When Kind, Polite & Tolerant People Become Intolerable

Alcohol is an addictive drug that creates a need for itself.

Tonight I watched my normally polite, kind, mild-mannered step father devolve into a stumbly, loud, very politically incorrect oddity. A neighbor from the cabin two doors down came over for a visit around 10:00, and stayed for two hours as he, my step dad and my mom drank an entire 12-pack of beer and took two “Salted Nut Roll” shots in a row.

All of this is really odd for me to write, and I feel conflicted, because the grown adults I witnessed drinking themselves into a stupor tonight – my mom, her husband – are two people that I have always felt were able to keep themselves under control, and whose drinking never seemed to teeter over the edge toward “problem”.

I guess, in light of being the only sober one in the room, I’ve learned once again that reality doesn’t always match up with what I believe is true, at least not all of the time.

And so I repeat to myself, with feelings of intensity, sadness and realization: alcohol is an addictive drug that creates a need for itself.

Once you’ve had one drink, it’s almost guaranteed you’re going to want another.

I want to be honest and not try to cover up or apologize for my parent’s drinking behaviors. I already know that my step-mother is a “functional” alcoholic, who drinks nearly a bottle a night yet functions well during the daytime. I didn’t know I could’ve ever possibly said the same about my step dad, who drinks less frequently during the week but apparently uses weekends at the cabin as his release point.

I’m honestly a little shocked not only because I see my step dad (and my mom, to an extent) participating in something so destructive with so little thought, but also because I can so easily see myself when I was doing the same, turning myself into a drunken mess and fighting to have a voice in the conversation.

And it’s…scary.

Today, starting at around 3:30, my mom and step dad started drinking. Because it’s Friday. Because it’s WE Fest. Because we’re at the cabin. Who knows. Just because.

We got on the pontoon around 5:30 and slowly drifted over to the local bar, for dinner and a meat raffle. They each brought a drink with them for the ride – my step dad had a light beer, and my mom had wine. At the bar, my step dad had TWO 22oz. light beers, and then an additional pint or two, one of which he got in a “to go” cup for the boat. My mom also had three to four light beers, 16oz. each. I sat across from them and chatted happily – I even won a package of pork chops during the raffle – and I sipped at my diet coke quietly.

At one point, they commented on how it was weird that I was at a bar in the middle of Wisconsin, but I was drinking soda and water instead of beer. I laughed and shrugged.

After we got back home, we hung out for a while until the neighbor came over around 10. The three of them proceeded to talk, drink, and get progressively more loud and obnoxious as the night went on. I believe my step dad had at least 4 or 5 more light beers, my mom had 2 or 3, and the neighbor – well, I really don’t know.

They talked about mildly racist things, sexist things, and plain old offensive or obnoxious things, and each repeated themselves several times. I could hardly believe that I was seeing the dumbing-down effect of alcohol in action so intimately, without taking part. I was simply working on my coursework at the kitchen island, listening intermittently, and found myself so sad as these people I view as respectable, kind, tolerant adults become so…intolerable.

Around 12:30, the neighbor decided to leave – but only after my step dad insisted that he take shots. SHOTS. After God knows how many beers. Forget the fact that they’re “light” beers, over the course of 9 or 10 hours he’d already had an entire weekend’s worth, plus more. But shots were in order, and from across the counter I could just smell that sickly sweet mixture of rumchata and buttershots, laced with the sting of alcohol. I took one whiff and was immediately put off.

But, they took those shots. And then, at my step-dad’s insistence, they took another. And as the neighbor was actively trying to walk toward the door, step dad tried to insist on yet another. He declined. Thank god, he declined, and walked away drunk and laughing, barely able to make it down the stairs.My step dad stumbled around the kitchen as my mom walked off to bed.

I know that the best response I can have toward these situations is one of patience, understanding and love. Because I’ve been that person – in some way, that could have easily been me, had I let my guard down. The difference is, they might not understand or care about the effects alcohol is having on them. They may never wish to know or explore these things – and as much as it hurts to see that, because I love them, I can’t make them see what I’m seeing. They have to want to see it for themselves.

My biggest fear is that they never will.

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