Thursday, March 12, 2009

When I asked some friends for their reactions I got the full range of responses. One, who is a Clinical Professor at a major medical institution, replied:

“I always find pieces like this problematic. Sure if older people want to drink, why should they be different than anyone else - they should be permitted to drink. But what I wouldn't want to see happen is to unintentionally contribute to the enormous problem of health care services for the elderly being atrocious, especially in the two areas of: mental health, and medication management. Little is known about how medications really work in the elderly-the impact of simple meds, even aspirin, on their bodies is very different, and potentially lethal in combination with other drugs, and/or alcohol. But more troubling is how neglected the emotional and mental health life of seniors is. It’s as though you're either supposed to age as a tough old bird, or a depressed whiner who will slowly closed themselves off from life— the old "disengagement" model of aging. We know that heavy drinking for anyone is a symptom. We just seem to be shamefully uninterested in what it means in the elderly.”

And my very dear, supremely talented friend Leon with whom I have shared many deliriously fun (though perhaps now forgettable) rounds of drinks in our younger days replied that he really didn’t feel that he had a say. “I’ll be falling off a barstool in a few years myself.” But he did urge me to follow up, see what I could find out about older drinkers. What about the issue of driving? What changes in drinking habits between the middle and senior years?

Rachel, who is my age and has her own successful business said, “A drink at the end of the day is quite simply the cherry on the icing on the cake. And some days when it’s hard to find the icing, or the cake, it’s the thing that makes the evening wonderful.”

Wise old sage that he is, our dearest friend whom we call Fairy Godfather returned with a snappy poem:

Reagan to Bush
Reasons to lush
The wine, beer & booze!
What's to lose ?
Who wants to live longer
To see the economy get stronger?
Will it ?
Pour me another
Pity US brother.

And there is always a wag in the bunch that replies: “I'm too drunk to read it.”

My father’s connection to gold was passed on to me and I have often used gold leaf when I was painting in oils on canvas. When I had to clear out the war zone that had become his shop I trekked cautiously over a glassy green field of empty gallon jugs of cheap wine. I saw where his creative life had stopped in unfinished projects covered in dust. A little rusting safe held his store of gold leaf and with not much effort I was able to crowbar the door open. The gold that lay in that safe was transplanted onto a canvas in a portrait of my father, which hangs over my desk. A portrait-in-progress of The Mister’s father will be imbued with that gold.

My father’s connection to drink was also passed on to me. No excuses. I aligned myself with the drunken literary and artistic heroes of my youth and dragged them with me kicking and screaming into adulthood as I fought to maintain a painter’s life and still earn a living. I found reasons everywhere to crack open the bourbon and fight the power: being once young and pretty and rarely given serious consideration from men or women; an alien in my first marriage; flailing in a corporate sea of women with whom I had absolutely nothing in common and everything seemed to anger me from the warped political system to the systematic takeover of entitled outsiders who were (to my mind) ruining my city.

But things change. They have to. The city has changed and I have changed. My wounded heroes remain with me but thanks to, among other things, reading books like one in particular by Linda Leonard, a Jungian analyst who wrote Witness To the Fire; Creativity and the Veil of Addiction, I’m happier to keep them up in the sunlight with me and avoid their darker routes.

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