One of my curses if you will is that I seem “so normal”. Facial piercings and tattoos aside. This was especially truer back in my teens and twenties when I really had to appear “normal” in order to gain and keep employment.
I have never once in my life stuck a needle in my arm nor have I ever snorted anything up my nose. I don’t even like weed.
I can honestly remember the handful of times that I did drink. And not surprising these events often went way out of control. I honestly believe that alcoholism is genetic. My grandmother was an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic. And I more than like was destined to be an alcoholic.
Outside of the wine that I had been given in the rectory of the chapel on Canadian Forces Base Namao, and outside of the occasional sips of Baby Duck or my father’s rum & coke mixes, the first time I had alcohol as a kid was in the summer of 1984 when I was staying with my grandmother over the summer. Grandma and her friend Hazel were drinking. Grandma asked me to get her and Hazel another beer each out of the fridge. I took two beers out and popped the caps off. I sucked the foam off the top like I would always do when getting grandma a beer. This time though she told me to get her another beer out of the fridge, and this time I wasn’t to drink any of it. So I got her the beer, I popped the cap off, and I let the foam run down the side of the bottle. I put the bottle on the table in front of grandma. Grandma slid the other bottle over towards an empty chair and told me to sit down and drink my beer. This was cool I thought. I’m drinking beer with my grandmother. What twelve year old boy doesn’t want to hang out with his sixty-one-year-old grandmother and get drunk with her. I finished two bottles and then it was time for me to go pass out in the bedroom.
I didn’t drink again until I was about 15.
I know “drink again” isn’t something you want to hear somebody brag about when discussing their childhood, but in my household, the fact that I wasn’t a raging alcoholic by the time I was 18 was a miracle.
Bob Becker, a man that I was working for on the weekends at the time, had given me a small bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label to give to my father as a present. When I got home my father took one look at the bottle and said that he wouldn’t drink that horrid piss. Richard was a Lamb’s Navy and a Pilsner kind of guy. Anyways, Richard told me to put the bottle on a shelf in my bedroom and that he didn’t want to see me drink it until I was 19.
A friend from cadets happened to be over at my house for lunch one school day. We went downstairs to my bedroom. He spied the bottle. He saw my father’s shot glasses over by my father’s computer desk. Peter grabbed a pair of shot glasses and challenged me to drink more shots than he did before we returned to school. After about four shots each I grabbed the bottle from Peter’s hand and chugged it until it was empty. I don’t remember how long I stayed upright for. But I woke up the next day on the floor of my bedroom laying in a copious puddle of vomit.
My bedroom in the basement didn’t have a door. Richard said that military housing rules didn’t allow bedrooms in the basement and the military housing authority agreed that as long as there was no door on the bedroom that it wouldn’t be considered a bedroom. But I don’t think this was the housing rules were the true reason. My bedroom door was off for most of the time on CFB Griesbach, and the door was off for most of the time that I lived in the upstairs bedroom on CFB Downsview before giving my bedroom over to Sue’s son in early 1986.
Richard’s computer workstation where he played with his computers, sometimes until 02:30, had a view right into my bedroom. So there was absolutely no way that Richard didn’t see me laying on the floor with all that vomit and the bottle of Johnny Walker laying beside me.
All I got from Richard was a warning that he was going to start locking up his rum in his desk and that if his rum ever went missing that he was going to make sure that I knew there was a price to be paid.
The next time I had a drink of alcohol was in the spring of 1990 when I was on the road with Canshare Cabling. Michael and I had stopped at a hotel in Gagetown, New Brunswick. This was the first time that I had ever joined Michael for dinner. We had both stopped at the bank earlier in the day and I had pulled out about $300.00 for the week. Mike invited me to the bar at the hotel after. He encouraged me to keep up with him. I was 18 at the time but no one asked me for I.D. as I honestly looked like I was in my early 30s with my moustache and the grey hair that was peppered though my hair. I remember making it back to the hotel room that we were sharing. As soon as I laid down on the bed to room started spinning. No matter how tightly I gripped the mattress the room would just start spinning. And once it started spinning it wouldn’t stop. I spent the night going between the bed and the bathroom throwing up. I vowed to never drink again after that.
The next time I would ever go drinking was in August of 2005. I had just gotten my new job at St. Paul’s. And to reward me for the previous 5 years of employment, the Board of Directors with Equitable agreed to allow me to celebrate at the Lion’s Pub with some coworkers from Equitable and some other workers that I had previously worked with at a previous employer. We ran up a tab of about $3k for I think 8 people, most of it was for steaks and other foods. I’m also sure that other engineers from other buildings started showing up too. I didn’t get pissed drunk this time, but still I knew that something was wrong as the depression started to get out of control. I spent most of the evening crying to Harry about what had happened on CFB Namao. This was the first time that I had ever, and I mean ever, talked to anyone about this. This was supposed to be a happy day for me and it turned into a disaster.
I wouldn’t drink again until I took a short leave in 2010 from work to go to a job in Surrey. At my going away party a bunch of the boys from the plant took me out for drinks. I only had a glass or two. No problem this time.
On July 18th, 2011 I had gone downtown to pick up a MIDI cable for my new Yamaha keyboard that I had at the time. I figured that with the CFNIS finally going to hold P.S. responsible for what he had done all those years ago, I was going to start trying to learn some of the things my father had denied to me as punishment for my involvement with P.S.. I missed the Tom Lee store by about 20 minutes. On my way home I stopped at a bar. This was a bar that I had gone to a couple of times recently with the chief engineer and the steam fitter from work. They’d have beer and I’d drink Ice Tea. So, I was gonna grab an ice tea and maybe an order of fish and chips before heading home. As I was sitting there I started to realize that I hadn’t heard any case updates from the CFNIS lately and I was curious. So I called the case manager. We had a couple of back and forth calls. Basically his response to me was that he had been transferred and wasn’t really involved with my case anyways anymore. But he also said that the CFNIS couldn’t find anything about P.S. that would indicate that P.S. had ever been suspected of abusing children. (Remember, at this point in time the Canadian Forces had the court martial transcripts which indicated that P.S. was the star witness against Captain McRae and that Captain McRae’s defence counsel was trying to discredit P.S. because the military police knew in 1980 that P.S. had been sexually assaulting younger children on the base).
I ordered a beer to calm my nerves. But here’s the thing. When you suffer from major depression and severe anxiety, and alcoholism runs in your family, alcohol doesn’t calm you down. It just drives you further down into maddening depression.
I had a few more drinks. And because I didn’t really drink at the time, 3 or 4 beers would hit me a lot harder than let’s say someone who had been drinking a beer a day for 10 years. I think I had about 6 beers, each one driving me down deeper into despair.
I called the CFNIS case manager back and asked him what the point of living was if assholes like P.S. don’t get held responsible for what they’ve done in life. Again he started off with the “Mr. Bees, we can’t find any evidence against P.S.”. So I said fine, fuck it, I was going to go home and kill myself. How he asked. I said either jump out the window or slice my femoral arteries. After I got off the phone with him I realized that I was too drunk, and that I was now very depressed and angry. I also realized that I was probably going to hurt myself if I went home. I decided to go get checked out at a safe place. Work. I went in and started talking to the staff in the Emergency Dept at St. Paul’s. As I was in there, the CFNIS case manager called me back and asked me where I was. I told him I was at St. Paul’s and that I was going to get myself checked out. Fine, sure, okay. So I got admitted to the psych unit for observation.
I had a talk with a psychiatrist the next morning. I explained to him what had transpired between me and the CFNIS case manager. I explained to him what had happened on CFB Namao almost 30 years previous. He said that it was understandable that I had the reaction that I did. He asked me if I had ever wanted to harm myself previously, I told him that I had, but that I was never able to act upon it. He asked me if I still wanted to harm myself. I looked at him and said no.
So he released me that morning. Basically told me that with what had transpired 30 years previously and the previous evening that my reaction was to be expected. His discharge summary said “Adjustment Disorder with depressed mood”. It also listed “Alcohol Intoxication” as the pre-admission diagnoses. In his summary the psychiatrist mentioned that the police showed up after I had self-admitted. This is important as the CFNIS case manager in his account of the evening indicated that he literally saved my life by putting out an alert to the VPD and that the VPD had picked me up and brought me in to the hospital.
When I was released from the Comox unit I was setting in the waiting area. One of the porters came over and sat down beside me. He said ” So I see you spent the night”. I replied “Yep”. He said ” Don’t worry, you’d be surprised at how many staff members have actually spent a day or two in the psychiatric units”.
I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since then. That’s ten years and two months. Unlike my grandmother, I didn’t require a stint in A-A to quit. I think the fact that I drank so infrequently had a lot to do with this. Wasn’t hooked on the stuff so quitting something that I wasn’t addicted to was very easy.
Which brings me to the million dollar question.
WHY AM I NOT AN ADDICT?
A counsellor that I was seeing in 2011 agreed with me that it was very surprising that I wasn’t an addict pushing a shopping cart up and down the alleys collecting cans to feed my drug habits considering my history of neglect, abuse, sexual abuse, and the fact that alcoholism is so prominent in my family.
As mentioned at the start of this entry I’ve never done heroin, I’ve never done coke, crack, meth, crystal meth, LSD, Special K, or any of the other multitude of drugs. I don’t smoke weed, I don’t eat mushrooms. I can’t stand prescription pain killers. And I can remember each and every time that I’ve had alcohol.
My childhood, all of the physical, mental, and sexual abuse, my untreated mental illnesses, these all should have put me on the streets.
When I first arrived in Vancouver back in 1992 I spent time living at some of the rooming houses in the DTES. I spent time staying at the Catholic Charities Hostel for Men on Cambie Street. I was in the prime habitat for starting a drug infused spiral into oblivion.
But I didn’t.
Even when my anxiety and my depression would keep me from sleeping and I’d wake up with horrific night terrors, I never once felt the need to self medicate.
And let’s face it. Not being an addict is a double edge sword.
On one hand I’ve had a clean life.
But on the other hand medical and psychiatric professionals are very doubtful of my stories when I tell them about my past because research shows that a high percentage of drug addicts were sexually abused as children and came from dysfunctional homes as children and had substance abuse problems in their genetic lineage.
And yet here I am, the only needle marks I have are from my tattoos or piercings.
So, did I really suffer that abuse?
And that’s when the self doubt sets in.
Maybe I wasn’t sexually abused for 1-1/2 years by P.S.
Maybe I was given wine in the rectory at the chapel because Captain McRae was a really nice guy and he just wanted me to enjoy a cup of wine.
Maybe I misunderstood Captain Totzke when he told me that I was a homosexual.
Maybe Richard really wasn’t that abusive, maybe he was a fun loving parent that spent every waking moment doting on his children, and maybe social services in three different provinces were really just good for nothing do-gooders that liked to stick their noses into other people’s business.
And you can see how the self doubt can start to be just as bad as the major depression and the severe anxiety.
Is there something special in my brain that makes me resilient to drug addiction or even the desire to try drugs?
That I don’t know.
Was it my exposure to my father’s alcoholism and my grandmother’s alcoholism that made me generally steer away from alcohol and illicit drugs?
I don’t know.
Was it my father’s abusive behaviour and rage anger that scared me away from ever taking drugs?
I don’t know. I really don’t.
But what I do know is that if anyone wants to study my brain to see what’s up, it’s available. At the moment it’s attached to a set of vocal cords and a pair of lungs and it can answer any questions you have. You’re even welcome to do fMRIs on it.
And if I do proceed with M.A.i.D. it’s yours to pop out of my skull and slice up and pickle with formalin and study to your little heart’s content.
Maybe my brain will help understand why some people from traumatic backgrounds never go on to have drug dependencies and why others who have had less traumatic experiences turn to drugs without a second thought.