Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 23 - Steps Sister

People who get sober can be so judgmental when it comes to drinkers, can't they? At least that's what I've noticed.

It occurred to me that I was the same way with Bloody Mary the other day. I mean, maybe she was drinking so much first thing in the morning because she was trying to self-medicate her cold into oblivion. Maybe her eyes were so swollen because she was sick. Maybe she needed all that booze because she was afraid to fly ... 

Had I suddenly turned into a judgmental sober person?!


The cold doesn't explain the broken blood vessels in her face. As for fear of flying, she seemed fine. Playing video games on her phone. Watching Parental Guidance on her little screen. I watched it, too, btw. Considering the stellar cast - Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, it was cute in places, but mostly disappointing. 

Here's a movie that was not cute. Smashed. Watched it last week. An indy-feeling flick about a hard-drinking couple who go through even harder times when the wife decides to join A.A. 

Here's the trailer - if you want to go see it, don't bother reading this totally judgmental post. ;) It's full of spoilers.

The script for Smashed was co-written by Susan Theresa Burke, an L.A. actor and stand-up who got sober when she was 24. I didn't know for sure that it was written by a former drunk when I watched it, but I'm not surprised. It definitely had sanctimoniousness written all over it. Garnering a whopping 6.6 on IMDb, I'd actually have given it a higher score than that, despite the easy plot line full of drunken nightmares and A.A. cliches. Because it did seem like a really gritty, personal (if slightly slanted) view into the world of twelve-stepping. 

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays our main character, Kate, whose drinking is so out-of-control she ends up peeing on a convenience store floor when the clerk won't sell her liquor after hours. She also gets talked into doing crack with a hooker and waking up the next morning by herself in the front seat of a car. Only the seat has no car. It's in the middle of an abandoned parking lot and she has no idea how she got there. 

That's a surefire sign that it's time to seek help, btw. 

Naturally, Kate's an elementary school teacher. Not sure if Burke was ever a teacher but the contrast of hardcore drunk against innocent schoolmarm must've been pretty hard to resist. Especially for a comic turned screenwriter. 

My, Ms. Functional's testy today. ;) 

It's just that despite some fun performances, pretty cool directing, a great soundtrack and a solid script, the main message of the flick really annoyed me. But I'll get to that later. 

So, hungover Kate somehow manages to find her car and drives to work.  In the parking lot of her school she has a (probably familiar) debate with a little flask of booze. Should I or shouldn't I? The booze wins, of course. 

A not-so-subtle vest-wearing gentleman in the background lingers long enough that it makes us wonder ... Did he see her? 

(He did.)

The kids in Kate's class look around six or so. When a wave of nausea overcomes her and she ends up puking beside her desk, the kids ask if she's having a baby. Because one of the girls' mothers "throwed up" when she was having her baby brother.  

Kate, of course, doesn't want to say she's just hungover and it feels like a bulldozer is idling in her brain, so she tells the kids that, yes, she's pregnant. This little white lie ends up burning so brightly that her coworkers eventually throw her a baby shower - and she still can't come clean. 

Of course, there is someone who knows she's lying. And that's Dave, her vest-wearing, bespectacled, squeaky-clean co-worker. The one who saw her drinking in the parking lot that morning. Played by Nick Offerman of Parks and Rec fame, Dave shows her his ten-years-sober medallion from A.A. in the lunchroom one day. And admits he saw her with her trusty flask. Of course Dave off-handedly suggests that, "Hey, maybe she should come to a meeting. They're pretty cool" kind of thing.

So Kate goes. 

I've never been to an A.A. meeting, but I've seen them played on TV. ;) This one was a little different in that it seemed to be in someone's living room with everyone sitting in a circle, but you still had all the major players you'd expect. The soulful sponsor. The average-looking housewives. "Gasp! You're in A.A.?!" The accountant types. And the scrubby newbies sharing their funny/sad horror stories. Through it all, the group support flows more freely than java from the coffee terrine. 

(Talk about addictive, I'm sure all that group love is part of the appeal of people who stick with A.A.)

Aaron Paul plays Kate's lay-about husband, who also has a strong appetite for booze. An awesome actor, he's the druggie sidekick from Breaking Bad. He tries to support Kate's sobriety, but doesn't actually join A.A. himself. His own drinking habits change very little. They not-so-slowly (this being a flick, after all) start growing apart. 

Eventually, Kate's students start wondering why she's not getting fat. One of the confused kids asks if she "killed her baby." Kate, horrified that they might think she had an abortion, says she had a miscarriage and gets herself tangled up trying to explain why some babies just go to heaven ... sometimes. 


Meanwhile, her newly-minted soul can't stand all the deception. "A.A. is about honesty, after all" she says. (Or some such thing.) 

So she comes clean with her principal, played by Megan Mullally, the one who organized her baby shower. With guilt oozing out of her pores, Kate says "I can't take any more lies!" (Or some such thing). She says she didn't have a miscarriage. In fact, she was never pregnant. No, the truth is much worse than that. 

She's an alcoholic. 


Obviously, Principal Barnes never attended any sensitivity training courses because rather than support a nice person and good teacher trying to get clean ... she fires her on the spot.

So what does Kate do?

Come on ... think about it ... 

That's right!

She stops in the nearest bar on the way home and starts ordering doubles. Lots of 'em. 

(Because that's what happens to all alcoholics who hit a bump in the road, right? It's drilled into our heads that we're just that helpless over alcohol. It has to win. At least a couple times or the whole argument falls apart. It's almost a self-fulfilling prophesy ... at least in Hollywood flicks.)

Anyway, her hubby - clean and sober for one of the few times in the film - is shocked when she comes home all sloppy and totally smashed, digging around the house for more to drink. 

I know I'm being snarky about a lot of this, but so far I was quite entertained. This is where it hit the wall for me. 

Kate, the one who fell off the wagon, tells her loving husband - who seems very worried for her and is trying to stop her from drinking more - that she can't stay sober and be with him at the same time!!! 



Where did that come from?

Poor hubby was just at home, clean and sober on the couch. In walks drunk wife ... who just got fired ... and it's his fault she can't stay sober? 

Hmmmm ...

The film blacks out in a super-quick edit and picks up "One Year Later." 

And ... guess where we are? 

Man, you're good. That's right, we're at another A.A. meeting and Kate's getting her 1 Year Medallion. 

She looks good. Her skin is clear. Her hair is blow-dried. She seems so together. She stands up to give her anniversary speech.

Her talk didn't bother me as much as her blaming-the-hubby-rant, but it did strike me. She talks about how much her life has changed in the last year. That her marriage fell apart. That she makes less money than she used to. That she doesn't go out as much as she used to. That her life is sort of "boring" now. She laughs sadly. Everyone laughs sadly along with her. Then she smiles and says how damn "grateful" she is for her boring new life. Every day, she's so grateful for it. She gives a clean-and-sober smile and everyone hugs her and pats her on the back and her soulful sponsor gives her that "I knew you could do it" smile. 

Cut to the hubby calling her. He wants to see her. She goes back to the house. They end up in the backyard where they used to play drunken croquet. Only now they're playing sober croquet - because he's sober too. He tells her how much he misses her. How much he loves her. That he's been masturbating a whole hell of a lot. 

Kate seems a little put off by him. He all but begs her to take him back. But Kate shakes her head. No. A strong, firm, sober moment. 

No - she can't be with him again.  

And that's where the movie ends. On her rejection. 

So the two things that really struck me were one, that idea that - even wrapping up a movie - someone couldn't see that there's something dangerous about tying your sobriety to somebody "out there." I mean, I know if there's someone who constantly makes you drink all the time, and you're trying to get sober, you have to get them out of your life. But if someone you were in love with - who seems to want a clean start, and seems ready for one - wants to give it another chance ... and you still can't risk it, how firm is your sobriety? Really? 

Strange message as far as I'm concerned.  

The other thing that struck me - and made me sooooo grateful myself - was that I got control of my drinking without having to change my life completely. (Though I never peed on a convenience store floor or smoked crack with hookers, so maybe the comparison is a bit unfair.)

Yes, cleansing does bring some change to your life. Cleanses have a different, calmer, more personal atmosphere than drinking times. Are they sometimes boring? Well ... I suppose you could say that. Sometimes. But I've learned lots of ways to avoid the boredom over the years - and I'll share them all. 

But the thing I was so grateful for was that I can still be myself. Even a better me. A more in control me. A more self-loving me. A more honest, healthy me. My life has not changed so much that I have to be terrified that so-and-so will come back into it, knock me off the wagon and ruin everything. 

Because I'm in control. I have not relinquished my control to anything. Not to booze. Not to God. Not to fellow members of 12 step groups. 

On the 23rd day of my cleanse ... I can say I'm so grateful that I'm still myself. I still have fun. I still stay out late sometimes. I still enjoy drinking. I still enjoy my life. I have not had to turn myself inside-out to get control of my addiction. And that makes me just as happy and grateful as Kate. 

btw - if you're in A.A. and are having success with it, I'm glad for you. I really am. But A.A. can't help everyone ... in fact, it helps a very small minority. 

As for the flick, you probably don't have to see Smashed now. But there are some cool performances and it is a sobering look into both drinking and abstinence. And when it's over, maybe you'll be grateful - as I was - that you might not have to quit forever to get control.  

Because it's simply not true. Not for everyone. And I'm living proof of that.

Though if you're peeing on convenience store floors or doing crack with hookers ... um, you might want to consider consulting a professional.

Just saying.


(5 days left to go!)