A Completely Different Person
I grew up with a kid named George, and we were friends through grade school and junior high.
We loved to throw a football in his idyllic, leaf-covered yard in the autumn. We’d do it for hours, mimicking our heroes of the NFL.
We listened to his older siblings’ rock and roll records.
We were kids in the suburbs. We always hung out just the two of us, because George was very shy and didn’t want to be around many people.
George’s family had money and ambitions. They sent George to a private high school not far away.
I didn’t see him during the school years, but he’d turn up at parties during summer.
He was still shy.
But now drinking was part of our lives.
I can remember George coming into a party, low-key, not much eye contact or talk. I’d see him and say hey, and he would fade into the woodwork.
I can still remember the night when the change happened.
After being on the fringes for a while, George got enough alcohol in him that a seismic change took place. Suddenly he was front and center at the party with a huge smile and a big glow. He was joking and teasing, and making connections and introductions and ring leading and cheerleading.
It was a spectacle that I’d never seen before. I realized that alcohol was creating the change, and I thought it was surprising and hilarious.
I’d experienced big mood changes under the influence, and I’d seen friends get elated or mean or depressed or whatever happened when they were drunk, but nothing remotely on a par with the complete personality change that occurred for George.
I caught on fairly early that George had alcohol issues. I didn’t think much of it, and I didn’t know anything about alcoholism. I was deep into it myself, and I was using a ton of drugs as well.
George was strictly an alcohol guy, so that made it the much more obvious.
Later, when I learned about alcoholism, I heard about the personality change, and remembered seeing this happen right in front of me, and how amazed I was the first time I’d seen it.
We’d go to baseball games in the summer during the college years, and shoot the shit.
He’d gone to college in Texas and came home to Pittsburgh in the summer. It slowly became clear that he’d become racist and homophobic. I tolerated this for a little while as we were drinking buddies, and I tried to keep him off those topics, but soon enough I cut him loose. It seemed to me that alcohol had made him mean and ugly.
It’s been decades since we’ve had any contact.
I went down the well into my own alcoholism, and eventually got sober.
And looking back all those years, it’s astonishing what a simple, strong, and powerful expression of alcoholism that I saw taking shape in Mr. Suddenly the Life-of-the-Party that George became.
Please comment about your experiences seeing - or being - such a phenomenon.