Like many Torontonians, I’ve spent the last few weeks watching the Rob Ford issue unfold with a mixture of shock, awe and a bit of a smirk on my face. But as this sad saga continues, I find it harder and harder to see the humour in it. If there’s one thing that has clearly come out of this situation it’s that Rob Ford is a functioning alcoholic. A DUI notwithstanding, for the most part Rob Ford has yet to see any major consequences from his drinking. He may be getting rightfully dragged by the public but so far he hasn’t been put in jail and he is keeping his job. In his mind, he doesn’t have a problem. And that’s where this story starts to hit home. My father is also a functioning alcoholic. And the more Rob Ford denies that he has a drinking problem, the more I see shades of my dad.
Society tends to have a very narrow view of what it means to be an alcoholic. We think of an alcoholic as the disheveled guy who can’t hold down a job or a relationship and keeps a fifth of whiskey in his coat pocket. We don’t think of them as the sociable guy who earns a decent living and can support his family. What’s more is that despite Rob Ford’s drunken public appearances, functioning alcoholics can usually drink down a huge amount of alcohol before their intoxication becomes apparent to others.
When Rob Ford angrily told a CNN reporter that he is not an alcoholic, it sounded all too familiar. I’m willing to bet that he can go days, even weeks, without having alcohol and so in his mind there isn’t a problem. But as any al-anon site will tell you, the issue isn’t how much or how often you drink, the issue is how it impacts your life. Ford might be able to go months without alcohol but it’s doubtful that he will ever be able to drink in moderation. After all, this is a mayor who has gotten so black out drunk that he managed to try a class A drug. Between that, his DUI, and the angry behavior that he has exhibited while under the influence, it’s impossible to tell what might happen when he starts drinking again. And since he insists that his “drunken stupors” have been limited to weekends and holidays, it’s almost understandable to see why he thinks he has the issue under control. As Ford ranted that he has “never missed a day of city council” I could hear echoes of my dad’s protestations. “I work hard, can’t I have a drink?” (If it was just a single drink there wouldn’t be a problem). “Everyone else gets to celebrate special occasions with a drink but I’m not allowed to?” It’s tough trying to reason with an alcoholic especially when their arguments have just a hint of validity. After all, I’m sure Rob Ford wasn’t the only drunk person in Toronto last St. Patrick’s Day.
What makes this issue even more complicated is that Ford is clearly surrounded by enablers. City staffers would understandably not want to deny his requests lest they be fired. But even his own mother tried to claim that Ford’s biggest problem is his weight, not his drinking. It’s hard enough to convince an alcoholic to get help but it’s even harder when he still has a gaggle of supporters who will stand behind him no matter what.
It’s impossible to see how this will all play out. Yesterday during an interview Ford told Peter Mansbridge that he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in weeks but he still insists that he’s not an alcoholic. I’ve seen it all before. He could go months without consuming alcohol but until he’s ready to admit that he has a serious problem, it will crop back up again and again. The only thing I know for sure is that no one can do this for him. The desire to change has to come from the alcoholic. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for that day to come.