1 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
Proverbs 20 (NIV)
You know that glorious moment you have the morning after getting tore up, those wonderful few seconds between waking up and opening your eyes, where it’s just as if everything was normal. Before the memory of the previous night sets in? Then slowly, one by one the reminders come; “I have to pee like it was my dang job!”, “Who stuffed all this cotton into my throat?”, “There seems to be about a thousand small sharp knives stuck into my head!”, “Why am I sleeping on a hard concrete floor?”, “Where is this place?” … “Oh, Lord I drank too much again!”
If you’ve ever woken up unexpectedly in the jailhouse, you know that it’s not really difficult to figure out that you’re in the jailhouse. Everything’s concrete, except for the gleaming stainless steel toilet/water fountain combination thingy (perhaps the one place on earth that as a man you will not be yelled at for not putting the toilet seat up/down – there is no toilet seat) and a rather imposing door which has a small glass window toward the top which apparently going by the number of scratches and other dings on it, is far stronger than it looks, and then two small rectangular openings toward the bottom, one about waist level and one about ankle level, through which you may be passed food and handcuffed/shackled should it be deemed necessary for your captors to do so.
My point is that there was only a few seconds between realizing that I was in the jailhouse and beginning to address the far more challenging next question which is; “why am I in the jailhouse?” This proves to be far more difficult. Partially, because you don’t remember, partially because you don’t want to remember – kind of like that moment after hearing a glass break in the other room and not wanting to have to deal with going in there to see what happened.
I had been drinking, a lot and I know that my wife and I had been arguing. Arguing about the stupidest thing too – me snoring. I had gotten up to use the bathroom the night before and when I returned she had said something like “are you ready to turn over if I ask you too, so your snoring doesn’t keep me up?” I honestly thought she was asking me if I would be ready to when she asked, but apparently she had wanted me to do so straight away. She got angry, yelled at me about how even when she tries to ask nice It doesn’t work. I said something about how it wasn’t right for her to disrespect me by yelling and she stormed out of the room yelling “You’re wrong”. Somehow this turned into an argument which lasted the majority of the weekend. Stupid! But I just couldn’t let go of the “I deserve respect” thing and she just couldn’t let go of the “I deserve to be frustrated when I can’t sleep because you snore thing” and it just went on and on.
I followed her out of the room and into the baby’s room, I’m not sure if she was just checking him or was fixin to get in the bed with him, and told her to go on back to the bed, I was going to get up. I was about three thirty or four thirty (depending on if you went by the clocks that automatically skipped ahead an hour for daylight savings or the ones that still needed to be corrected) and the baby was awake, it would probably take a little while to get him to go back down.
He didn’t go back down, he stayed up till morning playing. At one point(about six or seven, again depending on which clock you looked at) he went into the kitchen and came back into the living room with a beer. It was something that we used to encourage him to do. We thought it was cute that he would go get us beers when we asked him to and he loved to get them and put them in the beer cozies for us. He just didn’t know not to do it at six am. In any event, I took it from him and thanked him and put it on the table next to my chair for later. Later would only be about an hour later, I justified it by saying that I didn’t want it to get warm and that I had been up for four or five hours anyway. I drank the one then switched back to my coffee.
When my wife got up that morning she was still sore at me. Ignoring me most of the morning she finally asked if I was going to church and I told her that I didn’t think that I was in the right frame of mind. This likely made her even angrier. She took the boys to church and I stayed at the house and started to drink. After church she still was angry and spent the afternoon outside, I continued drinking.
Her angry and me hurt and drunk is about the worst combination for us. Time and time again, I’ve seen this not turn out so good. Time and time again, I convince myself that I can control it this time. I’m really not that drunk. I’m in control. I’ve just had enough to take the edge off. But my sense is gone. My ability to reason, pray, show patience, grace, gone with it. At those times, I’m like a frayed exposed electric wire. My anger is just sitting there exposed, ready to hurt anything or anyone who might accidentally touch it.
It was at this point that my wife finally agreed to come in the house and talk about what was going on. No good could have happened at this point. I wish that I had enough sense to realize that. To just put it off. To just say “Baby, I’ve been drinking some. Why don’t we talk about it tomorrow”. Every time, I convince myself that I can handle it and that we need to talk about it right then. Deal with the problem straight away. I never learn.
That conversation must have lasted about fifteen minutes, before she went off in a huff. She said that she had only gone outside to have a cigarette and cool off, but I thought that she was leaving, fixin to tear off in her car. Our ten year old followed her outside and I was left alone in the house with the baby. I remember not wanting him to go out with them, partially because I didn’t want to be left alone, but mostly because I was afraid that if she tore off in the car in anger she may not notice him standing in the yard. I locked the doors, knowing that he could open the doors but cannot do so when the deadbolt is locked, but when they came back to the house ten or fifteen minutes later I opened them again. My wife was very angry thinking that I locked them out.
Now she’s screaming. She goes in the bedroom and the door slams. I thought it was her but it turns out it was the baby, but in my anger I slam the door back open to yell about her slamming the door. She screams and tells me to get out. I scream and tell her she’s not going to tell me where to go in my own house. I finally walk out the room and go back to my chair in the living room to drink some more. Into the front yard pulls the law.
Apparently, our ten year hold had taken my wife’s phone and called the law. It’s not the first time he’s done it and to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure that his heart is in the right place when he does. I know that sounds horrible and that a ten year old should not even be put in the situation to make a judgment call like that, but the kid really has dialed 911 when his mother and I are just arguing about bills or something, no alcohol, no one out of control, just disagreeing about if we should pay the mortgage or the car bill first. He really doesn’t like me and has made no pretense otherwise since his mother and I have been married. He tells my wife often that he hates me and truly thinks that if he can just convince her to leave me that she and his father can be back together. His father hasn’t tried to contact him in the last four years. He will not provide us with a telephone number, address, or email and have only a po box number from where the support checks come and even that we had to take him to court in order to start receiving. He’s lied to my wife about me. Telling her things that he knows will make her have to choose between us.
What kills me is that I do love the kid like he was my own son. I want to be a father to him. I tell him every day that I love him. I get up every day, to get him ready for school. I help him with his homework. Give him advice about girls. We talk about god. I bought him a gun and teach him how to shoot. I’ve tossed about ten thousand pop-ups to him in the front yard. Take him to baseball, to church, to basketball etc. I make sure that he has everything that he needs. That he’s not too far behind the other kids when it comes to the newest wizzy-bang toy or video game. I want to think of him as a son, but the boy has some problems and for the longest time now, I’m the only one who’s been saying so.
When we first moved to the farm on which we live now, we got a bunch of kittens for mousers. Two of them we decided to let stay in the house for house cats. One morning, about five am, he knocked on or door announcing “the cat is dead”. Now I had seen him torture these poor animals before. One time I happened to walk into his room to check on him only to find the two of them barely conscious stuffed inside a plastic bag. When we told him that he was no longer allowed to be alone with the animals, he began getting up in the middle of the night and after assuring that everyone else was asleep, would take the cats back into his room with him and lock the door. That’s exactly what had happed on this night and sure enough when my wife and I got out the bed to see what was happening, the cat lay dead on the floor in front of our door. The front door was wide open and it was the middle of winter. Now to this day, we don’t know what happened to that cat, because no one will challenge him. His story has gone from, he found the cat that way, to accidentally fell asleep on top of it, to he didn’t know he couldn’t be rough with it, but the fact remains that that little (then 8 year old boy) took that animal in his room, killed it, then went outside in the dead of winter to hide it’s body and only after realizing how cold it was, brought it’s body back into the house and left it on the floor in front of the door. The most frightening thing was that he never was upset about it. After, my wife and I got up that day; he simply asked what was for breakfast and wanted to know if he had gym that day.
My wife convinced me not to overreact to this incident saying that he was just a boy and had been through a lot and it was quickly forgotten, but several months later she left him alone in the bath tub with the baby for only a minute, when she returned I heard her scream. He was holding the baby’s head under the water. His consequence for this was time-out. Now, I’m certainly not here to nominate myself for any father of the year awards, but can someone please tell me if that’s the going rate for attempted murder in your house – a time out? My Grandfather would have put my head through the damn wall!
I’m 44 years old. I’m about 6’1” and I weigh 220 pounds. I work in construction and I’ve been in a scrap or two. I’ve only recently been told what a metrosexual is and I’m still not sure I understand it and certainly can’t understand why anyone would want to be one. In short; I’m not a Nancy, but this kid scares the hell out of me! He scares me because I know that rage. I’ve felt it myself. My parents split up when I was about the same age as him. I remember all that fear and confusion and feelings like my whole world was being turned upside down and I remember what a little shit I’d become because of it. By God’s good grace, I was given two very good men in my life; my grandfather, who showed me love and discipline and then later my stepfather, who showed me love and friendship. Had I not been given these two influences I shudder to think what that anger might have turned into.
I don’t know how to help him. I’ve always thought it had something to do with discipline, but I’m not so sure anymore that it’s enough. For the longest time, I was the only one who ever disciplined him. I was likely the first discipline he’d ever seen. His life until me was characterized entirely by his parent’s unhappy marriage. My wife, in the height of her addiction and depression and having affair after affair, his father withdrawing and ignoring them both as a response to this and likely dealing with his own depression, what became obvious to me shortly after meeting my stepson is that he was usually given his way. His tantrum were usually met by giving him what he wanted, just so that my wife and his father didn’t have to deal with them at the same time as dealing with their own pain. I think they both always knew that it was something that had gotten out of hand, something that was truly sending him down a bad path, but I think that each singular time either of them had the opportunity to do something about it, the temptation to just let one more little thing go proved to be too great. This chained together with their own feelings of guilt about what themselves were doing, just all added up to the first 8 years of his life going by without ever learning that his choices have consequences.
I saw it again during my wife’s affair last year. No discipline, just night after night she would return from being with her lover, hand over a sac of bakery goods and just go to bed. At that time, I was the only discipline the boy had ever seen. Now to her credit, my wife has come a long way since then in therapy and she truly has become a wonderfully responsible Mother. She disciplines when appropriate and she no longer ignores his behavior, but still I think the damage has been done and that even my wife becoming a source of discipline to him now, in his mind, is my fault, that I have in some way turned his mother against him. He just really wants to go back to the way things were before when he was allowed to do as he pleased. He doesn’t know about my wife’s affair, her addiction, that she had that nigger in the house while he slept in the next room (at least I pray that he doesn’t). He will not admit that his father has not wanted to see or even talk to him for four years now. He blames me for everything. He thinks that our family’s problems are entirely my fault. That I am the biggest problem in his life.
Well it was with these things on my mind as, once the deputies had convinced themselves that everything was alright, I reentered the house. I was furious. “That’s not my son anymore!” I can remember screaming.
“Good”, I can hear him yell from the other room.
I honestly didn’t care that he was ten. It’s really one of the last things I can remember clearly about last night. I told him to go to hell. I called him evil. That I was done with him being a manipulative little shit. I don’t remember it, but my wife told me, and I believe her, that I used the ‘F’ word. Who does that? Who says “fuck you” to a ten year old? What kind of a monster? What kind of a monster have I become? You know, I write about these things, and I quote this bible verse and that bible verse, like I know what I’m doing. It’s all horse shit! I’m still just as lost as I was when I started this. I talk about love and forgiveness and living like Jesus taught us to and still night after night, beer after beer, I betray that. I’m such a hypocrite. I can’t trust myself to drink. I rationalize and rationalize it, but it’s true. I say that it’s the only thing to take the edge off. I say that I deserve that distraction because of all what I’ve been through in the last year. I say that before the affair, I had the same six pack in the refrigerator from labor day until February when my wife told me she wanted to leave me. I say that 99 times out of 100, when I drink nothing happens, but 1 time out of 100, I turn into a monster – isn’t that enough? I just can’t control it. Shit y’all – it’s not even fun anymore! It’s like a damn job! Do I have beer at the house? Should I stop to get some? I’m going to get a 24 oz. or two to drink before I get to the house to make it look like I’ve drank less than I have. In the course of a year it’s gone from social, to just a few to calm my nerves, to just wait until after the kids go to bed, to I just have to make it till after supper, to I just have to make it to the house after work, to I just have to make it to the truck and I’ll be ok. I’m risking my life, my license, my job, my family and my faith – everyday on the way home from work. Each time I leave the town limits and crack open a beer in the console, telling myself that no one cares out in the county if I have a beer on the way home. I can’t wait five minutes to get on our property! How did that happen? How did I never see it? I really am no better than my wife was last year! I can tell myself, well at least I never had an affair, but really how long can I expect to not make that mistake when I pickle myself night after night?
I just can’t do it anymore. I can talk as much as I want about Paul telling Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach or Psalms talking about God giving us wine to gladden the heart of man, but I know it’s all horse shit! And I don’t mean horse shit, like it can mean fermented or not fermented, I’m not talking about the meanings of Greek or Hebrew words, I mean horse shit, like I know that what I’m doing is wrong and still I keep justifying why I should be allowed to continue to do so. I just don’t think that I can bible verse that away with cherry-picked scripture any longer. It’s time to admit that I have a drinking problem and that I cannot fix it by saying I’ll stop when I get the respect I deserve or I’ll stop when I’m over the pain, or I’ll stop when this happens or that happens. I’m the one causing the problem now and until I own that, we’re not going to make any more progress.
Well the sheriff’s department was there again and this time they probably needed to be called. I was out of control. I still am being told things that I was doing that I simply have no memory of. I hadn’t become violent, so the deputy (a nice guy) told me that he wanted to take me to the hotel. I know I keep promising to have a look at my prejudice and I will, I just need to focus on this right now, but this guy is a black guy who is not a nigger. He’s one of the deputies who came out to the house when my wife tried to kill herself, then latter when I tried to kill myself, he also drives the school bus in the morning. He’s a hard working decent man and I respect him. So when he told me that it would be best for me to go to the hotel, I trusted him and got in the car.
It was about a fifteen minute ride into town in the back of that police car. Far too long for a drunk to be left alone with his thoughts and not be expected to think of something stupid to do. I checked into the hotel, but had convinced myself on the way there that the same thing as when I was taken to the hospital was going to happen again. My wife was going to take the kids and head off to New Jersey or someplace and that I’d never see them again. As soon as the deputy left, I left the key to the hotel room on the bed and started walking home. My only though at that moment was to get to my baby boy. Well, it’s the last though I remember having last night and apparently part of my plan in getting home was to climb over the fence to the jailhouse yard and cut my way through the barbed wire on top with my small pocket knife in order to get to the other side off the jail in the direction of my house. In addition, I’m told that the plan involved my yelling my son’s name at the top of my lungs after falling off of the fence and dropping my knife in the grass and leaves surrounding the jailhouse yard. It was in this state that I was found during a perimeter check.
“Drunk and disorderly” is what it says on the paperwork, which I’m to bring back with me to my hearing next month. Plain “stupid” is what it should say. I was arrested for trying to break into the jailhouse instead of walking around it! There’s not too many ways to spin that without coming back to “stupid”! And it occurs to me that that is what my drinking is like. It’s like time and time again trying to break into the jailhouse. You know no good can come from it. You know you’re going to only find trouble there. You know they’re probably gonna be a little sore that you’re trying, but time and time again I trap myself like that. Same stupid over and over and every time I think I’m in control. I think I know what I’m doing. I think I’ll be able to traverse all those hidden pockets of resentment that now fill my house. I resent her for the affair. She resents me for resenting her for the affair. He resents me for taking his Mama away. I resent him for not giving me the respect I deserve. Everybody resents everybody and everybody thinks that they are entitled to it. Everybody thinks that they should be permitted that misery. Everywhere is hidden hate and hurt and negative feelings, but no one wants to say so. We all just keep trying to break into that jailhouse time and time again; me with drinking, her with shutting down, him with his behavior and each time were surprised when they actually put us in the jailhouse. Crying that we want our freedom, each of us, time and time again, try to crawl up that fence in order to continue our imprisonment.
While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
~2 Peter 2:9
Please God, get this out of my house and give me the strength to do whatever I need to do to stop my part in contributing to it.
Well it was morning now, not that I would have known from my cell had I not been able to see the clock on the wall behind the desk in the jailhouse through my cell door’s window. I was in a bright orange suit and woke up on a hard concrete bench. They will notice that I’m not at work I thought and began to resent my wife for letting this happen to me. I was probably going to lose my job when I just didn’t show up and not call. In a little while they brought me breakfast and passed it though the little slot window on the door and in another little while they came to get me for fingerprints and pictures. They asked me if I wanted to make a phone call.
As the officer was dialing my wife’s number, I fully expected there to be no answer. I was certain that she was gone, the boys with her and that I would never see any of them again. I deserved it. I really just told him to call her number to confirm that.
She answered. She hadn’t left with the boys in the middle of the night. She hadn’t told them that I had become abusive or out of control or anything like that. I told her that I was in the jailhouse and she simply said that it’s what she thought had happened, that she’d been trying to call the hotel and they told her that I had left. She’d been phoning my room all night. She had called my job and told them that I wouldn’t be in and wanted to know if I needed her to come pick me up. I told her that I had to go to court but they would let me call again when I was done. Before I hung up I said “I love you” and she said “I love you too”. I don’t think that I can ever describe the way that made me feel. How much that meant. That she didn’t just up and leave like she did when I tried to kill myself. That she didn’t use that as an excuse to just take off, be done. I had been a perfect ass and she was being perfectly gracious.
After court, they let me out and she came to pick me up at the Hardee’s in town. Again, I thought maybe she was just waiting; she was going to tell me that she was leaving when she came to pick me up, or not come to pick me up and let me get the idea then. She showed up. Didn’t really say anything. Just drove quietly back to the house. When we got to the house, I could see how out of control I’d actually become. There was a mirror by the front door that I had apparently broken by throwing the remote control, she told me that when she tried to vacuum up the glass, I had grabbed the vacuum and tried to throw it out the door into the front yard. That the cord had gotten tangled around her ankle and she showed me the bruise it caused. She told me about all the profanity I had used last night, the things I said to our boy, to her, all in front of the baby. She only said that she thought I had a problem. Even now I was saying things like, “ok, I’ll cut it back, but I still want to be able to have a few beers if we go over the neighbors or on the weekends and stuff”. Even now.
In fact there really wasn’t much consequence to all this at all, considering. The judge released me on my on recognizance. I’m going to have to go back to court next month and pay $262.50 fine and if I don’t there going to put me back in the jailhouse for 30 days. I lost a day at work. My wife wasn’t furious. My kids weren’t taken away. I just feel like aside from my conscience I got off really easy. She said that I must be tired and told me to go lie down for a while. I slept for a couple of hours and when I woke up both her and the baby were sleeping. I Googled A.A. “It’s probably not for me” I thought “but at least I’ll be showing that I’m making an effort” I found a meeting and told her that if she took the boys to baseball, that I would go. She agreed.
The meeting was about 30 miles from the house. Everything is about 30 miles from our house. Except for a few stores and offices in town, most everything is a ways away. I took a bath to get the stink of the jailhouse off of me and shaved and reluctantly drove to the meeting. I got there early and wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. I had used the Tom-Tom to get there and, as is not uncommon in our rural neck of the woods, it had directed me to a vacant lot, that looked like there may have been a building there some years before, but had long since see those days. If I didn’t have the actual street address, I likely would have left and gone back to the house. I found the address and it seemed to be a vacant building and was sort of walking around looking puzzled when a woman got out of her car and asked if I was there for the meeting. I said that I was and she told me that there wasn’t anyone there yet but that they should be along fairly soon.
I’ve been to A.A. before, never serious though. I had to go when I was in the hospital and I had to go in college. I always thought that it was an admirable program, but just not for me. It’s just really that lifelong commitment, the this is now going to be your whole life thing that I think I recoil from. I wasn’t entirely sure that tonight would be any different, but still there I was. You know, it really surprised me but they didn’t want me to talk a lot. I thought, hey I woke up in the jailhouse this morning, this is what these people live for – “keeping them green” I think they call it. Reminding them “there but for the grace of God” and such. I mentioned that I was in the jailhouse, asked a question or two and then they pretty much told me just to listen. There was another guy there who was new as well, he started talking about God and church and how he may be able to control the drinking but he’d never be able to control the devil – they hollered at him pretty good. “We’re here to save your life” they said “then you can let the church save your soul”
Well, I was glad that he had made that mistake instead of me, because I may have been likely to say about the same thing. I resigned myself to sit there and let them continue to holler at him, to keep my mouth shut, but I was beginning to doubt if I would be able to continue to go to this program if they were openly hostile towards going to church. I mean, between my life and my soul, I’d have to choose my soul, but it seemed obvious to me that there were several there who would not agree with that choice. “Don’t let religion get in the way of your recovery” they kept saying. I decided to get through the meeting and get out of there as graciously as I could, but that I would probably have to find another way of getting help.
One of the older men, the one who pretty much told me to just shut up and listen, started to speak. He said that talking about jail got him to thinking about a story he had heard years before in one of the rooms. A story about two brothers who lived on a farm. They would work hard all week and when the weekend came around thought that they deserved to tear it up a little. One was a little more wild than the other so almost every weekend, he would get taken to the jailhouse and almost every Monday morning, his brother would come bail him out and take him directly from the jailhouse to work. Well on one of these such Mondays, it started getting late, the hours ticked by and although he didn’t mind so much, because it gave him some extra time to nurse his hangover before going back to the farm to work, he began to wonder where his brother was. Eventually he started to clank his cup on the cell room bars to get the jailer’s attention. The jailer came and asked him what he wanted and he said “Hey, how about you call my brother and see when he’s going to get me out of here”.
The jailer stared at him blankly for a moment and then asked if he remembered anything of the night before. “No”, the man replied.
“Your brother is dead” he said, “you stabbed him last night”.
I thought of that broken mirror in my living room. How I had absolutely no memory of breaking it. The things that I had said and done, without having a single memory of deciding to do so. Not even a second worth of thinking about it. About how in less than twenty four hours, I had gone from having an argument about snoring to ending up in the jailhouse. I thought about how easy my story could have ended like that one. I have a problem and even if that problem only shows itself 1 time out of a hundred, I cannot take that risk again. I have to get this out of my house. I have to get this out of my heart and I don’t know if it’s something that God can do for me, or something he wants me to do for myself, but I have to stop.
What’s really strange is that when you go to A.A. for the first time, or when you first go back, they give you a white poker chip. There are other colors, but you have to stay longer to get those, I only ever got a white one. Before going to the meeting I took a bath and put on clean clothes. I just grabbed the first pair of britches in my drawer. When they gave me that white chip, I wanted to keep it safe so I went to put it in that little poker chip size pocket you have inside of your pocket on blue jeans and when I did, I felt something in there. I stuffed my chip insider there anyway, but when the meeting was over I got curious as to what was in there already. I stuck my finger in and pulled out two white chips. One I had just been given and one must have been given to me in the hospital last year when I was committed. It had been in there all this time waiting.
On the way home I stopped at the same convenience store that I do about every day. I was dying of thirst, still very dehydrated from last night. I wish I could say that I didn’t even think about it, but I did hesitate a step as I passed the cooler where I almost daily have been getting a 24 oz Bud Light for my ride home from work. It’s as if my body was conditioned to do it without even thinking about it. I could do it with my eyes closed. I’d know how many steps from the door to the cooler, I’d know exactly how far up to reach to get the Bud Light can. I know exactly how much money with tax it would cost. I didn’t open that cooler tonight, but as I walked by it to get me a Dr. Pepper, it became apparent to me that this is not going to be an easy thing.
There is another meeting tonight. Y’all please pray for me as I do this thing which will not be easy, because I honestly would rather go back to the jailhouse or get hit by a truck then to put my family through again what I did last night. I don’t think that I can ever take away the wrong that I’ve done. I can start again with the boy, with my wife, with myself and with God, but those mistakes will always be there. I pray that they might someday forgive me. Best what I can do is make it so they’ll never happen again.