Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Drinking Buddies Promote Big Lie: Everything Is OK

July 21, 2008

Jerry fought with his wife Carol about his right to go out and be with his friends. He didn’t like Carol telling him what to do. He'd find an excuse and head out to the "Rough and Ready" bar.

If they went there as a couple - something Carol wasn’t thrilled with - Jerry would gab and gossip with his friends and leave her alone while he enjoyed everyone’s company but hers. She would ask to go home early which he ignored and resisted. Usually their nights out together ended with conflict about his drinking which he defended vigorously.

Marriage problems. Soon Carol stopped going with him and stayed home. When Jerry would come home late, usually more than a little drunk, they had words. The main arguments were about his drinking, his friends or his being gone so much. Carol wasn't in any mood for lovemaking when Jerry came home drunk. This created some resentments and soon they were avoiding and blaming each other.

Carol became convinced Jerry had a problem with drinking but he would have no part of it. Carol tried to get him to limit his drinking to three beers. The few times Jerry agreed, it didn’t work out and Carol's worries intensified.

Jerry was a nice guy. A hard working rancher. He was a pretty decent dad when he was around. He would argue that he wasn’t much different than a lot of other guys and he would be right.

For a few years Carol ignored and covered up the problem. She was self-conscious that her marriage had problems. She would think to herself, "What is wrong with me that he has to be gone so much? Why does he always have to be at the bar?"

The drinking buddies. What was so special about the Rough and Ready? It was a drinking man’s bar with only about a fifth of the patrons being female. It was loud and noisy with a lot of whooping and hollering - and friendly put down talk. Jerry bragged up his buddies and they conned him back. Everybody made each other feel good. They’d laugh at each other’s jokes and stories and make fun of those not in their group.

If one of his buddies would get a little out of hand, Jerry would minimize the drunkenness with comments like, "He sure knows how to have a good time," or, "He's not feeling any pain." The guys at the Rough and Ready went to great lengths to down play their drunkenness.

A group would get together and buy each other rounds. Jerry felt the pressure to keep up with the rest and to pay back any favors. Even when he wanted to go home early, he would get caught up in the social pressure and end up closing the place down.

A painful admission. Jerry’s drinking started to get to him. He became more irritable and obnoxious. He had some blackouts that scared him. He kept telling himself he wasn’t an alcoholic because he wasn’t as bad as the town drunk. He’d look at his friends and other heavy drinkers and think to himself, "Everybody else is handling it, so I must be OK too."

Finally the bouts of self-pity, depression, marital arguments and a "DUI" ticket convinced him he had a problem. It was a big step because giving up his drinking would mean giving up his drinking buddies. He didn't know what he would do for friends if that happened. It had been years since he ran with a non-drinking crowd. He didn’t have much in common with them. He wondered how his friends would treat him if he did quit.

But still, his whole world was coming apart, Carol was threatening to leave if he didn’t do something, and he knew in his gut that he had lost control of his drinking.

A quick fix for manhood. During treatment, Jerry found out just how escapist his drinking really was. With Carol, he used drinking to run away from a close relationship. Because he didn’t feel good about himself, he didn’t trust Carol with his inner feelings or thoughts. If she really knew him, maybe she’d reject him. Or maybe she’d expect him to do something about his problems when he really didn’t know what do.

He found out that he had some problems not getting acceptance from his father and worries about making it in ranching. He used alcohol to prop up his self-esteem. Drinking with his buddies also provided a quick fix for his manhood. They accepted him. The crowd at the Rough and Ready were filling each other full of B.S. about how they were just as good as anybody else.

His running to the Rough and Ready to drink and to get acceptance from his friends got rid of some feelings he didn’t like. Alcohol and his drinking buddies promoted a big lie, "That everything is OK," and, "Nobody is doing nothing wrong."

If you go into a bar like the Rough and Ready, Jerry won't be there. He went for help. But you’ll others a lot like Jerry still there. Don't be fooled. The good time they are having is not for their friends; it is for the alcohol. Pure and simple. The "drinking buddies" aren’t buddies unless you’re drinking with them. And their jokes aren’t that funny. That was one more thing Jerry learned.