Just thought I’d share my latest post with Lanthie’s lovely readers.
It’s a subject that’s currently close to my heart and one that I’m sure many of you have experience of.
My dad told me once about a bloke he used to work with who was a serious alcoholic.
He was apparently unable to get out of bed in the morning without first having a quick couple of shots from the bottle of vodka pick-me-up in his bedside drinks cabinet.
He then drove to work, refreshing himself occasionally from a handy second bottle he had stashed in the glove compartment and for the rest of his working day in the office he functioned perfectly well, providing he kept himself topped-up from bottle number three, hidden in the drawer of his desk.
I remember thinking about this, doing some brief calculations and coming to the conclusion that it had to be an exaggeration. Even over the space of one day this guy had to be putting away a bottle and a half of vodka. Surely nobody could function with anything like normality with that much alcohol in their bloodstream, could they?
Over the years I’ve known some folks who “liked a drink”, but my experience of them has been almost exclusively in situations (pubs, clubs, parties, etc) where the rest of us were also in some way intoxicated, so their conspicuous consumption was always less, well, conspicuous.
In other words, I’ve never consciously thought about the normal daily routine of the bench-or-ditch common-or-garden alcoholic.
Until recently, that is.
An old friend I hadn’t seen for a long time had been in touch and, having cheerfully informed me on the phone that since we’d last met, he’d “turned into a right old alchy”, told me (with what I thought was considerable hyperbole) several stories about waking up on public benches after consuming superhuman quantities of vodka, once even attracting the attention of a passing group of local church-going musicians who took pity on the insensible stranger and installed him in a pew to sleep it off, where he later awoke to the strains of a religious sing-song.
Enough to sober anyone up, you would have thought.
Now, I’m not prone to unwarranted sympathy (possibly an understatement) and although I accept that alcoholism is an illness that nobody would choose, I don’t have much patience with the “Oh poor me, feel sorry for me, I can’t help myself” attitude in any situation, let alone one that has such a devastating effect on anyone that suffers from it, not to mention the pain and anxiety it causes those around them.
So if my newly-pickled old friend was expecting me to reinforce any notion that this was all just boozy high-jinx, he was going to be disappointed.
After expressing suitable (and genuine) sympathy for the situation that had brought him to the brink on which he now teetered, I proceeded to give him a bloody good talking to, mainly on the theme of “Stop being such a fucking idiot, if you carry on like that you’re going to kill yourself” with a side order of “I shall be really pissed off with you if you die after finally getting back in touch”, all of which seemed to gratify him in some way, if only because he’d forgotten that I’d tell him what I thought, without sugar coating it.
Since then we have stayed in touch and he has visited on several occasions, each time looking more like his old self, only now he has a new topic of conversation; how he’s doing at his alcohol meetings and which of the various “managed recovery” programmes is the most effective.
However, things are not always what they seem to the uninitiated and, while it’s true to say that a casual observer would have noticed a marked difference in his appearance over the last few months, they probably wouldn’t have been aware that he was still needing to consume a few restorative drinks to regain his equilibrium for the day.
So I was treated to the frankly alarming sight of him transforming, Jekyll and Hyde-like, from a rather shaky, pale and irritable shade of his former, fun-loving and mischievous self, back into the old friend I know and love over the period of about an hour or so, during which time he drank a 25cl bottle of anonymous Co-op vodka, each barely-diluted slug visibly reviving his good spirits. (no pun intended).
Always present though, is the self-knowledge of his situation.
Our son asked if anyone could give him a lift to work and we had to say no as my car was out of action my friend had to refuse on legal grounds, later saying;
“That’s really bad isn’t it, saying I can’t drive because I’ve had too much to drink, by”,…glancing at the clock,…”1.30 in the afternoon”
After having given him yet another unsympathetic lecture later that weekend, he said it would be great if I would go along to one of his meetings with him.
Almost before the sentence was out of his mouth I said “No! Definitely not. No no no no no.”
“But why not?” he asked, “My dad wouldn’t come with me either”
“Because I wouldn’t be able to maintain the correct level of politely diplomatic sympathy” I said.
“Oh but they’d love that”, he said, enthusiastically “they like it when people don’t take any bullshit from them”
I declined nonetheless, I’m not really designed for support groups, although I’m impressed with the help and support this particular group has given my friend. It’s now down to him to find the inner strength to follow the advice they share, often gained through bitter experience, when there isn’t anyone around to save him from his own demons.
As he recently told me, after encouraging me to write this post;
“The worst of it is this little man who sits on your shoulder. He’s called The Trickster and he says things like ‘Go on, have a drink it’s not really bad for you’ and ‘Go on, you need another drink NOW’ I hate him”
I can only hope he realises how serious his position is, because the threat to his health is very real and if he doesn’t follow the advice of those of us who do give a shit about him, even if he doesn’t give a shit about himself at the moment, then there is a very real chance he won’t be around to listen to me lecture him, and that would really piss me off.
It would be a very great shame indeed and a terrible waste too, to throw away so much for the sake of so little.
So if you are reading this, and I know you are, stick to your plan mate, we’re always here if you feel you might stumble.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d be hugely irritated by the whole self-indulgent experience, I’d set up my own version of a support group.
I can just picture the scene now;
In a community hall somewhere, a diverse selection of ordinary people slowly assembles, quietly taking their seats, arranged in the ubiquitous, non-hierarchical circle, they carefully avoid each other’s eyes, as if, although having been drawn here by a common bond they are nevertheless not comfortable with the fact.
A member of the group with a more confident air about them than the rest says brightly, “Right, who wants to start?”
There is a pause, then one of the other members of the circle silently nods, closes his eyes briefly as if to prepare for a distasteful ordeal, slowly stands up and says;
“Hello, my name’s Dale, and I have a friend who is an alcoholic”