A song off of Lawsuit's eponymous early album. Originally the band members were all in high school or college, largely underage, and had bumper stickers that described them as "Those Milk Drinkin' Wizards." Even so, this song makes me wonder whether lead singer/songwriter Paul Sykes had experience with alcoholism or drug abuse in relationships. Several other songs from this era make reference to it, most obviously another song from the same album entitled "Drunklove."

I was familiar with this song as a teenage fan, but it didn't really strike home until recently. I had recovered it from boxes of old tapes and CDs shortly before my roommate, an alcoholic who had been in recovery for a year, told me rather casually that he had made a deal with God that if he didn't meet a girl at some upcoming party, he could smoke out.

His little announcement really freaked me out. I had been in various 12 step programs myself for about six months, and had been really working on feeling safe in my life and in my home, on all the things I do to keep myself feeling unsafe. One of the things I had realized in the process was that before he had started working a program in AA, he was very angry about a lot of things and that anger would leak out in scary ways that were very triggering to me. At this point, he had gotten to a place where if he got mad at me about something, he was able to figure out pretty quickly what part of it was me and what was him, and talk to me about it respectfully. He could be nice, even when he was mad, and if he fucked up, he could admit it.

So, hearing that he might start using again was pretty scary. I know it's Alcoholics Anonymous, but I hear a lot from people in that program that it's really "cheating" to do drugs instead of drinking, and I've heard even more that people kept doing drugs after they stopped drinking, and found that the program didn't really work, and finally had to start over clean and sober. And here he was, announcing to me that it all might go back to the way it was, this boy that I had known and kept on something of a pedestal forever, who I considered to be like a second brother to me. Telling me this like it was perfectly normal, reasonable, like it should have no effect on my life.

I was mad.

We were part of Icarus' drill team
Being mocked for overuse of Brylcreem
I'd flip through plans
While you would read the scales

Soon enough as business would be business
With fits and starts, and calculated finishes
Our windswept matrimony creaked and failed
We ignored the harbinger that we kept
Hidden down below the Victoria's Secret

We'd taken vows along the way
We'd sworn the oaths and squealed in pai-ee-ai-ai-ain

Fortunately, having gone to a lot of meetings myself, I'd learned to tell him why this was a problem, and keep telling him until he understood what his actions meant to me. He apologized, and swore that he hadn't really meant it, and that he would keep things like that to program calls in the future.

And every bliss we overjoyously played in the dark
Of pufferfish and man-du-war afraid of the sharks,
With members bleeding with every single prick of the spine,
We saw them raged and swollen with that savory brine

Has the news appeared in all the tabloids today
You've been reduced to feeling like the consummate player
Who was first to make report and bearhug the floor
And leap aflame into their wide and lazy door

But in the meantime, I found this song and I played it, loudly. Repeatedly. I played it for myself, I played it when he was around, I even called our voicemail and left several verses of it as a message for him. I jumped to this one and turned up the volume, hoping that he would hear every word and that each one would shoot my message through his skull for me.

Don't talk to me
While I feel like being a poet
I've been wearing the strangest of face
On my shirtsleeve, wouldn't you know that
A stranger making up his or her mind
Regarding bonafide groups of opponents
Might say our relationship's great --

Come on now you should be sober
You really really really oughta be sober....

(harsh ska instrumental)

This has been true of a lot of my relationships, but it's taken me a long time to realize it. The problem is that whenever I question whether someone has a problem, I've focused just on their behavior with drugs or alcohol. It seemed like a pretty solid thing to look at. For example, I had a roommate in my last apartment who had used a lot of pot; occasionally a lot of alcohol although she didn't like how it felt when she was drunk; who started doing speed when she was living with her abusive partner and ended up pinning a stuffed frog's mouth shut because it was telling her to do things; who started doing speed again when she was living with me, and then moved on to heroin. This was clearly a problem. It was nice and concrete. Bad drugs! Bad roommate! No more using! Naughty naughty!

She detoxed off of heroin and, I think, hasn't done street drugs since. This is a great victory for her, and I'm proud of her. But it clouds the real issue. The real issue, at least for me -- which it took me several years longer to notice -- is that she still runs away from her problems, from her feelings, from her memories, and shuts herself off from everyone close to her through denial and video games and simple abrasive refusal to acknowledge that she has any problems.

That's all her own business, mostly. What affects me in all that is that it's hard to connect to the friend I had in her, that she does things like using vodka-and-Buspar in front of me when I'm visiting, that she then doesn't remember it or (sometimes, especially with alcohol) just denies it, and that she gets angry and strikes out at me if I try to talk to her about any of this. What affects me even more is that she has created a layer of armor around her behavior in the form of her codependent relationship with my ex (who is still my friend): each of them thinks their job is to take care of the other person's problems, so if I raise the problem that the level of liquid in the vodka bottle is going down, or mention that she still does prescription drug, they both get angry at me.

It's supposed to be a secret, because facing it would make them both feel like bad people, and because one of the rules in their relationship is that if my ex-roommate ever does street drugs again, her partner will kick her out. If they classified any of the rest of it as a problem, their worlds might collapse around them. So they bind together in denial... so whenever I visit, I have to be around the also-triggering spectacle of people trying to control each other's behavior and anticipate each other's emotions, and scapegoating me for anything they can't control.

This is all part of what's known as being a "dry drunk."

Well who can blame
Commanding all your action
You'd probably blame
Your California accent
When no one safely guards you in your room

Keep in mind, when someone gets an earful
Of how benign and tragically deceitful
You can appear at morning, night, and noon
It always hurts to forge your name and number
On the graven images you plunder
That's when the roots will overtake
Organic matter you forsake, hey hey hey

Essentially, "dry drunk" describes someone who has stopped drinking, or using some other substance to which they're addicted, but who is still in the throes of their addiction. They may act just as irresponsible, violent, judgmental, or self-destructive when "sober" as they did when they were using. They've removed what they thought was the cause, but the symptoms remain. The introduction to a book I bought recently, "Sexual Anorexia" by Patrick Carnes, defines it as the rigid judgmentalism and self-hatred that remain whether or not the drug is present. Personally, I see those as the same thing; at least I know that whenever I become rigidly judgmental of others, it's about things that I hate myself for, and my self-hatred grows with each hateful thought about them.

After all, the problem isn't that someone is drinking, or using drugs, or doing something else to excess. They may be liquefying their liver, sure, but usually that's not what gets their friends and family concerned: rather, it's their depression or self-hatred or the fact that they can't seem to get to work on time or that they put their and others' lives in danger with the way that they use or their behavior when they're using. Or a great many other things. My roommate is young, in his early twenties, and didn't seem to be drinking that much; everyone was surprised when he told them he was an alcoholic. But he noticed, slowly, that when he started drinking a six-pack of beer he couldn't stop unless he drank them all, and then that his life was an insecure place of fear and anger and hostility, and a lot of other things that weren't visible to the rest of us. Just not drinking anymore didn't help; he needed support and some kind of program that would help him learn how to take care of himself and learn how to have a healthy life and healthy relationships and responsibility.

Belligerent and corpulent as Robert Goulet
I could tilt my freedom like a secret beret
And yet I'm not required to descend to the low-
Down depths to which somebody like you would go

Please ignore the corporals in your army, ingest
A small dose of standard-issue prudency, yes
You used to punch line, twiddling your sponsative wings
Like a stage mother encapsulating everything

He used to pressure me to go to an Alanon meeting, out of guilt I think. I was aiming for, and then working in, CoDA, and didn't see any point in going to a program that seemed to me to be working on other people's issues. Why should I go talk about his alcoholism when I could be dealing with my own problems in setting boundaries or taking responsibility in my life and not taking responsibility for others', or a thousand other such things?

I didn't see the extent to which other people's "dry drunk" behavior had affected my life. Besides the little that he had done to bother me in his alcoholism, and my largely-unrecognized problems with my ex-roommate, there was my child's birth mother, who frequently acts totally strung out and has wild fits of paranoia, anger, and incredibly disturbing (lack of) boundaries with all the rest of us and the kid; there's my ex-boyfriend, who was verbally and physically abusive for many months and essentially lived off of my salary while lying about and getting fired from his few jobs; and there's my most recent ex, the partner of my ex-roommate, who has as much scary and manipulative behavior as I ever have and about whom I have terrific denial. It's a total party in here, and it's really past time for me to own my own part in this and deny them the ability to act theirs out anymore.

Don't talk to me, I'm an absolute fucking eccentric
You might aspire to bargain with me
But I'd advise you not to attempt it
This crime is a part of the bull
I've exiled you over and over
Still you insist that everything's wonderful
Come on now you should be sober
You really really oughta be sober
You really really really oughta be sober
You really really really really oughta be so-oo-ber!

(wild pissy instrumental)

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