By Jowita Bydlowska
Thanks to the Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, for the first time in my life, I’m getting a taste of what it might be like to live with an unpredictable, defiant addict. Let’s say, a drunken uncle. Like many people who live with addicts, in the past few months, I’d gone through a spin-cycle of feelings – disgust, outrage, compassion, frustration—because of this particular addict uncle’s behavior.
Ford has always been a sloppy politician. He has a less than impressive council attendance record, he is ignorant of some of the most important procedures of city council, he gets himself all confused about public transit in his own city, just to name a few blunders. But it is his public bottoming out that has brought him most notoriety.
Not that he came to notoriety suddenly. Before he became a mayor, he was known as that wacky councilor who’d say ridiculously offensive things such as when he compared Asian people to “dogs” or when he said that you probably won’t get AIDS unless you’re gay and/or are using needles. But it was only in his incarnation as a mayor that he became world famous—you’ve heard of him, haven’t you?—and all because of his addictive antics. Consider his most famous quote of 2013: When asked about having ever smoked crack, Ford replied, “I don’t even remember. Probably in one of my drunken stupors.”
Now, there was cautious hope among the citizens of our Al-Anonish city that perhaps things were going to get better with uncle Ford.
In November, when Ford was stripped of most of his mayoral duties I’ve felt relief akin, I’m sure, to what one might feel when the drunk-driving uncle gets his driver’s license suspended. All of a sudden, there was the hope that he would just go away for good—surely after such a public reprimand most people would lie low.
My wanting him to go away had nothing to do with the confusing compassion I’d felt for him as well.Even though he’s in denial, he’s defiant and he’s hardly asking for anyone’s sympathy, I do wish him well. Most of all, I really feel for his immediate family. Like most addicts I’ve put my own family through hell and I’ve been told what that was like, and, seriously, screw me then.
As for being on the other side of the fence of addiction, growing up, there were no addicts in my family. My father had never not come home because of a bender; I had never found my mother passed out on the floor. There were no publicly embarrassing episodes. Actually, there was one time—my father went to a party (he was 34 at the time) and came home tipsy. I was horrified because a friend was sleeping over and my father woke us up by shouting happily at my mother who shouted not so happily back at him. I didn’t want my friend to think we were that kind of family.
Years later, sitting in recovery meetings I’d listen to horror stories about drunken parents, uncles, siblings. The life with an active addict seemed to be full of crushed hopes and frustrations and then more hopes, and more crushing of them. And often there was resentment toward the addicted family member, no matter how deep of a compassion for the same addict. I remember a man sharing how he wouldn’t be able to breathe on hearing his step-father come home—his throat seemed to close in on itself from anxiety.
Ford’s trajectory has been marked by controversy after controversy: from the denials about the infamous crack tape where Ford was said to have been filmed lighting up the pipe, to the revelation that the tape does indeed exist, to Ford’s fabulously enabling family members, such as his brother, Doug Ford, or his mother and sister who on crack revelations, insisted on live television that Ford’s problem is his weight, not drinking.
There are more Ford gaffes that are becoming the stuff of future legends, such as him saying “I have enough to eat at home” when referring to cunnilingus and his wife; or pushing an elderly councilorduring a council city meeting. His behavior is erratic, bizarre. His denial is baroque.
Whenever I hear the man deny and lie and then deny some more, I feel like one of those prehistoric know-it-all AA guys with fifty years of sobriety and I think: I’m going to save you a seat, son. For those of you who are not versed in 12 steps, what I’m implying is that Ford is indeed an addict and that one day he’ll screw up enough that he will make it to an AA meeting (here I will be saving him a seat). (Not really.)
From hearing other people’s stories about living with addicted relatives, I know that hope heals as well as destroys. It destroys, maybe because it never seems to die no matter how many times it gets killed. Over time, hope becomes cruel. A thing that eventually just seems to mock you, not the thing that helps you cope with the chaos around you.
The recent ice storm and Ford’s response was sober (pun intended and not) and although not free of drama, it showcased him as the leader that he's supposed to be. He addressed the ongoing concerns and he had only once missed a public address. During the crisis, he had not driven drunk and he had not been filmed smoking crack cocaine. It seemed like that was the perfect opportunity for him to start repairing his public image. Now, there was cautious hope among the citizens of our Al-Anonish city that perhaps things were going to get better with uncle Ford. Despite wishing him well on the personal front, many of us got scared he might get so much better that he will win back the support of those who have lost their faith in him. He is running for re-election in October.
Then, on January 21st, two new videos of Ford being drunk in public have surfaced online. He has referred to the incident as “minor setback.” A setback because he had publicly announced he’s quit drinking in November 2013 (and found Jesus at the same time). The immediate admission of the January 21st drunkenness might be the only good part about the latest development in the Ford saga; the fact that he spoke in Jamaican patois in the video is a facepalm.
For now, the aftermath of the latest video scandal is causing more eye-rolling and criticism in media,the addiction experts get interviewed again and the public meltdown continues to provide fodder forheated editorials (and, most will supply great material for late-night shows in the near future). The uncle keeps on drinking.
A sober friend once told me about her alcoholic father moving back in with her in order to “dry out.” He lasted for a few weeks before going on a bender. After she kicked him out, she herself relapsed. She has not seen her father since then and has cut him completely out of her life. Sadly, in Toronto, we have no mechanism to prevent Rob Ford from running for the mayor in October. When I think about him winning the election, I see a passed out drunk uncle I’ve never had, right here on a couch in my living room.
Jowita Bydlowska is a Canadian author whose bestselling book Drunk Mom will be published in May in the US. She last wrote about the children of addicts.