Every time I read that title it fills me with fear. The fear is of being in a position where I am attending an alcohol anonymous session to try to cope with a problem. Attending the session isn’t the thing which I fear most, it’s the stigma of weakness and failure that’s attached to it that I fear the most.
Imagine what impact that would have had on my family leading up to that meeting. Imagine how unfair it would be to add burden to those around me.
But let’s go back a few steps in this scenario.
This blog was inspired by this post by Mark Johnson: (link) It’s a brilliantly passionate and evocative piece about a very personal experience of living with an alcoholic. As ever, that piece got me thinking.
What struck me was the way that at points through the piece, I found myself being able to relate to stages in Mark’s dad’s journey into alcoholism. There are so many things in the background which I feel like I can relate to.
The starting point is a sense of fallibility. I am not untouchable. At my core I’m quite a nervous person. My instinct has always been that while I know I’m a very capable individual, I don’t think others ever really see that. I find social situations uncomfortable. I’ve often had to grit my teeth and push myself into situations rather than being a bold self-promoter. Alongside that I can think of a great many situations where beer has served as a social lubricant and made interactions that bit easier. And perhaps that is the first point where on some level I have been even a little bit, reliant on beer to help me get through the uncomfortable situation.
The other thing I think about is that sense of yearning on a Friday afternoon. There are many times when I have simply yearned for a face full of hops for refreshment after a stressful week. Similarly, when I buy a load of exciting beers and they’re sat in the fridge I do yearn to get stuck into them. Now I fully appreciate that the yearning for the enjoyment of the flavours of the beer is in marked contrast to the yearning that an alcoholic has, but to my mind it has to be one step closer than not yearning for a beer at all.
And therein lies my key point. I’ve grown up surrounded by talk about alcoholics which usually has a tone of blame and a thick slice of criticism for the alcoholic involved. And because of that, most people would bristle at the mention of them potentially being an alcoholic. I often think most people would hold the blinkered view that it couldn’t happen to them. Even alcoholics once believed that it couldn’t happen to them, until it happened to them.
There are stages to it that need to be considered too. You don’t go from living a normal life to being an alcoholic overnight. I imagine it creeps up gradually, like that child at your friend’s school who slowly becomes more and more prominent in your child’s life and slowly leads them astray. You don’t know they’re leading them astray until something significant enough to make you notice happens, and the thing is your child doesn’t see it as them being led astray, they just see it as the thing they want to do at that moment in time, often blissfully unaware of the consequences of the steps they’re taking.
I imagine the route to alcoholism is the same. It’s a steady transition from leading an unaffected life to being dependant on the effects of alcohol to get through life. I say get through life, not many of us would consider that as getting through life. It’s actually the opposite of getting through life, its living in the most poisonous way possible. The physical impacts are considerable, the mental impacts are unseen until too late, and the impacts on those around you is where the pain of the problem is felt most acutely.
How many of us can sincerely say that we won’t ever be alcoholics with 100% certainty?
Just to make this clear, alcoholism is an entirely different thing to having a passion for beer. Once in the throes of alcoholism, an alcoholic won’t see beer as the drink of choice. It’s simply not powerful enough to have the effect that they want. And that’s the thing, they are drawn to the drinks they consume by the effect it has on them.
Now ask yourself, have you ever felt the need for a drink? Ever craved the way any alcoholic drink makes you feel? I know I have. I know there have been times in my life where I’ve yearned for a big blow out and a good sup to relieve stress. I fully understand that the severity isn’t anywhere near the same ball park as the way alcoholics think, but on some level there are similar traits.
Would any of you think that I had a potential problem if you saw me posting beers on Twitter on a daily basis? Or would you simply see me as a passionate beer fan enjoying his hobby? At what point would it leap out to you as being a problem?
What are the early stages of the road to alcoholism? Mark refers to his dad going to the pub with increasing regularity, but with it being a social scene that he became a part of. That being part of a group of regulars in a pub isn’t alcoholism. There’s a key step I suspect, which makes it a problem. It’s that dependency word. That social lubricant in awkward social situations could easily become an everyday crutch if you were unlucky enough to go through a traumatic life event. That’s my fear. That’s the circumstances which I think I’m most susceptible to. If I suffered a big loss in my personal life and the fabric of my life was ripped up, I can see at that stage that I’d look for something steady to try to ground me. It’s a ship trying to drop anchor and secure its position when the seas are choppy. What would you have to fall back on?
I count myself incredibly fortunate to have a strong extended family around me, and I know that I can take strength from that. That doesn’t mean that I blindly get myself into trouble and rely on them to pull me out. That’s the impact of alcoholism which Mark refers to. His dad was constantly reliant on his family to fix the messes that he created. I know for a fact that my family would do anything for me, but perhaps the constant testing of the limits of that is grossly unfair on any family. No I take that strength in my decision-making, I feel more confident in the decisions I make because I believe that my family will support me. It’s the positive edge to the sword, the other side being me not wanting to let my family down. It’s the same thing, just with a positive slant. When I find things tough, I think about my family and what they would want me to do. It gives me focus to push on past obstacles, but what if that wasn’t there?
I know alcoholism isn’t about the alcohol, it’s driven by factors which go on in people’s lives which in turn sees them turning to alcohol as a support mechanism. My point is that I’m not sure that there aren’t a set of circumstances out there which could see me turning to alcohol as a release. Granted those circumstances would be very extreme and would only be were my life to be turned upside down, but it’s still possible.
I think I have some initial empathy with how alcoholics get to where they are, however the fear of that gives me resolve to do everything I can to prevent that from becoming my reality, no matter what happens in life.
They say the first step is to admit you have a problem. I don’t have a problem, but I hope that if ever I feel like I may have a problem, I am able to raise it with someone early, so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. I suspect in many circumstances, pride married with the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to be an alcoholic, may actually prevent someone who suspects they may have a problem, from seeking help. I think as a society who is passionate about the beer culture here in the UK, we probably should be more supportive of people in the early stages. If this saves one person from going down the road any further, then it’d be well worth it. Save them from the pain of going through it, save those around them from the impact on their lives and also save the impact on our health services. Drink responsibly, as a society, together.
There is far more educated information to be had at the following link: (Alcoholics anonymous)
PS. This is a post I’ve had nagging at my mind for some time. I don’t want to offend anyone who has been affected by alcoholism in any way. I don’t for a second believe that I am in any way expert on the subject, or that I understand alcoholism. This is merely my un-informed thoughts on the subject. But perhaps by talking more about it, we would all learn more and we’d see more of those at risk, helped to avoid a decent into alcoholism.