Yes Virginia, I Was a “Highly Functioning Alcoholic” (HFA)

A few years ago, I co-owned a contemporary art gallery called Spiller Vincenty in Jacksonville, Florida. I had all the trappings of success. Although the most “Vincenty” and I got out of the venture was some great art, an opening outfit or two and several exciting “art buying” trips to Moscow, Santa Fe and London.  There was not a lot of profit in it. When I look back on Spiller Vincenty now, I was drunk, tipsy or on my way to one or the other during most of my tenure as a gallerist.

Good business for a HFA

Actually, the gallery business is a good hiding place for an alcoholic. We were located downtown, in 10,000 square feet of minimal chic, with an office at the back. We were not busy and when I worked alone, I could get quietly drunk on the left-over wine from the most recent art opening. Speaking of which, openings are an easy opportunity to keep a bottomless glass of wine going from the open bar. The only time I caused some sort of scene at an opening, was always.

But there were performance artists writhing about, nonjudgmental artsy types and all the patrons came to drink. Even when I picked on some unsuspecting victim, being a mean drunk, no one called me on it. (Although I do remember a friend saying, “My God Marilyn, pick on someone your own size. It’s like Godzilla going after Bambi…”) I was the owner of the gallery and I was influential in Jacksonville’s burgeoning art scene.

The definition of HFA…

And I was the definition of the “highly functioning alcoholic“. I looked great; I was articulate; had a successful business; and sat on the boards of director of several important organizations in Jacksonville. I was married and my children were well fed and in school on time.

But (here comes the “but” again), with benefit of hindsight, I know I was not highly functioning at all. I drove drunk all the time. I was hung over every morning. Queasy all day long. I survived on pretzels, hard candy and Diet Coke. And wine.  There were ghastly, emotional blow-ups. Kim will read this and remind me I didn’t even show up for two days, while she and the staff were setting up for our “Gala Spiller Vincenty Gallery Opening” – an event attended by the mayor and all the local press. With a series of enormous works that had to be hung using heavy equipment and 30 foot ladders.

I was holed up in the hotel across the street ordering room service wine and cheese platters…

And when I wasn’t drinking I was thinking of drinking. Or, if I knew I had to go to an event at the children’s school I’d get my drinking in early and “sober up” before my commitment. I was regularly stopped by the police for “driving erratically.” My guess is that everyone knew I had a drinking problem. But they were too scared of my reaction to say anything. And it is only due to luck, fast talking and a remarkable ability to walk a straight line drunk that I did not get a DUI.

No such thing dawg…

Which is why I’m not buying the handle “highly functioning alcoholic.” It’s a myth – like bad Santa. I’m not even buying the “alcohol moderation management” claptrap. If you are drinking too much I think you should stop. I didn’t realize how vehement I was about this subject until a colleague of mine, Jess Kimmel,  wrote an article on the subject of moderation. She did that gonzo, unsuspected thing I do to people all the time. We had a “conversation,” and then she went away and put everything I said into an “interview.” Cheek.

Today I’m not drinking because I was drinking too much, not really functioning and I have decided it’s best if I just stop…

How come you’re not drinking?