Alcoholic Jews (was: “Getting the Hang of This Thing”)

Y’know, when I started the idea of having a blog I didn’t think it was going to be complicated. Everyone said to just write it and that’s it. Hah! What was I thinking? This is a lot more work than I thought. Not just thinking of something to write but then how to write it. Who knew there was more than “just write it?” Cheezus!

So there’s nothing really new to report here. Well, nothing more than usual. OK, there’s plenty. I’m the first to not let someone get away with “same ol’ same ol'” because I don’t know what that means to him (it always seems to be a him.) 

Today is November 30. I’m sure it may not mean a lot to you but the date is fraught with meaning for me. It’s the birthday of a couple of people who were important to me, both now dead. One died in a fire in his apartment, the other from Hep C. The names aren’t important (well, they are to me but that’s as far as it goes,) what’s important is the impact they had on my life. Both taught me to respect substance users & view them as something other than “drunks.” One died in a fire that destroyed his apartment without ever having “gotten sober.” For years he was my boss on the first real job I ever had &, until he was too far gone (late in the afternoon) too work he was better at his job while drunk than many others were sober at theirs. A kind-hearted man who had trouble letting it show. He died alone and I can’t even begin to imagine the agony of being in that apartment on fire. He left the burning apartment and went back in to rescue his dog, who was already out of the apartment. Suicide? Perhaps. He often said he would die and make it look like an accident so his ex-wife would be able to collect the insurance. 

The other was a sponsor in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous to a few people, some of them good friends of mine. His “bottom” had him living as a shut-in at the YMCA, not caring if he lived or died. When people said that AA was “brainwashing” he would reply that his brain didn’t just need washing, it was so gone it needed steaming & scraping. He was a man who grew up in the “South Bronx,” a gang member back in the 50s, a high school dropout who couldn’t read before he got to AA. He taught himself how to read in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. He also learned humility and the difference humility and humiliation, as well as the difference between saying “I’m humble” and being humble. The funeral parlor was a full-house of his friends when he was lying in state, a far cry from what he imagined would be his fate back in his single room at the Y.

What does this have to do with the title? Growing up I often heard that there’s “no such thing as a Jewish alcoholic.” I heard it from my mother, from other relatives and from people in the neighborhood, not all of them Jews. No such thing as a Jewish alcoholic. Hah! If that’s true then neither of these men were Jews. But they both were. What does a myth matter when it has to stand up to reality? Plenty. Myths have power. Myths form our beliefs. Myths can prevent people from seeking help because “I can’t be a that because I’m a this.” It just ain’t true and ‘taint funny neither. Both of these men knew what they were, both Jews and both drunks. Both were able to stop drinking. One was able to stop drinking and live a life beyond his dreams (I don’t know if they were his wildest dreams – some people dream pretty wild) and certainly beyond the expectations he gave himself. The other was only able to stop drinking by stopping his life. 

I miss them both. Happy birthday to both of them. Their memories serve as blessings (and curses,) lessons and inspiration to everyone who took the time to know them. Rest easy, you guys. You earned it.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.