Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fading away

Mom's favorite Campbell's soup was Chunky Vegetable Beef, a hearty concoction that was true to its name with hearty chunks of beef and vegetables in a thick beef broth, not quite beef stew, but the next step down. What she didn't realize is that the flavor was enhanced by wine, an ordinary wine to be sure, but wine all the same. It's a flavor I easily recognized and enjoyed on many occasions, but I should have kept the information to myself and not told Mom. She quit buying the soup.

I offered her a bowl when I made some the last time I visited. "No, it has alcohol in it."

"Mom, there's no alcohol in it."

"The label says it has wine. That's alcohol and I don't touch alcohol."

"The alcohol is burned off. All that's left is the flavor of the wine, an ordinary wine to be sure, but there's no alcohol."

"It says wine and that's enough for me. No, thank you."

Mom does not drink wine, or alcohol in any form, because of her religious beliefs. In fact, she won't patronize any restaurant or store or establishment where alcohol is available because someone from her church or someone who knows of her oft touted religious beliefs would see her going in or coming out and immediately assume she's after alcohol. The only concession she makes is the grocery store. "Well, I do have to eat. Don't I?" She sticks out her chest and her chin and defies anyone to to accuse her falsely. After all, she has no other choice. She could have her groceries delivered so she doesn't have to go into the store where they sell alcohol, but that would mean ten dollars less for junk food and jewelry.

I remember when Mom did drink, although she swears she just carried a drink around parties and didn't actually have any of it. She was just being sociable. I remember my parents' parties and I remember Mom with a drink in her hand, usually rum and Coke. I also remember how the level in her glass had a tendency to change frequently, from full to empty and back to full again. Must have been evaporation, although I doubt it. Panama is a rain forest and evaporation happens slowly, if at all. I even remember the night she stumbled into the bedroom and shut the curtain. Giggles and the rustle of clothing preceded a muffled thump as my parents fell onto the bed. It was shortly after that we found out she was pregnant.

There was alcohol in our house and lots of parties until we moved to North Olmsted and Mom started going to the Baptist church down the street. One day, the blue smoke that followed her everywhere ceased and she threw out a newly opened carton of Winstons. Alcohol was banned. Mom got religious and the smell of stale cigarettes slowly dissipated. I was fourteen at the time.

When we moved back to Columbus, Dad remodeled the basement and put a bar down in the family room. Drinks were served whenever Cal and Kay Kinsley came over, but Mom no longer carried a magical glass of rum and Coke. No liquor touched her lips again, except for the soup and that was only until I spilled the beans a couple decades later.

Mom stopped having fun when she gave up the cigarettes and alcohol and the cartload of cigarettes bought once a month at the commissary at Rickenbacker AFB was less full. Only Gram, Grandpa and Aunt Joan, my mother's family, still smoked. Dad had never been much of a smoker, having a cigarette only when there were parties, which became rare as hen's teeth. Eventually Dad gave in and followed Mom to church and the bar in the basement was cleaned out of alcohol.

When you get right down to it, I think Mom is afraid to enjoy herself. Her father was an alcoholic and drank away a considerable fortune before he came to his senses, all of which happened long before I was old enough to understand what was happening. Mom was afraid she'd become an alcoholic like Grandpa. Her brother, Bob, was well on his way to an alcoholic future until his six-year-old son, Mike, told him he couldn't wait to grow up and drink the same beer and smoke the same cigarettes that Daddy did. Uncle Bob didn't give up having a good time though; he just does it without the alcohol. Mom either won't or can't enjoy herself unless she's spending money and eating junk food, anything to replace what's gone from her life. She does, however, still cling to her narcotics for her pain and to be able to sleep, but that will doubtless never change. She has learned her limits and rations her medications, but not her spending or her junk foods.

That's the thing about people coming from families with addictions. They either follow the addiction, adding a few twists or substances of their own, or refuse to go near anything that makes them feel so good they might become addicted -- even love.

A friend told me a few years ago that he'd never tried alcohol or pot. "Why?" I asked him. "Because I might enjoy it."

The fear of enjoying anything too much is ever present and it extends to everything that end in a spiral into oblivion with a smile and the feeling of peace and joy running rampant. What they fail to realize is that such tight control is just as bad, if not worse, than giving in and giving up control. Unbending control strangles every aspect of life until all that is left is a joyless darkness that paints everything black. Losing control is an overriding fear and even the simple joy of falling in love and giving in to losing oneself in communion with another is terrifying. The answer for these control freaks is either abstinence or rationing.

How do you ration love? How do you ration the feeling of excitement at being with the one person that makes you feel as though you could fly? How do you measure out time when time has no meaning when you're together? You don't.

Instead, you keep putting off seeing or being with the person who makes you feel so good that you're willing to give up everything to be with them until the very thought of seeing them again fills you with fear. A couple of weeks becomes a month and the month stretches to three, four, five months. You're paralyzed by fear and you dare not let them know because you're afraid that the won't understand. You make excuses. You find other ways of keeping in touch without them knowing. And if they find out you've been watching from the shadows, you ration that as well.

How much time, how many kisses and caresses, how much physical contact does it take before feeling good is too good? How many minutes before the sense of falling into bliss is too strong to pull back? It's not narcotics or drugs or alcohol, it's love. There are worse things than being addicted to love, especially when it's not the idea of love but a person.

Living like that is emotional constipation and there's no emotional Ex-Lax to move things along. In essence, rationing love and joy becomes emotional castration. Live long enough like that, and your capacity to feel and give love diminishes, slowly at first and then more quickly. Any return of feeling is like being struck by lightning, an emotional shock to the system that overloads mind and heart, until the only answer is a new addiction, like jewelry and junk food or physical and mental exertion, anything to keep the mind occupied and the heart engaged only in mechanical mode pumping blood and keeping the body alive. It's no way to live because it's not living. It is merely existing.

Wouldn't it be better to burn out than fade away?

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