I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix …
–Allen Ginsberg, Howl
I am no Ginsberg, and my concerns are not the same as his – but these lines have been been thundering through my head for the past week. I have been visiting my friends in London, and on the first day I was there it hit me like a ton of bricks to the head that that thing we all share is destroying them. That thing is alcohol.
I have mentioned on this blog several times that I, and my friends, enjoy drinking. I have defended (and would still defend) drinking alcohol, being a Christian who drinks, who enjoys pub life. Every one of my friendships has been formed in the pub, and cemented by drinking together. There is nothing wrong with that – but over these ten years that I have had the same circle of friends we have all failed to notice what our drinking has become.
It was fun, ten years ago, the drinking. All of us drank regularly to excess, and we had a great time doing it. All of us were forever in the pub – and it was in the pub and through the pub that we first met. One of my friends runs the pub; two of us have worked there; all of us have spent many hours in there. But as the years have gone on we – or should I say I – have failed to notice that the fun drinking has become a habit, and for some, a need.
I went into the pub on Monday evening to find that half my friends have fallen out with the other half, that so-and-so is not speaking to so-and-so, that there have been arguments and shouting and resentments. And I remembered that before I left this drama was always happening – that I hated it, that I always felt like I was in the middle between warring parties and it was because you say things that you do not necessarily mean and would not normally say when you have had a drink. My circle of friends is imploding and the relationships we have formed are being damaged by all those arguments, by all the fighting, by the way everyone is tearing at everyone else and I know that if we were not drinking, if people were not drunk, then it would probably not be happening.
I went there, and I looked, properly, for the first time and I realised that over half my circle of friends are now not just big drinkers but people who have a problem with alcohol. The constant drinking has taken its toll. There is A, who when he is drinking gets to a point where he is outrageously nasty to any woman he knows, and especially to his wife. The first time I heard him get nasty he was so very outrageous that I thought he was joking, until I realised that he really meant what he was saying. After he stormed out swearing at everyone all of us present turned to his wife and offered her somewhere to stay that night, because it ran through all of our minds that if he was like that in the pub, in public, what would he be like behind closed doors? That is when his wife told us that he was always like that, and we just hadn’t encountered it before. Since then that nastiness has recurred time and time again, as his drinking has increased.
And there is B, who likes to drink excessively for several months and then go dry for another few months. He drinks to the point that he falls down and it has been me who has picked him up off the floor and half carried him home to his wife to make sure he is safe. His wife likes me – and she told me that one time when he went dry, he nearly killed her when the delirium tremens hit. She managed to get his hands from round her throat and him to hospital, they dried him out and…two months later he went back on the drink.
There is C, who is less close to me but who I drank with, who was always wild and partying, and who is the only one of us who has controlled it – she has joined AA and stopped drinking.
And then…there are the other two. D, who had a problem long before I knew him, who was known as a partier, as a drinker, and I don’t know about those who knew him longer but we who did not just thought he was fun. And he was fun. Always happy and jolly – what we did not know is that we had never seen him sober. It was not fun, good humour, it was drink that we saw. And he got worse as we knew him – he worked at the bar we drank in and was like a son to the owners. They gave him responsibility over the cellar, the cash, and, of course, said – if you want a couple of drinks at the end of the night just help yourself. He helped himself to far more than a couple. It started, I think, with a few pints here and there and by the end it was a bottle of vodka in the morning, illicit vodkas during work (that we thought he was allowed and we should have realised that if he was, he wouldn’t drink in quite that way) and it ended up where he had an alcoholic fit, dried out, insisted on coming back and lasted just one day without alcohol. He told me that the doctors had said he must never have another drink as he had so damaged his liver it could kill him. One day. And then he took more, the owner had to sack him, and he disappeared, never to speak to any of us ever again, and the last I heard he was drinking in a pub in another town. I think he has decided to drink himself to death.
The last – and the one who was my first friend in London and whose partner is a very close friend. He has had a problem for the last six years and I have been blind. I knew that he was drinking a lot, it was a constant joke that he called in hungover to work, saying he was ill, all the time. Six years ago he was promoted at work and he changed, I think that is when the problem started. He lost his sense of humour and became irritable and obsessed by his work. He started drinking so much that he became horrible to his partner in the pub and we all called him on it – so he started having a few drinks in the pub and then going home, stopping off at an off-license on the way. I don’t know what his partner goes through now. Then he lost his job – redundancy, he said. He couldn’t seem to find another, and recently he has said he did find a job, but it turned out that there was no job. He said to me that all that, the lying, was the result of a hormonal problem that the doctor had given him an injection for and that he was fine now. Now, this time that I met him, he said he has a job – and that two days in they are giving him extra responsibility because they see his potential. I don’t believe there is a job. I don’t think he is now capable of holding one. When I saw him he was not even able to smile at me or say hello until he had a couple of drinks in him. His behaviour, the way he is with people is of the “poor me, poor me, pour me another drink” type. He has burned up all his friendships, and it is only because they like his partner that people now speak to him at all. And his partner is desperately trying to paper over the cracks, is telling me that they have such a good relationship now that they never argue, they are more in love than ever and they are getting married. When I went out with them they argued all the way up the street and the argument only stopped once he had been drinking. His partner gives him money – but one day he will realise that he cannot go on giving E money for drink, that there has to be a reason that he is not working. And we all know that E’s first job was prostitution. I can see where his future lies. I can see on his face what alcohol is doing to him, for the first time. Every time I see him he has disintegrated a little more and I think that only I and his partner now remember the man he used to be.
His alcoholism is the elephant in the room that is ruining the relationships between his partner and another man who are together my best friends there. E’s partner is tearing at his own friendships out of loyalty to E, out of a desperate wish to deny that E is an alcoholic and needs help.
Among all these who need to stop are a few who are ok – but one of those who is ok told me on Wednesday that he has taken to drinking half a bottle of wine when he is working to stop his hands from shaking. My friends are all descending into hell and while I cannot stop them, I can make sure that I don’t follow them.
That is why, when I was in London, I saw for the first time that how they are is how I will become if I do not do something. I drink heavily, and regularly. I am known as the woman who can drink most men under the table. I do not have a problem but I am going to make absolutely certain that I do not develop one. I saw, with blinding insight what is happening to my friends and I don’t want that future. The party has to end, the drinking has to be drastically cut down and it starts here. The day I came back from London I went into drinking diet Coke in the pub. I have had only one half pint since then and even that was because the landlord of the pub really asked me to share one with him as it was his birthday. I am not saying, never again, but I am saying that I will break my habit of standing at the bar knocking back pint after pint. So it is mostly going to be diet Coke for me – and if I have something alcoholic it is not going to be my normal drink, a pint of lager, it will be a bottle, or it will be a spirit. And it will be only the one.
I will not become an alcoholic like some of my friends. I will not be one who is drinking themselves to death. I know that my mental illness makes the chances of me developing an addiction more likely. I will escape that statistic. I have never been more certain of anything in my life that I need to do something now to avoid the fate that is in store for me. It stops. Now.
I needed to get this out and I know it is not quite in keeping with the general theme of this blog because I have not mentioned God, I have not given a theological reason for this. I know, of course, that his hand is guiding me and it is his will that I have finally understood. I know that should I find it difficult, he will be with me. (I am stubborn – I don’t anticipate finding it difficult.) I can and do and will be praying for my friends. I am now too far away and not close enough to be able to speak to people about the problems down there. I can, though, pray that they also see clearly, that they understand and stop the denials and seek help before it is too late.
If you will, please pray for my friends. I love them. And I don’t want them to drown in drink.
I don’t want them to die.