I was a drunk, angry teacher

I just wanted to open my students' eyes to social justice and reality. I didn't want them to end up bitter like me

Topics: Education, Life stories, Editor's Picks, I was a drunk, angry teacher,

I was a drunk, angry teacher (Credit: Tootles via Shutterstock/Salon)

I got sober two years ago. It was the best decision of my life. It’s probably the only reason I still have any life worth living at all.

I’m not sure why I drank the way I did. There are neurological diagnoses, chemical factors and plenty of spiritual explanations. But none of those ever seemed to encapsulate what drove me to drink. For me, it was about managing the misery. And misery, for as long as I could remember, was a suit well-tailored to fit my body.

My struggles were always a product of my permeability. I could never seem to separate out my crap from everyone else’s crap. I guess I never learned how to look at the world and not feel like everyone else’s problems were my own problems, or somehow my fault.

Others rarely took the time to look in the direction of suffering. On the occasions they did, they instantly glanced away, explained away, ran away. They were crafty in the art of deflection. They were refugees from reality. But I was a master of absorption. I was the sin-eating, guilt-gulping, pain-hoarding champion of the world.

As a high school history and ethics teacher, I wanted my students to awaken to that same aching in the world — its injustices and sorrows — and feel similarly accountable. I didn’t want them to look away. Neither ignorance nor apathy were permitted. I demanded that attention be paid.

So I went to work on their psyches. For every flag waved and allegiance pledged, I pummeled them with images of war and genocide that resulted from blind nationalism. I showed them how much of the human imagination has been expended thinking of ingenious ways to exploit and torture as opposed to cooperate and make peace. I asked them to resist prevailing notions of progress and discover the dissenting viewpoints too often scrubbed from the collective consciousness or relegated, at best, to the margins of popular opinion. I insisted that they learn the algorithms of fear-mongering and commercialism being used to calibrate their minds. I shared the wickedness of their historical heroes and humanized their villains. I forced them, as Albert Camus once implored, to side with the executed and not the executioner. But I also insisted that they remember there is a bit of the executioner in us all.

I wanted them to be allies in my struggle, compatriots in my misery. I dreaded the notion of them joining the long gray line of empty suits and skirts, more unreflective consumers than critical citizens.



But I never wanted my students to wake up in the middle of the night in their early 30s, feeling broken and alone, with only a nightstand pint of Jim Beam to ameliorate the pain. No, I never wanted them to be drunks.

I never wanted them to be me.

In retrospect, and through a more sober lens, I realize that opening my students’ eyes to the realities of the world without empowering them to feel like they could truly make a difference was downright reckless, perhaps even abusive. There is, after all, a reason why physicians induce coma in cases of extreme burn victims. The pain can be just too damn unbearable.

At the height of my drinking, it was impossible to imagine a future that was inconsistent with my present: a future with any capacity to puncture the permanence of my affliction. However, in quitting drinking — in having the once-cancelled life rematerialize in front of my eyes — I can now see that cynicism and optimism don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Being critical about the way things are or have been does not preclude believing that things might still get better.

It is our duty — as parents, teachers, counselors, and educators of all kinds — to promote a healthy cynicism in our children without also breeding in them a toxic pessimism. Young people, especially the most sensitive and empathic among us, require mentoring — a transformational leadership apprenticeship, so to speak — so they can learn how to fight injustice without succumbing to depression, fatalism, resentment and likely self-destruction. Without this social justice scaffolding, we can’t be surprised if our children grow up to medicate just as we do: through denial or through drink. Instead, if we insist on providing our kids with the proper guidance, self-care tools and support networks as they stay awake to the pain of it all, our children will be better able to grapple with the world’s demons without feeling consigned to an eternal Hell.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...