November 2013 Archives

Intoxicated phone calls

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I had always intended this blog to include some negative things about Peter as well as positive ones, but the time never seemed right, and then I mostly abandoned this blog.

But I was recently going through a bunch of old files, and found a letter that I wrote to Peter in 2001. I'm nearly certain that I never mailed this, and pretty sure that I never talked with him about the issue. I wish I had found a way to do that, because it was an issue for a long time, and it increased the distance between us, and I don't think he ever knew it was a problem, because I never told him.

Here's the letter, with one irrelevant piece edited out:

23 March, 2001

Dear Peter,

I have a request. I’m sorry to ask this in a letter rather than on the phone or in person, but I’ve never been able to come up with a way to say this directly. I’m hoping that writing it down will help me get the phrasing right.

The request is this: Please don’t call me when you’ve been drinking or are otherwise in an altered state of consciousness.

It upsets me a great deal when you call me in such a state, particularly when you’re drunk. I realize that there’s no particular reason that should upset me, but it does. It makes me angry and scared and tense, and makes it almost impossible for me to behave civilly toward you. Which leads me to not want to talk with you on the phone, because I can never tell in advance how coherent you’ll be.

And sometimes I can’t tell entirely even while we’re talking, and so I catch myself tensely waiting for certain telltale cues. Waiting for you to slur a word or stumble over one, for the difficulty getting a sentence out even after several tries. Waiting for you to have an extreme overreaction to something that happened to you recently, expressing emotion entirely out of proportion to whatever it was. Waiting for you to get maudlin and mopey. I can’t always tell, but I would guess that at least two-thirds of the time when you call the signs are there. I have a vague feeling that you’re more likely to call me when you’ve been drinking. I really wish you wouldn’t.

I enjoy talking with you when you’re sober, though I can’t always take the time for it. [...] I certainly don’t mind your being enthusiastic about something, or even being upset about something, when you’re sober. But when you’ve been drinking—and possibly when you’re high, too, I’m not sure whether you’re doing that these days—you get very emotional about things that don’t seem to be a big deal. It makes me wince. Sometimes it makes me cringe. It definitely makes me want to get off the phone with you as soon as possible.

I’ve felt this way for a long time, but I haven’t had the courage to tell you so—and it would clearly be a bad idea to tell you this when you’ve been drinking anyway. And then we go through periods in which we don’t talk much so I don’t think about it, or in which we talk now and then and you’re sober and things are fine, and I convince myself it’s not worth bringing up.

But it feels like you’ve been calling me a lot lately—a couple of times a week, which is quite a lot compared to the couple-times-a-year frequency of recent years—and if you’re going to continue to do so, I need you to be sober when you do. I’m just not willing to talk with you for long when you’re not—and sometimes it makes me so tense that it throws off the rest of my evening, because I can’t concentrate on other stuff.

I hope this doesn’t make you angry; I’ve always been scared of making you angry. But at this point I’m willing to risk it.

I can talk with you about this on the phone if you want. But only when you’re sober.


Having posted that, I feel like I need to elaborate on a couple of things:

  • I wasn't really objecting to his being emotional per se; I too can have strong emotional reactions to minor things. It was the way he sounded when he was drunk that was the problem for me: the near-operatic levels of melodrama, the volume of his voice, the over-the-top maudlin-on-the-verge-of-tears sound, the general too-muchness of it. It felt to me like a gigantic loud caricature of emotion, like the difference between smiling and putting on a clown face. I think it was mostly just an ordinary effect of alcohol; it's something I've seen in other drunk people as well. But when Peter did it, it particularly scared and upset me.
  • I have no idea why the signs of his being drunk upset me so much. He was never physically or emotionally abusive, and only once verbally that I can remember (and that was yelling at me through a closed door). And yet, I reacted to his drunkenness as if I were cringing away from a blow. I don't know where that came from.
  • That sentence near the end about being scared of making him angry is especially interesting to me. It was true, but here too I have no idea why. ...I think it would be easy to come away from reading this letter thinking that he must have mistreated me at some point for me to have that kind of reaction, but I honestly don't believe he did. I think part of what was going on (not all of it, but some of it) may have been that I was pretty sensitive to other people's emotions, and his sometimes just felt too big for me to cope with. I imagine there was also some of the Adult Children of Alcoholics “people-pleaser” thing going on, but ACOA is another topic for another time.