All around the world bars crowd on Friday and Saturday nights with people looking to have fun. Sometimes we are tempted into having a little more to drink then we plan. Being drunk is defined as being affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one’s faculties or behavior. When looking at most people in these bars it’s relatively simple to pick out those who have drank too much. It seems everyone who works in a bar is trained with the tools of understanding how to handle those who have exceeded their limit. What if someone appears to be intoxicated who is not? All the signs of intoxication might be present. They appear to have lost control of their faculties and clearly have slurred speech. However, the appearance of those symptoms could be the result of something other than intoxication. In my case, they are the result of cerebral palsy. Growing up I wasn’t forced to deal with the question around my intoxication level. When we are young the assumption that we aren’t impaired seems logical. Upon reaching my 21st birthday things seemed to change.
It has been a challenge participating in life while having cerebral palsy. I knew life would be different after everyone I grew up with turned 21. Reaching the legal drinking age seems to be a milestone most people become excited about. There can be large gatherings to celebrate the first time someone can order a drink in a bar. I always had a feeling reaching the legal age to consume alcohol would be different. My speech has always been slurred and with the awkward movement of my body, I assumed it would be advantageous to be more cautious in a bar. There had already been situations at parties where people I didn’t know thought inaccurately I was intoxicated. If the situation happened in a bar, I could be thrown out through no fault of my own. It caused anxiety each time I went out and continues to enter my mind on occasion. To combat the anticipated feeling of discomfort I was most often the designated driver. If I was asked about my level of intoxication it would be easy to explain the responsibility of driving and my intent of having just one drink or no drink at all. It was a situation that caused feelings of exclusion from my group of friends. While everyone was drinking, and having fun. I would sit quietly trying not to look drunk while completely sober.
It’s easy to remember the first time someone wanted to throw me out of a bar. It happened during a trip to Canada. The drinking age is lower while visiting our northern neighbor and during college we took advantage. Friends from high school attended school just an hour from the Canadian border. When the legal age to drink in Canada was achieved, friends from home would travel to meet friends at college, then continue north for a night of fun. Most often I would be the driver. Driving from our hometown, through the college town, and continue north. During the night, I was slowly consuming the one drink I have when driving. It was the middle portion of our night. A couple buddies where standing around our table, with others scattered throughout the crowded bar. As we drank and joked around, a member of the security staff walked up to the table. He began leading me toward the door. I had no idea what was happening in that moment. A buddy stepped in and engaged the gentlemen in a conversation. When their conversation ended, the security member left, and instead of walking toward the door, we walked back to the table. When I inquired about the conversation, my buddy explained the staff member thought I was drunk. He was going to remove me from the bar. My buddy told the gentleman I had cerebral palsy, which caused me to appear intoxicated when I wasn’t. It allowed me to stay in the bar with friends. In this situation, I had been drinking and he assumed I was drunk, but that wouldn’t always be the case. It’s even more discouraging being denied entrance into a bar when I’m completely sober.
The attempt to deny me entrance into a bar has happened on a couple occasions. It seems many times we can find ourselves waiting in line to enter a bar. Especially when it comes to a popular night club. During my 20’s friends would go out occasionally and find ourselves in these lines. Standing in these lines always made me uncomfortable. It often occurred to me, the door man was looking over the people in these lines, evaluating them for admittance into the bar. I was convinced all my friends would get in without a problem, but when the bouncer looked at me what did he see? I knew from experience how easy it was to look at me and mistakenly see someone who is intoxicated. So, I always did my best to stay quiet and act casual, hoping I didn’t appear drunk. It was a nervous experience, but thankfully I was let in more often than the attempt to turn me away.
The two attempts at turning me away have stuck in my mind. I remember being the designated driver on both nights. We all rode in my car with the music turned up too loud. Everyone looking forward to the opportunity to hang out and the possibilities of a night yet to unfold. I did my best to cover the uncontrollable symptoms of cerebral palsy as we approached the door. Standing somewhere near the back of our group. I watched my buddies show their identification and be allowed admittance. When I arrived in front of security with identification ready, I was told he couldn’t let me inside. Having experience with these situations, I didn’t attempt to plead my case through already slurred speech, I thought it better to simply turn and walk away. These situations have been some of the most hurtful in my life. They cause me to feel singled out in front of friends I’ve known my entire life, over something I can’t control. After walking away, my buddies would stop me in my tracks. On both occasions, they explained my cerebral palsy to the gentleman at the door and I was allowed inside the bar. It took some time for my buddies to ease the hot-headed nature I possessed at the time, but I would calm back down and the night would continue as planned.
Looking back, it’s difficult to blame those security personnel for the actions they took. They are shouldered with the responsibility of protecting their establishment. Part of fulfilling that responsibility is keeping prospectively disruptive people away. Their job description probably doesn’t require the ability to understand the difference between someone who is drunk and someone who appears drunk, but is physically disabled. However, in my 20’s it was difficult for me to find patience for those realities. The situations seemed to strike at my core and because of that I took them too personally. In the end, they provided me with serious motivation. I knew there wasn’t much I could do about my slurred speech, but there may be something I could do about my physical faculties. It wouldn’t happen for another few years, but I eventually joined a gym and found a trainer. My thought was strengthening my body with someone who could teach me how, would stabilize my body, reducing the appearance of intoxication.
While the first trainer I worked with increased my mobility, he didn’t have an accurate understanding of cerebral palsy. We worked together for years until something lead me in a different direction. As the training began with someone new, it felt as though I was working with a trainer for the first time. In a fraction of the time he has increased my strength, improving my balance and posture. Today, I move through the world differently and the appearance of intoxication has been greatly reduced. It’s been a long process to reach this point, but those difficult situations of my 20’s still carry feelings of sadness and frustration. However, I’m thankful for the friends who surrounded me during those times when I couldn’t speak for myself. One of the most important things I continue to learn, is how to take a hurtful situation, and with courage, turn it into positive motivation.