Alcoholism’s a funny old thing.
Well, not so much funny I guess. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah, that’s it – horrific.
Alcoholism’s a horrific thing.
If left to itself it’ll take your dignity, your job, your home, your money, your friends, your relationships, your self-respect, your health, and ultimately your life.
What’s more, unlike most other illnesses, it tends not to attract sympathy and support, but judgement and stigmatisation. Here are some things commonly said to alcoholics:
“Just stop drinking then”
“Why don’t you just drink in moderation?”
“You’re so selfish, can’t you see how much you’re upsetting [insert name here]?”
“You should just drink at weekends”
(once stopped) “How long until you’re able to have a drink again then?”
And so on.
All of these betray a total lack of understanding of what an alcoholic is.
I’m not a substance misuse professional. I’m not a clinician of any sort. What I am though, is someone who understands alcoholism intimately, because I’ve lived it every day for over a decade – and I talk to other alcoholics at least twice a week now as well.
I’m someone who worked his way up from minimum wage to a senior project manager role in the NHS, earning the very respectable salary that goes with a band 8b position, delivering successful improvements across all the services of a major hospital, presenting to the board on a regular basis, and generally winning bigly. I had a wonderful partner of over 10 years, with whom I shared a nice house. I proposed, she accepted, and she became my fiancee. We went on lovely holidays to Crete and to Portugal. I had a vegetable patch. Everything was pretty good. And I lost the lot.
I went from trying to improve A&E waiting times, to being the one with a cannula in his arm in one of the bays. I lost my job and swopped it for multiple ambulance trips to the very hospital I used to work at. That was a trifle embarrassing to say the least. Admitted having had alcoholic seizures, and people walking by who I used to sit across the table from in meeting rooms. What do I do, wave? Fuck.
I lost my relationship. I lost my home. I drank my bank account dry. I was in rehab twice, came straight out and started necking vodka again. At my worst, I was drinking about one and a half litres of vodka a day, morning til night. With that consumption, most people would be dead. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the constitution of a titanium hippo, because when they scanned my liver, stuck a camera down my throat and so on, they were astonished to find that somehow there’s fuck all wrong with me. If it wasn’t for the love of my parents, and their spare bed, I’d be homeless at best though, or more likely six foot under.
That isn’t normal behaviour. That isn’t rational behaviour. No one would choose to destroy their entire life like I have.
If I could “just stop”, don’t you think I would have?
And here’s the rub. The vast majority of people – including clinicians – don’t understand the difference between an alcoholic, and someone who drinks too much.