’s that it did happen—anywhere, at all. It’s that nothing in this world can make it not have happened. That 26 families have experienced an inconceivable loss. That nothing can make it right. That nothing can explain it.
It’s the unbearable empathy tied up in thinking about the massacre. Just as it’s difficult to hear a child crying in a playground, it’s orders of magnitude harder to think of a little girl or boy being shot to death. It’s unbearable.
As parents there’s so much to fear already. Parents worry that their children will get injured or abducted, that they’ll get leukemia, that they’ll commit suicide in their teens. Just thinking about them being unhappy is excruciating—but to think of them being gone is incomprehensible. There are so many things parents fear—and the Sandy Hook shooting is one that probably didn’t cross a single mind as they dropped their kids off at school that day.
I’m ashamed to have been wallowing in the grief of these families. I’m ashamed of the sick fascination with which I watched CNN’s coverage, then scoured YouTube for information on the shooter, devouring every item including vids from Second Amendment nutjobs positing that the massacre was a “false flag” event staged by the Obama government to put gun control on the agenda, and conspiracy theorists drawing a tangential “Batman” connection. I’m ashamed of having ingested every morbid fact and messed-up theory I could about the shooting. I thought it would help me purge the dreadful and overwhelming sense of empathy with the families—as though I could ever know what they’re going through.
I can’t sleep at night. Not because of fear—I don’t fear this happening to our family. I just can’t sleep knowing that it happened to other people. I can’t stop wondering what they are feeling, and wishing this whole thing could be undone.
I find myself compulsively playing “Would you rather?” with myself. “Would you rather lose something precious—say, the ability to walk—for the chance to reverse what happened?” “Would you give up all your money to make this not have occurred?”
To these fucked-up hypothetical questions I would say—from the safe position of knowing no one will demand I fulfill the promise—I would have to say yes. If, through some bizarre magic, I could choose, I would feel morally compelled. Until, late at night, this question occurs:
“Would you rather give up one of your own children to make this not have happened?”
I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. And no one would expect me to. And that’s what makes the massacre so painful to think about.
Apologies, friends—this blog is obviously the wrong venue for obsessing about Sandy Hook. This is a site for booze reviews, and I am surrounded by drained bottles to describe in future posts. But—as it occurred to me suddenly and recently—if anything, this site is about the intersection of alcohol and parenting, and it’s not facile to say those subjects have collided for us lately.