The distracting ADHD noise in my head was the same whether I was a success or a failure. But martinis always muffled the chattering.
by Frank South
I’ve written a couple of times before in this blog about my alcoholism and its relation to my ADHD and hypomania and other scattered comorbid disorders I carry jangling around in my head like loose change. But I find the alcohol/ADHD dynamic to be a difficult, smoky thing to express and I always feel I don’t quite get it. So, I thought I’d give it another try. I hope it will resonate for you. And if it does, I hope you’ll leave a comment and perhaps a story of your own. I also hope I’m not starting to sound too much like Garrison Keillor here.
You could call this a Hollywood alcohol and drug story, but it’s not. It’s not even a cautionary tale about a rube being misguided by hubris and ego, though I am a rube, for sure, and I did pack my head with a bunch of self-inflating lies. The honest dirt floor of this story has more to do with the difference between facts and excuses, and how much you’re willing to lose, and how much pain you’re willing to cause before you finally own up.
I was diagnosed with ADHD, hypomania, and depression after a breakdown I had when I was 49 years old. It seemed to me I had pretty good reasons to fall apart even without all the medical jargon. After crawling back from one implosion of my TV career, I had managed to snag another job retooling a show that, after months of work, promptly bombed. After that, I went to meetings for other shows and the more I wanted any job, the less anyone wanted me. My new agent said people weren’t “responding” to me -- I was too desperate and scattered. The ADHD I didn’t know I had was becoming increasingly obvious and irritating to everyone else. The meetings got shorter and more perfunctory. I stopped being desperate and began telling people what I really thought about their shows. Pretty soon, not even my agent returned my calls.
I sat at home pacing by the phone trying to calm the incessant, negative, vicious chattering going on in my head -- the same negative chattering that banged around in there when I came home after a day being a serious big shot. And I did the same thing I did back when we still had our big house and all that -- I had a few martinis. The distracting ADHD noise in my head was the same whether I was a success or a failure. Every chattering idea started with, “Yes, but what about this?” And wound off down yet another unexplored, dark wormhole twisting down to the same pit of self-loathing they all did.
But the martinis always worked. They muffled the chattering, plugged up the wormholes. That done, I could sit inside my head drinking, singing, and peeking out the window at everyone else: The interior ADHD noise cure. My exterior was droopy eyed, inattentive, and slurred words -- but I was inside, so what did I care? For years, Margaret had tried smashing through that window to pry the bottle out of my hand. But I held on. I was smart, persuasive, contrite, and lied my ass off when I had to, because without the gin, I’d smash myself to pieces inside the walls of my prison.
Finally, though, it all came unglued in one evening at home trying to help my then ten-year-old son with his homework. Unseen (by me, anyway) psychological stress factors had increased to such a level that they’d crushed the walls of my gin-soaked cell and busted everything else I’d built around myself to a million pieces -- and I ended up curled up on the bedroom floor in a fetal position. By the time I’d managed to finally scramble to the doctors for help, I was flailing around in the deepest, darkest panic in memory. I was a quivering, weepy mess. I told the therapists I didn’t know why my whole life had fallen apart so suddenly. Why couldn’t I keep it together?
I always had before.
“Frank is a capable child, but has not yet found his place in the group. He seems to feel he must be the clown and constantly entertain the class. For a while he was better, but during the last few days, he has become almost impossible.” – My Kindergarten Teacher, Nov. 5, 1954
Okay, maybe not.