I don’t want to make this an ‘alcoholism blog’. But given that my mum and I have spent all day on the London to Edinburgh road, to help my brother’s partner shepherd him into rehab again, it’s pretty hard to focus on anything else right now. I’ll not write all about my brother’s situation though, because it is what it says on the tin. His condition is very similar to mine in that he uses drink to self-medicate against what he sometimes calls the ‘washing machine’ in his head. Like me, he’s tried everything – and yet he’s once again found himself in this sorry state. Alcohol aside, he’s in a place of utmost despair because he just keeps going round this loop again and again and again. My big hope is that once he’s detoxed, what’s worked so dramatically for me, may have some success with him as well. Not only does what he’s described about his condition sound uncannily familiar, but we must share a sizeable chunk of DNA too. No guarantees, but worth a shot.
Picture – if you will – a magical land of rainbows and unicorns. A land where friendly dragons swoop down from the sky to toast your marshmallows with gentle breath. Pixies pop in and out of existence like fireflies, whispering thrilling secrets into your ear. A land where playful lambs dance at your heels, singing sweet melodies in a cheerful vibrato.
Now – forget all that, and picture yourself driving down the A1.
On the way back down south the conversation turned to my nan. My nan is a wonderful lady, but she’s also in her mid 90s and has zero understanding of the conditions my brother and I face. Neither do I expect her to.
Mum recounted to me how during one of my worst spells, nan said something to her along the lines of “You should just tell him to pull his socks up.”
At the time this comment would have upset me. When sober but with my GAD untreated it probably would have angered me to some extent. But with my newly cleared perspective I can appreciate that this was a comment from a concerned grandmother, who was simply unable to comprehend why her grandson was behaving in such a self-destructive manner, breaking the hearts of the family members he left in his wake.
With things like this I always find it helpful to remind myself of a dinner table bottle of wine. See, some people have a glass or two from the bottle, and then apparently they leave the rest. I don’t mean that they move on to whiskey or port, I mean that they decide that they’d now prefer a cup of tea or some other such nonsense. And as a fully paid-up alcoholic, even one that doesn’t drink any more, that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. No matter how hard I try, I cannot for the life of me bend my tiny little mind around it. The idea that, once you’ve had a drink or two, you’d not want to finish at least what was within immediate reach, is literally incomprehensible. My brain just returns a 404 error. I can say with absolute certainty that it’s something that I would never, ever be able to do.
And when I look at it like that, I figure that maybe it might give me a little insight into how non-alcoholics see people like me and my brother.
“Why don’t you just stop drinking after a couple of glasses?”
Don’t be so feckin ridiculous.
And I almost, almost said out loud that my nan had probably never actually come across any alcoholics during her life, so she’d have had no experience of us.
But then I stopped.
And I thought.
And I realised how very patently unlikely that was. Of course she must have come across alcoholics during her lifetime. Not sleeping in a hedge (yet) alcoholics, no – but alcoholics nonetheless.
Remember, my nan is 96 years old. And back when AA started, the second A – for Anonymous – was there for a very important reason. Admitting to the wider world that you were an alcoholic was an extremely unwise thing to do. Everything from bank accounts to occupations could rely on things like letters of recommendation, and your local reputation. Announcing to all and sundry that you were unable to control the grip that alcohol had over you would mark you out as lacking moral fibre, weak, or just a self-indulgent degenerate. Let it get around that you were an alcoholic, and in certain circles you were basically screwed.
So I’m sure my nan has met plenty of people that don’t drink because they “don’t like the taste”, or because it “doesn’t agree” with them, or because they find it simply makes them “unwell”. She’s probably heard men comment about someone that they’re “a queer fellow; doesn’t drink” or similar.
I’m completely certain that she has met and conversed with numerous alcoholics during her long life. But she never knew it.
There’s still a lot of misunderstanding, and a lot of judgement and stigma around alcoholism – but perhaps we’re slowly moving in the right direction after all.