Shut up, old abusive drunk!

It sounded idyllic, teaching English to Asian monks on a remote mountaintop. Enter: Nasty dry-drunk alcoholic boss

Published July 4, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm a New Yorker living in the lofty peaks of Asia, teaching English to monks.

Sounds fabulous, doesn't it?

This is a rural area, where I have strong, long-standing spiritual connections. Well and good. That's a lot why I'm here. That, and the fact that I was barely making ends meet, after losing a well-paid career and figuring out this one, which doesn't pay much but is interesting and suits me. Why not follow a long-standing dream and go to these parts of Asia? The chance opened, a responsible volunteer job with some support.

Let me tell you my problem, which is pressing in terms of time. The senior teacher is an abusive, demeaning alcoholic. He's not drinking right now but that's because he fell into terrible despair and almost died after heavy drinking last year. (He told me this, without the slightest thought that alcohol is a fundamental problem for him.)

I am almost five years sober, a huge deal for me.

The director of this tiny program is good with papers and also good at ignoring people and their problems. I've been amazed, frankly, at her skill at both.

Soon after our arrival, the senior teacher proceeded to be terribly verbally abusive to me and the other teacher. (The director had gone off to travel, leaving him there in charge, just awful.) Really bad, routinely, mean stuff. Barking, ordering, excoriating, being contemptuous. It all came to a head when a senior honcho came around and listened to everybody. The abusive guy stayed, on probation, with a diminished role and the director was admonished for neglecting the situation. We all vowed to start fresh.

Right. For a while I was buddying up with him a bit. It was like buddying up to an erratic grizzly bear. Walking on eggs. Chuckling uneasily when he verbally jabbed me, like it was a joke. I am the daughter of a bad, but successful (and deceased) alcoholic, so I know all these roles too well. The drummer played and I marched. The teacher exploded, abusively, a few times, at me. I complained (or he did it once in the director's view). He was admonished, and I defended him (appallingly). He told the director that it was all fine, that that's how the two of us communicated, that we were friends.

But then I got seasick from what I was doing. I saw he was an abusive alcoholic. I realized he was certainly no friend. I found some online meetings to get my soul back, and realized how sickeningly codependent I was being, and how I was allowing myself to be demeaned -- and told myself in no uncertain terms to cut it out.

Last week, he exploded when I asked him, in an annoyed but not angry voice, to do something that was his to do. He lit into me -- I was a liar and a hypocrite and lots of awful things. I finally went out and did the chore, his chore, myself -- at which point he followed me and tried to jolly me up. I later wrote an email telling him to quit talking to me as much as possible -- a boundary he has ignored.

I called the director, upset at the whole thing. Why is he here??? Other teachers have had similar problems. (The answer: He is experienced and willing to stay long-term, having burned so many bridges, and he's fun in the classroom, therefore popular.)

Yesterday, the director, who now understands how abusive and difficult he is, said she doesn't want to hear about, act on or in any way even know about the guy's abuse to me. What? That's part of her job. But she said she's withdrawing from "personal matters" -- i.e., human beings. Therefore, she said, I'm on my own with him. But I find he is now truly making me feel nauseated, just his presence. The sight of him, his voice, even when he's not angry, makes me queasy and repulsed. He wants to be friends. I want him to vanish. And I feel very betrayed by both co-workers -- one abusive colleague I must interact with, and a director who's withdrawn all support of every kind and left me to do her job, in terms of dealing with him.

Shall I quit? I so want to finish the term, three and a half months from now. I have some friends here now. There are things coming up, outside the English thing, I care about. This is my big adventure, living here with the cows and goats and monks. I'm not ready to go home. But I'm not ready to be abused and utterly unsupported, either. Is there a way to hop over this roaring stream, rock by rock, without falling in?



Dear Teacher,

The way to hop over this roaring stream is to do it knowing you are utterly alone. If you turn back looking for support then you will fall. If you face forward with faith, knowing that you are alone but that you are in good hands, knowing this grizzly is ugly but cannot harm you, then you can cross that stream.

You are free to turn back. But if you want to stay and cross that stream, you do not have to fear this man. You do not need anything from him. What you truly want is not his to give. When you find yourself buddying up to him, know that your old wish for your father's competent love has reemerged. You are never going to get that. That sad story is in the past. When you find yourself wanting his approval or wanting him to change, know that your old wish for your father not to be an alcoholic has reemerged, and let that old wish go. Mourn it if you must but let it go into the forest.

These things that happened in childhood are over. You are your own person now. This old man is nothing. He's just an old unhappy alcoholic who will die soon.

If you can go through this recognizing that this hateful old grizzly alcoholic is the personification of your father, perhaps you can grow. To grow is why you have undertaken this task, is it not? Something called to you and said go up there in the mountains and learn something. Then this old man appears and he seems like an obstacle. But maybe he is why you came. Maybe he represents the thing you need to learn.

That little girl in you who needed a loving, sober, caring father, that little girl is looking out and seeing her father everywhere. Perhaps she has been doing this for years. If you can turn to her now and say, "It's OK, I'm a big girl, I've got control now, I'm taking care of us, he's not a threat," then you can stay on your feet and cross that stream, leaping from stone to stone, keeping your balance, not looking back.

This is your chance to learn, once and for all, that you need not live in fear of all the world's abusive, twisted, self-hating alcoholics and their neurotic programs of victimization.

You need not fear them. They are ghosts from your past.

This is something you want. Do not let this man take it away from you. Your father has already taken enough.

By Cary Tennis

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