I’m choosing to believe it was not a coincidence that I had a couple of productive, positive days after I blogged last week. For those of you who are mostly only readers here, I really suggest you try it out for yourself. I was glad, also, to have heard from some familiar faces. This community really is, in general, remarkably kind.
As promised, I had my last drink about sixteen hours ago, picked up my benzodiazepine pills in the afternoon, and now I’m on the road to sustained sobriety, one hopes. I’m glad I don’t have any Friday obligations this quarter, since I can see that falling asleep is going to be a battle. I have been bad at sleeping my entire life, and for a long time now I’ve been knocking myself out with my esteemed co-council of alcohol and off-brand ZzzQuil; once I’ve comfortably kicked the former, the latter’s got to go too, so I can return to my original faulty neuro-baseline, and then try to cope with it in trusty, mundane, healthy ways: mindful eating habits (which are easy for me since I’m a whiz in the kitchen now) and enough exercise to exhaust myself (which I’m hoping to re-learn to enjoy).
What’s weird, for those of you who have never quit regular drinking before, is how your brain starts to overload during the first week of sobriety. In the worst cases, this leads to seizures and the much-feared delirium tremens, but for moderate cases like myself, the symptoms are more disconcerting than dangerous: my brain feels electric, everyone annoys me, I have nightmares about spiders and relapse, and I vividly call up memories I thought I had long ago forgotten, some of which are likely false.
I don’t know what I was thinking though, deciding to get sober before tomorrow’s (today’s, technically) inauguration. Earlier today (or yesterday, who’s counting?) I had planned to blow off a lot of steam in this entry about how horrible this really is and will be, but such an entry would only fall on two groups of deaf ears: those who are already thinking what I’m thinking, and those for whom upset leftists are a sign that things must be headed in the right direction. Handwringing is a waste of time. Facts and arguments have stopped meaning anything; only appeals to strength and fear and pride have meaningful currency anymore.
I will content myself, instead, with an observation that sort of shades into a vague prediction, but requires some detours:
1) In the essay I used as a writing sample to get into graduate school (which is a published article now!), I observed that in the works of J. M. Coetzee, madness is figured as a contagious historical force; he uses it repeatedly to describe the workings of the social body under systems like apartheid as well as the experience of writing under such systems. We can remember other times when something that can only be described as madness has infected social bodies, and the madness only ever grows until it reaches a crisis point: revolution or war or some other intervention.
2) A few people I know who suffer from various mental illness share a strange, frustrating habit. They start to act out in certain situations—screaming at people, starting fights, hurting themselves—until there’s a kind of consequence: the party is ruined, a friendship is lost, someone else gets hurt, whatever. One of my previous roommates (my boyfriend and I have had nothing but crazy roommates since we’ve moved out here) drank way too much vodka one night, passed out, and then woke up scream-sobbing. I went in to check on her, knowing more or less why she was sobbing, but it turned out the particular trigger in this case was that she was too drunk to order herself a pizza online. I got annoyed and just went to the grocery store to buy her a frozen pizza. When I returned, my boyfriend was crying because she had cut herself—not with a knife—but by jamming scissors under her flesh and then actually snipping large flaps of it. Subcutaneous fat was bulging through the wounds. Everyone was upset by this point and I insisted she needed to go to the hospital. As soon as I took out my phone to call 911, she settled right down. Many of you are probably tempted to read her actions here as a simple bid for attention, and I wouldn’t deny that element, but there’s more to it than that. There’s something about a certain type of craziness that is only cured by running into some kind of consequence. It’s as if people like her go completely nuts until reality concretely reasserts itself—and then they cool right down. Later that night we were laughing and joking between, you know, applying new bandages and wound cleaner.
Anyway: my country is clearly in the grip of some kind of madness right now. Those of us with cool heads know what caused it—demographic change, economic pressure, media oversaturation—but populism isn’t interested in abstract causes with slow-acting, difficult solutions. The kind of populism my country is dealing with is sadistic and paranoid, and the only solutions it believes in are those that only a powerful Father can administer: some people must be punished, others must be purged, others must be reminded of their place. Their country is a simple macrocosm of a strict, pure-blooded family unit; others are welcome in as hired servants who eat the leftovers in the room in the back.
But under this system the real problems never really go away, and so the punishments, purges, and subjugations have always to be renewed and applied with greater and greater intensity. We will reach a crisis within the decade when reality violently reasserts itself in place of this silly Father myth, and like South Africa after apartheid, and like my mentally ill friends after everyone’s night has been ruined, the cured mad will become sober and contrite, having wrecked everything and yet feeling somehow that they were the real victims all along.
Short-term pessimism aside, I take heart in knowing that my generation will soon come into political dominance. We are, as a generation—in spite of the myths about us baby boomers trumpet to fluff their own egos—extremely caring, diligent and clear-eyed. More and more I think that all of the bad things baby boomers say about millennials are really just wild displacements of their own insecurities. The baby boomers resent the fact that they were in fact the spoiled generation. Sure, they mowed lawns as kids and had that one really hard boss once who taught them how to respect authority, but the data tells a more convincing story than their self-serving anecdotes: they rose to prominence and success on the smooth path to the middle class created by their parents, and then they took their share and more by bankrupting the millennials. It is the baby boomers who are entitled, self-absorbed and spoiled.
And as for those “participation trophies” that were supposed to have ruined my generation—those were never actually for us. Anyone who’s ever heard baby boomers brag about their children knows that participation trophies were only ever gifts given by baby boomers to other baby boomers via their children as proxies, because baby boomers always saw their millennial children as accessories, mere extensions of themselves.
“Oh, you know, my Katie got a 4.0 last semester, and she got first place in her dressage competition!”
“Well isn’t that something. I’m putting my Annabel into a French immersion camp this summer. We really have our eyes set on Yale, and nothing less than Dartmouth will do.”
I’ve joked on Facebook recently that I want to run for public office on the slogan: DESTROY ALL BABY BOOMERS. The joke is that, while you might think I’d only get the youth vote, I think I’d actually get the boomers themselves. They’d say I talk straight and shoot from the hip, and apparently they love voting against their own interests anyway.