Have I lost my sense of humour? Or is that joke just not funny any more?

So, I was watching Mock the Week – a British news comedy panel show – a couple of weeks back. One of the panellists was Katherine Ryan, a young Canadian – a sort of potty-mouthed Anne of Green Gables, if you will.

Yes, she was funny and witty and smart. But raked into her improv were one too many booze jokes. You know, the ones that comics routinely deploy, especially in the UK, because they’re guaranteed a laugh. Here’s one (and apologies if I don’t get it absolutely right – I tried to find it on YouTube, but no luck):

“I’m mixed race. I’m Canadian… but I accept my boyfriend’s drinking like an Irish girl.”

I couldn’t laugh. I can’t laugh at jokes about drinking any more. I’ve always found that kind of humour empty and puerile, but now – now – I find it distressing. My immediate reaction is always: how can people laugh at that? It’s just NOT FUNNY

When people make light of alcoholism, I find myself short-circuiting. There is nothing – nothing at all – about drinking that makes me laugh. I can’t bear to hear people being flippant about the devastation that alcoholism brings, the mayhem it drags into your life, the trauma it leaves behind. 

On Saturday, Rosie and I met Ben, as always. He arrived late because he’d slept in. This irritated me and set the tone for the rest of our day together. I kept wondering why he hadn’t made the effort to wake up on this, the only day he had to spend with us. The reality was that he was ill (a chest infection), but even that wasn’t enough to mollify me. 

By the time we got back to the flat, we were both on edge, and Ben took his usual dip into the propanolol. Later, we went into the garden and Rosie dared him to lift me up. Ben being Ben, he ignored my warnings and hefted me up on his shoulders. About 15 minutes later, he was tucking into the paracetamol to ease a sharp pain in his leg and back. He lay down on the couch, breathing heavily, and all I could see was the Ben of old, crashed out on the sofa, moaning to himself in a drink-fuelled fog. 

He spent a fair bit of the time we had left, supine. I tried to keep the panic down. I knew he hadn’t been drinking. I knew he’d injured himself pretending he was still fit when he clearly isn’t. But the overall effect of seeing him horizontal like that, eyes closed and unresponsive, was too much. I was back there again. 

Years from now I may laugh at this, after all, I often find myself laughing at my situation – at its absurdity. But right now, it’s impossible. Every time I think I’m ok, I see something that sets my heart racing. Like the man clutching a can of Special Brew in the middle of the day today, just outside the office. I looked at him, at his empty, distressed eyes, and I saw Ben. I saw exactly what he must have looked like a few months ago – what he might look like again a few weeks, months or years hence. 

The wounds are still raw. It’s at times like these that I realise how far we are from resolution. This is the only thing that gives me hope. I don’t want a resolution – not yet. I can bear nothing more than this slow shuffle forward. Let the end remain out of sight for now. 



14 thoughts on “Have I lost my sense of humour? Or is that joke just not funny any more?

  1. Your sense of humor about these things will return. right now you are raw. You don’t feel a sense of security. i often laugh at my situation as well. I joke about his irresponsibility and messing up times and forgetting thing. The jokes often help me to mask the hurt that I really feel. I’m not, however, as inclined to laugh at others’ jokes when they seem to make light of alcoholism, abuse, etc. If the comedian has endured it, like Kevin Hart (vulgar warning), then I can laugh. He even called his show “Laugh at my Pain.” But it seems that I can only laugh because I know his background. He gets us. He’s making us laugh, but deep within, he knows it isn’t funny.
    I don’t envy your situation. I think, in some small ways, letting go of the marriage has been an easier route because I don’t have to worry about old patterns WITH ME. with my kids? yes, constant worry. but not with me.
    Keep in mind that trust is earned. You are not betraying him by having expectations and disappointments. Those things are normal, even MORE than normal, considering what you have endured at the hands of someone that you believed would protect you.
    You are doing great. You really, really are.

    • Thanks, StrongerMe. You know, I was thinking of you – that first comment you left on my blog about laughing at the peeing accidents. At that point, I found it hard to laugh at those things, but I know I often make light of my situation – particularly with my therapist – because I can’t find another way of framing it when I talk about it. On trust… I don’t know whether we will ever rebuild it. Those old patterns… they are entrenched. It’s so hard to break away from them. : (

      • I often wish that I could go back and be that same trusting, naive girl that I was when we met. I wasn’t jaded. I didn’t raise an eyebrow to every promise. I didn’t expect every commitment to be broken.
        I guess we created these defense mechanisms because we need them. I just hope that one day, there is peace and laughter. Not as a defense mechanism, but as a spontaneous response to joy.

  2. It isn’t funny to make light of other’s suffering. Alcoholism is suffering for the alcoholic and everyone in their lives. I don’t blame you at all for not laughing.
    I do hope along with you that the pills don’t become a replacement for the alcohol. It would be easy for an addict to replace one with another. Keep being strong. I admire you and the work you are putting into having a life for you and Rosie.

    • Thank you, Melanie. I hope the pills aren’t a replacement either. The rehab centre has said they’d prefer he didn’t take them. He is always prone to taking the easier route to pain relief (mental/physical). He’ll opt for a pill rather than weather it. In a way, I’m glad I’m seeing a bit of this. It reminds me that I’ve made the right decision in not letting him come back home at this point.

      • its really fascinating how easily alcoholics will jump to pills – even after years of sobriety…Afraid of of pain or anxiety or nervousness…certain whatever they might end up feeling may end up killing them – so better to head it off. its something i’m still not able to wrap my head around. My husband had a tooth extracted and was given tylenol with codeine for the pain. He was taking those when regular tylenol would have likely sufficed, (4 days later) saying that he didn’t want to wake up with it hurting…well, buddy, here’s a news flash – you had a tooth out – it hurts. there is no way around that.
        Hopefully the rehab place will work with him on better or different coping strategies.

      • Yeah, my thoughts exactly. It’s like they can’t cope with any type of pain. Their first response to it is to numb it – almost before they’re feeling it. I really hope that his rehab centre helps him with this, too. I can imagine my husband having exactly the same response to painful dental work.

  3. I bet that if you took a survey of the audience, the only ones not hiding behind their laugh wouldn’t know a thing about what you, Rosie, or Ben (and the like) are going through. The rest of them tend to laugh, not because it’s funny, but to try and hide the discomfort they have. They know what it’s like to either be an alcoholic or know an alcoholic. People get nervous when someone, especially a comic, talks about a topic close to them, and nerves can make a person laugh. At least that’s my take on it. The whole thing is very front and center for you now, so you are raw. You will always be aware of alcoholism, you may always steer clear of alcohol or anyone consuming alcohol, but hopefully the wounds won’t be raw for long. I also hope that the meds don’t replace the alcohol for Ben.

    • Hmmm, actually, you’re probably right, cakes. Nervous laughter.. On the other hand, people here in the UK revel in jokes about drinking. It’s a national pastime, really. Everything is negotiated through drink – business deals, work talk, social events. I find it so disheartening. Sigh.

  4. In some ways I can relate to your wanting the end to remain out of sight. I’ve been struggling for the best part of a year with a health condition which has stripped away my life as I knew it – I had to leave uni, move back with my parents and I’m relatively housebound. I’ve been told I will get better, but it could take years and I may never be where I was before.
    When you want something so badly, in my case – better health, it becomes overwhelming. When people comment on how I’ve had a good few days, maybe I could be turning a corner, it then becomes crushing when you relapse. I’ve asked my family not to comment when they think I’m getting better, because it makes it easier to deal with the lows – I’d rather just get better on the sly and realise it one day when I’ve been symptom free for a significant period of time.
    Concentrating on the smaller, everyday things is one of the most theraputic ways to cope.
    Best of luck to you – you are very brave.

    • Hey stretchy, yes, you’re right. It’s sometimes better to try to get through it on the quiet and then, when it finally feels solid, accept it as progress. No point in raising your hopes and having them dashed every little while. You are brave, too. I know you are going through a really tough time and that things look bleak, but as you say, keeping your expectations small and manageable can lead to bigger victories down the line. Hang in there.

  5. Pingback: Which way is up? « marriedtoalcoholic

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