The Days of Wine and Roses

by Sundiata Stanford

I learned in the program Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) that this new, very exciting relationship I found myself in with Cheryl was my escape hatch out of a fifteen-year marriage that wasn’t working. To be real, I, and my issues, were the major reasons why the marriage wasn’t working. Those reasons and that past marriage are another story.

Cheryl’s shit-eating grin captivated me, what with her snaggle teeth (this is the 1960’s generation — today all children get braces, as the movement against snaggle teeth is a major boon to the dental hygiene industry). Cheryl was doing the same thing I was doing — and was probably as unaware as I was. She was escaping a not-working fifteen-year marriage. Her husband was hopelessly addicted to alcohol.

In describing this episode in my life I reference off of the disease concept of addiction: not being sufficiently self-reflective, resorting to external “remedies” to solve internal problems, attaching to objects or processes in an obsessive and compulsive manner — each of these are hallmarks of addiction as a way of life. As I reference in this manner, I need to specify that I understand the disorder known as addiction to be the spiritual disposition of the United States of America. If you breathe the air of this culture, you get the virus. It is in this connection that I break with my Sisters and Brothers in AA, NA, OA, etc., with their construct “us addicts vs normal people…” I don’t know who these normal people are. I do believe that some are sicker than others. But I have yet to discover those people who are immune to the disease of “more, faster, better, more,” which is the meat and potatoes of the spirituality of the USA.

Sex and Love Addiction

Cheryl and I could not get enough of each other. In SLAA, the process whereby Cheryl and I each saw each other as irresistible is called “sexualizing our feelings.” In other words, instead of unwrapping my real life problems, and looking for help to understand the patterns within me which needed solutions (a healthy process which health-seeking people engage on a daily basis), Cheryl was a piece of candy for me with a gravitational pull.

We were madly in love with each other — left our spouses, routinely took off work to be with each other. There was little plan and less principles guiding our behavior. These are both warning signs that a process may be addictive.

Once the underlying (but unconscious) goal — to get out of marriages that were not working — had been achieved, the power of the sex-charged romance began to fade, and difficulties with our respective children, respective jobs, and respective life goals began to interfere with the “bliss.”

As the relationship began to fall apart, I moved from Cheryl’s bedroom to set up shop in her garage. It was more comfortable for me to host my three sons, or do my writing, or connect with friends or work on the phone from the garage, than in the midst of Cheryl and her family.

I began to get very blue. My marriage was gone, and what took it away was not capable of replacing it. I was living in another locale, the suburb of Dedham, Massachusetts. This, after 25 years of living and being devoted to Boston’s African America. Unlike the community which embraced me and I embraced, Dedham was a system of individual nuclear families sitting separately from each other on private plots — there was no community.

An avid music lover, I began to attach to a song whose message framed for me my situation. “The Days of Wine and Roses” (Henri Mancini) was the theme song for the movie of the same name (1962). The film, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick was about alcoholism. To the extent that one measure of genuine art is the test of time, this film stands as the greatest I’ve ever seen in accurately depicting the illness of drug addiction and recovery from such. This film was made 58 years ago. If you have seen a better rendition of the chaos of alcoholism, watch it again and tell your friends to do so.

However, as Narcotics Anonymous has so pointedly made clear, the disease of addiction is not first of all an attachment to an outside substance — drug, gambling game, food. It is, first of all, an internal disorder, and the disorder has relative independence from the offending outside substance. In other words, the food addict still suffers from the disorder, even while having achieved abstinence from the offending food for months, years, or decades.

Irony and U-Haul Trucks

It is in this connection that the message of this song to which I was attached became problematic:

The days of wine and roses,

laugh and run away,

like a child at play,

Through a meadow land

And toward a closing door
A door marked “nevermore,”

that wasn’t there before.

The lonely night discloses,

just a passing breeze,

filled with memories
Of the golden smile

that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses

And you.

I was sitting in this garage in the suburb of Dedham, Massachusetts understanding myself to be heartbroken at the pending failure of this romance. I experienced myself as falling into an abyss. I called my best friend, Stacey, and recited this song to her.

There was silence for more than a few seconds, and then Stacey lit into me: “That is the Whitest message I have ever heard in my life!!” “Let me get this straight: You’re standing outside in the darkness of the night all by yourself? And all you have is ‘a passing breeze, filled with memories,’ of some golden smile…??? Really? Are you sure, Sundiata? What happened to your children? What happened to your loved ones, the rest of your family, your extended family? What happened to your community? What happened to the People’s Cause to which you have devoted your entire adult life? What would the Ancestors think about this message?”

“Really, ‘just a passing breeze…?’ Now, that’s some White spirituality for ya. That is the message of a dying culture.”

It was like my friend had slammed me with a brick up side my head. It jolted me out of my malaise. Tragedy, irony, forlornness, these are basic elements of this culture. Romance addiction, lack of purpose in life — these are the hallmarks of a decaying society. And Stacy’s reminding me of this is the definition of genuine friendship. This brick up side my head is what friends are for.

One of my mentors as I came into adulthood was a writer and communist revolutionary named Truman Nelson (the biographer of “the Old Man,” John Brown). One of his lessons for me was regarding the allure which this culture has for dead ends. He used to tell me — “working class people, oppressed people have no time for irony; irony is a bourgeois luxury. Working class people are interested in figuring out how we can get out of this mess…”

And after Stacy lit into me, I had a way out of my mess. Within a few hours of Stacy’s assault my three sons arrived in a U-Haul truck. Together we gathered up my belongings and headed back to Roxbury, Massachusetts, center of Boston’s Black community. I’m still here.