07 August 2009

Advice for 30 year olds

If I had one bit of advice for 30-year-old men, it would be this: step away from the bottle.

D-friend Bek is 40 years old. She's expecting. Gutsy move, yes. Foolish? Hardly. But there is one part of her situation that does make her condition more difficult. She has a husband who drinks. And when I say "drinks", I don't mean 6 beers on the weekend. I mean he takes time off work to work on their house and drinks 18 beers in a single day. She suspects he's an alcoholic. She doesn't know because he doesn't drink every day. They have had week-long spats that drug in in-laws and friends and destroyed relationships with many concerned. They have separated for two-weeks at a time over the drinking. She calls me up regularly to vent about his drinking. I don't have the heart to tell her that, yes, her man is a drunk, and if his drinking bugs her that much, her marriage may be doomed.

Now don't think I'm just a negative person. Because it isn't about dooming her relationship. I am speaking from what I have seen and experienced in my years growing up, growing older, and growing wiser. Or at least having the awareness of people and things around me to have seen patterns emerge.

I believe there is a point in your early 30s when you make a decision. Perhaps I should say you have an opportunity to make a decision. You can decide to be a grown up or you can decide to string along your youth beyond its natural lifespan. People who decide to grow up make changes in their lives. They slow down on the drinking. They start to save money for the future. They invest time and energy in their careers. If they haven't started families, they may begin now. They are concerned parents. They are making positive, meaningful, adult decisions in their day-to-day lives and considering the future. They rid themselves of the stupidity of youth, they analyze their experiences and relationships, they shed the party boy/girl image, and they quit doing things counter-productive to their goals.

Or they don't.

Men, in particular, seem to have trouble turning this corner. They get caught up in a "I work hard. I deserve to relax and let loose once in a while." All the time, never realizing that once in a while comes far more often then even they are willing to admit. Never taking into consideration that all that drinking, recreational drug use, hanging out in bars is playing with fire. I have seen this attitude destroy more marriages than I care to count. In fact, there was a time in my life when I could count on one hand the men I knew who weren't alcoholics or drug addicts or daily, dedicated users of marijuana. I will be brutally honest when I say that my marriage ended long before my divorce and long before the really difficult part of making the decision to leave. My marriage ended the day I realized that my husband would never, ever, ever stop smoking pot every single day of his life. Pot was his hobby. I couldn't go anywhere with him. I couldn't take him, for instance, to a work function, because he would show up reeking of pot. He had become an embarrassment to me. I nagged. I prodded. I begged. I withheld sex. Not me, not the promise of intimate relations, not his children, not his career, nor any relationship in his life could cause him to even slow down. He had made his choice. Pot was the most important thing in his life.

Now, if I had told him this he would have called me crazy. Of course his children were important. Of course I was important. But as he was fond of saying, "actions speak louder than words". He smoked pot in the car on the way to his daughter's wedding. In his tuxedo. A wedding in which he had to walk her down the aisle in front of 500 of her closest friends and new family. Helloooooo.

He smoked pot on the way to work. On lunch breaks. On the way home. While driving the car I paid for. He smoked pot in front of the tv every night. I don't even want to think about how much money that man spent on pot. If he had spent that much on golf clubs and green fees, or fixing up a dream car, or traveling, or Bear's tickets I might not have minded so much. But to watch your husband sit in the dark in his den with nothing but a doobie and a bong day after day, week after week, year after year was more than I could take. One day it dawned on me I had married a dedicated loser. He wasn't going to change. And this was my life. Forever.

That was the day my marriage ended. Some little spark that had nearly been beat out flamed for just a minute. Some little voice whispered inside my head, "Oh, hell no." And then that flame grew stronger and that voice grew louder. I was done.

So I watch Bek struggling with that same set of circumstances. Just change the word "pot" in the paragraph above with "beer" and you've got her life. And yes, he does drink and drive. We all know how tragically that has ended in my own life. My oldest brother is serving 15 years for involuntary manslaughter. That's legalese for having killed someone while driving drunk. I watch Bek worry as her belly grows and her marriage disintegrates. I am afraid for her. She's 40. She's old enough and wise enough to know where this is going and she is struggling, not with concern for her husband, but concern for herself and her baby. She has my greatest sympathy. Because none of her nagging and even the prospect of fatherhood has given her husband the push he needs to start behaving like a grown up. He is fighting it tooth and nail. I think he is fighting it because he's addicted to alcohol. He hasn't gotten the picture yet. He's trying to fool himself with the "I don't drink everyday" mantra. " I can't be an alcoholic if I don't drink everyday."

Gentlemen, I don't know how to break it to you. But if you have had more than one argument in a year about your drinking, smoking, recreational drug use, it is interfering with the relationships in your life. If you defend yourself by any means possible, you are playing fast and loose with those relationships. If your significant other, parent, friends, and co-workers have told you its time to slow down or quit, do yourself a favor: LISTEN. You may want to be a lot of things in your life, but "a drunk" isn't one of them. Trust me. I've seen it all.

I think it's why I don't drink at home anymore. Beer will linger in my fridge for months. I never drink hard liquor unless I have friends over. Alcohol is just not a meaningful part of my life. I hope this makes me a grown up.


  1. A funny thing happened to me yesterday, I turned 30. When I saw your blog title, I was hoping for some useful insight into growing older or on life in general. What I got instead seems to be a sexist rant on deadbeat men. There's nothing magical about turning 30 that forces a person to take responsibility for themselves and their loved ones. There's nothing inherent about being a man that makes them (us) more susceptible to substance abuse or shirking responsibility; I've known women who have chosen that path. I understand how your past experience with men that had/have problems with substance abuse and addiction has deeply affected you, and I feel for your pain. Rather than direct your advice at 30 something men who either don't need the advice or who won't heed it, perhaps you could direct your advice to the victims of substance abuse and addiction as a survivor yourself.

    I might also add commentary on "string[ing] along your youth beyond its natural lifespan". Youth does not equal irresponsibility. Too many adults are all to serious about themselves.

  2. First of all, happy belated birthday!!! I hope you had an excellent time with Krystal and Doodle.

    Now, down to brass tacks.

    I accept the point you are making, that age may not be relevant here and possibly neither is gender, however, I did say that I was speaking from my experience and my experience is that the men I have known (and not just people with whom I was involved, but friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers)have struggled much more often with addiction than have the women. It's a general trend I have witnessed in my lifetime.

    Of the men I hung around with in high school and college, most---in fact, far more than 50% were abusers of alcohol, marijuana, or harder drugs. The women who loved these men were no saints themselves. But even in our party days, the women never approached the men's level of abuse. I think that is a trend that continues to this day. (Do I have the data to back it up? No. But my gut and what I see in the bars in this college town today tells me it is still the case.)

    Collectively, the women assumed that once we settled down, we (both men and women) would give up the booze and drugs and party lifestyle. And to a one, the women did just that. The men did not. Of all those men, only one of them (to the best of my knowledge) has stopped drinking and using drugs completely. TOne has relapsed time and time again. Two are dead of drug-related medical issues. One was murdered by his friend while they were both dropping acid (a bad trip, I assume). One squandered his inheritence on drugs. One lost his job over his drinking. My ex lost his job with emergency services when he failed a drug test. When most of the men I grew up with in my 20s have some sort of dependency issue and none of the women do, I don't call that sexist...I call that an epidemic. A preventable epidemic.

    And if I can warn one person away from the behavior leading to addition, I will never consider my eforts wasted.

    These weren't bad kids. These were upper middle class kids from good families, who got college educations, who had great potential. These were not the hard-core drug abuse crowd. Every one of these men and women started as recreational drug and alcohol users.

    Now, on another point you are right. I may have some advice to offer victims of substance abuse, but no one wants to hear it. (People seldom want to hear my advice, which is why I write it here.) I would tell them to run. To cut their losses, pick themselves up, gather up the children, and get the hell out. Because nothing will ever come between an addict and their fix.

    However, I do think that warning men approaching 30, who may not be physically addicted, but possessing the mind set of "I deserve a good time" has merit (even if it falls on deaf ears). This post wasn't written for men who don't need the advice (arent' substance abusers). It was written for men who do--men who may only abuse alcohol or drugs but aren't yet addicted. I don't think that even a subjective view of the way drugs and alcohol can destroy your relationships is ever truly wasted.

    Now, all that said, it was interesting that you should comment as you did, because as I was writing this post, I was thinking of you and your neighbor Joe and how completely converse the two of you are to what I knew of men your age back then. Weird, huh?

    Of course, I was not bemoaning a child-like playfulness in my "youth" comment, but rather I think that there is a term-limit on how long you can blame your bad behavior on youth or your parents for that matter. At some point, somewhere around 30, you either start to take responsibility seriously or you just start to look like an idiot.