Bored Sober

I have made several attempts in this blog to latch on to various hot cultural trends, hoping to bring myself significant cyber-popularity. That’s pathetic, yes. And made so much more so by the pathetic results of my efforts.

I did a weight-loss piece – “Lose Weight Fast”. Millions of people, every day, click on fat-fighting sites. Every magazine published in the world has at least one fat article every issue. Write about losing a lot of weight and the massive masses slurp it up like a DQ milkshake. Unless I write it, I guess.

I should have used “before and after” pictures, except that I couldn’t find a Fat Ross photo that I liked.

I tried to catch the “cute cat video” wave. I entitled that piece “Cute Cat Video”, even though there was no video. That’s very much like lying. That’s how desperate I am for attention. I’m sure that my utter lack of success erased the ethical taint of that deception.

Daddy Blogs are very popular, especially among women. Men doing childcare and housework? Are you kidding? Like selling crack cocaine. I tried it – “Men Discover Babies. Parenting Becomes Important.” Apparently, selling crack isn’t as easy as I had been led to believe.

I’ve done cute kid stories. A piece on the War on Christmas. Political Correctness. Being a Man. I’ve done “how-to” manuals to help people be funny [who doesn’t want to be funny?]. My research tells me that each of these things is wildly popular – and so I should be.


But I am not giving up on my dream to become an internet sensation.

Fortunately, there remain a few genres to which I have not yet lent my special touch. One of them is the addiction memoir. There is a limitless appetite for personal stories of spiraling personal destruction through drug and alcohol abuse – all the degradation, violence, anger, sorrow, pain and alienation. And vomiting. Lots of vomiting. Who doesn’t love to read about those things? Especially when those things are accompanied by vivid descriptions of heroic booze intake and the smoking, snorting, injecting and otherwise creative ingesting of various fascinating substances with really cool “street” names. And the characters? Man. Drug dealers, gangsters, prostitutes, junkies, artists, writers, lawyers. All so interesting. Many with cool nicknames, horrific personal histories and fascinating physical deformities.

Of course, every addiction memoir includes “recovery”. In the end, the addict must pull out of the spiral. There has to be redemption. Healing. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Without all this, the memoir is merely voyeurism – addiction porn. The morbid enjoyment of destruction – like NASCAR.

Practically speaking, of course, without recovery, there is no one to write the memoir.

This is where the genre is misleading. Most of the time, there is no one to write the memoir. Most addicts don’t recover, not for very long. Most are too busy dealing with the urgencies of their day-to-day fucked up existence to write a memoir. They’re also far too invested in denial to write an honest account of their ordeal as they’re living it. Blackouts also make it very difficult for the responsible memoirist to get the story straight.

Then they die. Not romantically or beautifully.The addict/alcoholic death is usually a slow one. Addicts are resilient. It’s a long fall. And ugly. For every exciting young famous flame-out who “partied” too hard, there are hundreds and hundreds of decaying pitiful souls who give up, break down and expire in squalor. ParTay.

The addiction memoir spares us all that. The danger of certain death looms as a constant background to the narrative – if our hero(ine) doesn’t dry out – but we know everything is going to be okay by the end of the book. Later, a relapse can become the occasion for another book.

Typically, the mandatory “recovery” part of the memoir covers only a few pages. Recovery is the goal but not the guts of the addiction memoir.

Recovery is actually kind of boring – especially compared with what’s being recovered from. And it takes a long time. Think of action movies – how much time is spent in the hospital burns unit after the fiery crash?  Same thing here. Recovering addicts have ordinary lives, like yours, except that they go to a lot of “meetings”. Who wants to read about that?

I won’t list my favourite AddMems [I just made that word up]. Lists are dull. But, I will recommend two. “Lit“, by Mary Karr is absolutely beautiful. Every sentence is a poem. Same with “Dry“, by Augusten Burroughs. On the other hand, comedian Richard Lewis wrote one with the title “The Other Great Depression: How I’m overcoming on a Daily Basis, at Least a Million Addictions and Dysfunctions and Finding a Spiritual (Sometimes) Life“. The book reads very much like the title. Ironic that a guy with no attention span expects us to read his entire, long-winded and unfocused book. But I did.

Some wonderful writers have booze and drug issues. I don’t know if there is a connection. Stephen King, of scary book and movie fame, places his addiction memoir in a book about writing. A great book about writing – “On Writing“. He doesn’t recall many of the details of the writing of his breakthrough book “Carrie”. He didn’t lose his writing chops when he dried out, thankfully.

So, I am one of those people caught up with the AddMem. I’ve read lots of them. Some are my favourite books. I bought a new one just the other day – “Kasher in the Rye” by Mosher Kasher. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I expect he recovers.

I bought the new book, coincidentally, on May 16 – the seventh anniversary of my first day of sobriety. Okay – that’s not quite right. I spent much of my childhood sober, especially during infancy. For much of my adult life, though, I have been an active, though functioning, alcoholic.

At this point, you’re supposed to say “Hello, Ross.”

Well then, as a recovering alcoholic, I am well equipped to cash in on the lucrative Addiction Memoir craze. How lucky is that?

Let’s get on with my crash-and-burn and rise-from-the-ashes story.

Except that I didn’t crash and burn. It was more like I was spending my life driving around with my tires under-inflated.

My story also doesn’t involve an interesting cast of characters. I was a drunk pretty much on my own. One of the questions they always ask on those “are you an alcoholic?” magazine questionnaires is “do you ever drink alone?” I guess that drinking alone is a terrible thing. I never got that – so I’m supposed to always find someone to drink with? What about making supper, doing the dishes, bathing the kids, reading bedtime stories? How could I possibly be a responsible parent and husband while drinking heavily if I had to go to a bar or a party every night? Be serious.

Besides, most of the friends I might socially drink with generally weren’t comfortable with how much I drank. I didn’t want them to worry. Or intervene. Or know.

There are no skeevy drug dealers in my story. All of my dealers were public servants working at government-run liquor stores. I don’t recall any of them having any interesting scars or missing limbs and none of them ever took my money at knife-point.  There were a lot of them, of course, because I tried to spread my custom around. I rotated through the liquor stores because I wanted to avoid becoming a “regular”. I purposely did not learn any of their names. I couldn’t have a liquor store cashier thinking I had a drinking problem. Obviously.

Sorry, my story doesn’t involve snorting substance from a thousand-dollar-a-night hooker’s belly button. I quietly slurped scotch from my favourite little glass, which I filled frequently from various scotch bottles I had stashed about the house.

The AA folks have long asked us to characterize alcoholism as a disease. It is treated as a “disability” in the legal human rights world – though I notice that we don’t get special parking spaces. I’m also waiting on the International Paralympic Committee to declare alcoholism to be a disability for the purpose of the Paralympic Games. Imagine the hockey team we’d have.

It wasn’t a disease with me. More like a condition – like a bum knee. It didn’t disable me. It hobbled me. It prevented me from having the life I’d like to have. Well, not quite. I was actually, for a long time, torn on the issue of what sort of life I’d like to have. I kind of liked the “drinking a lot” aspect of my life. What’s not to like? Perhaps, to a non-alcoholic, the appeal of a life spent drinking heavily isn’t obvious. You’ll just have to trust me on this. At any rate, the successful drunk develops a level of self-loathing sufficient to dismiss any notion that he’d amount to much even without the drinking. In other words, if there was a better life waiting on me to be sober, which I doubted, it could wait. Indefinitely.

Mostly, I could manage. I could accommodate my disability, control my disease. I never missed a day of work. For all hard drinkin’ guys, that’s the ultimate test. I made it to work. Every day. I was really, really unproductive, of course. But I was there – pretending not to be hung over.

And, if I had to, if the circumstances absolutely required it, I could be sober. Of course, I started to realize that there weren’t really that many things that I needed to be completely sober for. It was often enough that I pretend to be sober.

There’s quite a lot of pretending in functional alcoholism. Some might consider this dishonest. I’m not comfortable with that degree of moral rigidity.

The only people I directly lied to were my wife and my doctor. Dishonesty in a marriage is a bad thing. Dishonesty with one’s doctor can be fatal. I figured he couldn’t handle the truth. He’d probably have suggested I quit drinking, especially since the “medical establishment” believes that my level of boozing was bad for my high blood pressure. Had I the energy, I’d have sought out alternative, more booze-friendly, therapies.

My story doesn’t have a dramatic point when I “hit bottom”. Instead, I turned it around as a result of a conversation I had with my wife, whom I had spared the burdensome knowledge of exactly how much I had been drinking for years. She suggested it would be better for all concerned if I learned how to drink “moderately”.

Why would anyone drink moderately? What is the point of that?

I realized I had three choices. I could drink moderately. I could quit drinking completely. I could drink myself to death. I further realized that drinking moderately was my very distant third choice.

She asked how much I drank. And, after many years of answering that question with a lie, I told the truth which, to get all literary, set me free.

I quit drinking. Not right then. I had a buzz going that I didn’t want to interrupt. The next day. Seven years ago. Like they say in AA “seven years at a time”. No, they don’t say that.

I kept a journal of my new sober life. For a couple of years. I looked it over as I prepared to write this. It is very boring. In fact, I note several times in the journal that my new life is really really boring. The worst part of sobriety, aside from how boring it is, is that all your problems – in your career, your family life, your life generally – are still there. Sobriety doesn’t magically solve anything, except drunkenness. And you’re stuck dealing with those problems because you’re no longer too drunk or too hung over to attend to them. Now that sucks. But eventually, slowly, you get used to it.

Many old drunks, when they quit drinking, feel like they’ve lost their best friend. They mourn that loss for a long time. For me, it was like an annoying roommate had moved out: a guy I’d known since high school, with whom I’d shared lots of laughs, who knew me better than anyone else. But I was spending way too much time sitting around home with that guy, on the couch, watching sports. Life outside us and outside our little home was just slipping away from me. He was not cleaning up after himself. He was always late with the rent and bumming smokes. He was too needy. He had to go. It was time to grow up. I don’t miss him. I can’t believe it took me so long to kick him out. Oh yeah, and in this metaphor, the roommate was going to kill me.

I hate how much of my life I wasted. You learn not to dwell on regret. I hope I’ve repaired all the damage I’ve done. But it’s only been seven years.

One thing I still don’t get, even seven years later. Why would anyone drink moderately?

Update on Progress and a Correction

First. Things are not going well on my next post. In some of my “family” posts, I enjoy describing our dysfunction: My laughable efforts to assert my authority; My Wife’s amused dismissal of my parenting ‘vision'; The boys’ profane disdain for all authority, especially parental authority. It’s cute and harmless.

But this next piece is supposed to be about the much-lauded “family supper”. This piece threatens to expose us as deeply pathological. That’s the sort of thing that has to be carefully worded.

So, it is taking a while.

In the meantime, let me correct a couple of things on the last big post – the one about The Charter and the CBC and HarperHostility towards Ross’s Canada.

People do indeed love the CBC. However, I was way off the mark with my special mention of Cross Country Checkup. I said it wasn’t “just another dumb phone in”. It appears that I am wrong about this. The Checkup, some believe, is just an opportunity for the dumb and the boring to be dumb and boring in a “national”, rather than merely  local or regional, way. Others do not like the Host – Rex. I can understand that. He’s very polite, however, and has a very good radio face.

So, I’m drawing back from my effusion with respect to Rex Country Checkup. But not the rest.

Worse than including TyranaPompous Rex in my praise, however, was the wealth of radio gold that I failed to mention. Like Terry O’Reilly’s new Age of Persuasion, which is called Under the Influence. And Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap. And, can you believe that I left out Stuart McLean? The Debaters?

Many people like Afghanada. I usually miss it. It’s on the wrong time of day for me. It is one of the dramatic CBC Radio offerings being terminated because of the budget cuts.

So. Sorry.

Enjoy the CBC while you can.

What the For Heavens’ Sake?

Subscribers to this blog will, this evening, have received an email leading to nowhere. It promised a new blog post. You clicked expectantly. But no. Nothing new.

For the first time, like, ever – I made a mistake. I clicked errantly. I wanted to see how something would look – so decided to click “preview”. But, in my haste, I misclicked and published it – thus setting into motion an automatic email distribution mechanism that I was helpless to prevent.

I am very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

I am working on a new post. It’s not going very well. Don’t hold your breath. When I do get it done, I can’t promise it will have been worth the wait.

Move along. Nothing to see here.


Good Morning Canada

Last Tuesday morning, April 17, I listened to The Current – a news show on CBC Radio. Much of the show was devoted to the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – thus demonstrating how out of touch my CBC Radio is with my Harper Guvmint.

The Strong Stable National Majority Harper Government chose not to mark the 30th anniversary with much official fanfare. Rather than a parade or fireworks, they celebrated with a press release. Par-Tay.

The press release referred to the Charter as “an important step in the development of Canada’s human rights policy” and noted that the Charter was built on the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights of 1960. There was nothing in the press release to indicate that it was intended to be funny. If these guys had a sense of humour, I expect it would be “dry”.

April 17th, thirty years ago, in a ceremony in the rain on Parliament Hill, the Queen launched the Charter era. [Imagine the Tories not just loving a story with THE Queen in it.] The constitutional entrenchment of fundamental rights and freedoms is not a “step”. It is a fundamental change in the relationship between Canadians and their governments. April 17, 1982 launched the replacement of Parliamentary supremacy with judicial review on Charter grounds. It’s a big deal. The Queen’s signature also entrenched the recognition and affirmation of “existing aboriginal rights”. That has also turned out to be sort of a big deal, hasn’t it?

And then, there’s the “patriation” thing. Small detail. Up till April 17th, 1982, our written constitution was a British statute – The British North America Act – and could be altered only by the British Parliament. Patriation was the culmination of eighty years of efforts by federal and provincial politicians – of all political stripes, spots, shades and hues – to address our symbolic national infancy. Finally, a practical manifestation of Canada’s independent nationhood that did not require the deaths of scores of young Canadian men in the mud in Europe.

So, break out the champagne and issue a press release!

The government also issued a press release that day announcing the investment of $42000 to Hinterland Wine Company Ltd. towards the purchase and installation of new sparkling wine processing equipment at their facility in Hillier, Ontario. There was no effort to tie this development to the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights.

So, it was a busy day for our Government.

When the Prime Minister was asked about the decision not to mark the anniversary in any substantive way, he said that the coming into force of the Charter in 1982 “was an interesting and important step, but I would point out that the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter, which as you know are still very real in some parts of the country.”

What a sensitive, thoughtful guy. He doesn’t want to make a big fuss about the Charter because it might hurt the feelings of those who didn’t like the patriation process. I assume he’s speaking of Quebec. Rene Levesque and the separatist Quebec government did not sign on to the new constitution – them being separatists and all. Harper doesn’t want to rub salt in the wounds of that exclusion. He’s got a light touch, our PM.

Okay – here’s an obvious point. The Charter is very popular in Quebec. Always has been. So is patriation. The Queen? No. And yet, she’s popping up all over the place since the Reform-a-Tories took power. Everything Royal is new again. These guys hate an unelected Senate and distrust unelected judges, worried as they are about democratic legitimacy, but they like a hereditary monarchy? You can call her the “Queen of Canada” all you want; it’s not selling in Quebec. Why no respectful silence there?

And, let’s not forget His government’s initial enthusiasm for a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham – right there in the middle of Quebec City –  to celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the defeat of New France and the triumph of the British over current Quebecers’ ancestors. Sort of “in your face”, I think. Where was Harper’s famous “sensitivity” then? He dismissed objections to this event as divisive rhetoric from separatistes trying to play politics with Canda’s proud heritage. Apparently, the idea of being conquered isn’t anywhere near as humiliating as being left off the patriation document.

At some point, someone in the governmental brain trust had a “what the fuck were we thinking” moment and the reenactment was cancelled. I assume they lost the deposit on the muskets.

And, then there was the “Reckless Coalition” business. Recall when the three opposition parties threatened to defeat Harper’s minority government and attempt form a coalition of sorts that could sustain the confidence of the House. He and his fellow Tories had no qualms about dismissing the Bloc Québécois, the party that represented the majority of the people of Quebec, as essentially illegitimate. Sensitive?

I think the more likely explanation for official indifference to the thirtieth anniversary is that our Tories don’t find the Charter to be something to celebrate. The Prime Minister has repeatedly expressed his fear of activist judges who thwart the democratic will of Parliament. He appears to long for the days of parliamentary supremacy and the common law. And the Queen, of course.

It was the Charter, after all, that helped give us gay rights, same sex marriage, abortion on demand, a right to collective bargaining. It also jetissoned the Lord’s Day Act [so much for the Fourth Commandment – can graven images and coveting be far behind?]. It also enforced all kinds of legal rights for bad guys, stifling the efforts of police, courts, jailers and Parliamentarians to get “tough” on crime. It even led to prison inmates getting the right to vote. This is hardly a wish list of Tory policy goals.

Still, he’s the only Prime Minister who has launched his own Charter challenge. About ten years ago, Mr. Harper went looking for one of those activist judges willing to thwart the democratic will of Parliament.  He wanted the Court to nix legislated limits on third-party campaign spending – because those limits violate the precious freedom of rich people to express themselves by spending unlimited amounts of money in support of a political party (we’re not sure which one): []

He was the President of the National Citizens Coalition at the  time. Check out the website of this group: These are folks who do not like government. And they want to convince all of us that we should also not like government. Perhaps Mr. Harper thought the NCC’s goal of widespread dislike of government would be best served if he became Prime Minister.

Sadly for NCC President Harper and all of those unfortunate rich people who so want their money to express itself politically, they lost. The Supreme Court did not exercise its dangerous judicial activism to  nullify the legislation – though not out of any great reverence for parliamentary supremacy. The Court found that the limit on excessive expressive political spending was proven to be justified in a “free and democratic society” because, among other things, the legislation would “preclude the voices of the wealthy from dominating the political discourse”. Some Charter.

The NCC has pursued other Charter litigation as well and has succeeded in having legislation overridden – in spite of that “democratic will” thing.

So, it is somewhat a surprise that Mr. Harper doesn’t more enthusiastically celebrate the Charter and it’s potential. Perhaps he’s a hypocrite.

As I was saying at the beginning, I was enjoying The Current. I love CBC Radio. Many people I know use the word “love” when they talk about CBC Radio. It connects me to this country. It connects me with other Canadians. I feel part of something unique and worthy when I listen to CBC Radio, which I do much of the day, most days, and have done since I was a child. And it is not just because other Canadians, all across the country, are also listening to it. Other Canadians are probably, like me, drinking Starbucks coffee, checking out the NBA scores and watching Law and Order reruns. That doesn’t make me feel connected to them nor does it give me a sense of participating in something Canadian the way that CBC Radio does. Cross Country Checkup is not just another dumb phone in. The World at Six is not slick and does not lead with that which “bleeds”. As It Happens, The Current, Ideas, The Sunday Edition. I am not treated like an idiot when I listen to these. Q, Tapestry, Writers and Company, Spark, Wiretap, The Irrelevant Show, Day Six, DNTO… and on and on. It is a rich source of engagement and entertainment not available elsewhere and upon which I am happy to spend my tax money. I’m happy to spend other people’s tax money on it too, I guess – with my thanks, of course.

Oh, but what a surprise,  the residents of Harperville value my CBC radio as much as they do my Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The CBC will have its budget cut by ten percent. There are cuts everywhere, of course, and pink slips are going out to public servants across the country as I write this. The Tories will cut over five billion dollars of spending over the next three years, they tell us. Few areas of government are spared. I suppose the CBC, including my CBC Radio, must carry its share of the austerity burden.

But I worry.

I worry because I just don’t think the Tories value the things I do about Canada and its culture. This is true across a broad range of issues, but I’m focussed right now on the Charter and my CBC Radio.

These guys make cuts not just to be fiscally responsible. They do it for ideological reasons –  because they want to reduce the “size” of government, reduce the presence of the federal government in our lives, give us more “freedom”. The fact that there is a budget deficit to slash is just a happy coincidence. This is not a secret and, I guess, democratically speaking, they are entitled to pursue their New Canada project – because of that “majority government” thing.

I assume the cuts to CBC, which are more substantial than cuts elsewhere, are similarly a step towards an ideological goal – to reduce the presence of CBC in our lives, to be replaced, I suppose, by private broadcasters and their commercial sponsors. More freedom.

During the last election, several successful Tory candidates, including Rob Anders, invited web-surfers to sign an on-line petition on their official Tory websites, requesting  Parliament to not just cut the CBC, but eliminate it entirely. Mr. Anders conducted a poll of his Calgary West constituents and found that eighty percent supported the defunding of the CBC. Mr. Anders is famous for being removed from the Veterans Affairs Committee because he fell asleep during a committee hearing, probably because he was tired from lying awake at night, fussing about the damn CBC.

And what does the PM think?

Well, let’s look back at the National Citizens Coalition website. Read its Agenda For Canada. Mr. Harper has carried many of the NCC’s goals into office with him – like “smaller government”, lower taxes, the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board… And, you guessed it, the NCC calls for the end of the CBC.

The Charter will stay. It’s the constitution. You can’t just starve it. The amending formula is designed to make changes almost impossible to accomplish.

But my CBC radio is not so secure. Nor is it loved by many Canadians the way I love it. So I worry.

Maybe if we changed its name to The Royal Canadian Broadcasting Corporation…