Monthly Archives: February 2018

My brother, the alcoholic, who lived and died in hope

An article from The Guardian in August 2017 written about an alcoholic brother.

I was visiting friends when I got the call to go to the hospital. I’d been expecting it for the last few years. I ran to find the ward on which my brother was lying in a bed on a ventilator.

“Am I too late?” I asked.

“No, Steve’s still with us,” somebody told me. I looked down at the bed, the monitors, assessing his heart rate and blood pressure. Things I knew about. Then I looked at my brother and knew the doctor was wrong. The truth was quite different.

In reality my eldest brother, 17 years my senior, had not really been with us in many years. We had been losing him a little bit at a time to a disease we had long held off giving a name. We didn’t know what to call it. Sometimes we thought we knew, other times we felt blind. We held back from labels, organised dinner without wine when it seemed prudent, with wine when things seemed all right.

We were just fumbling about in the dark. Because what we came to accept in those final years, and what was more obvious than ever as we stood at his bedside, was that what had resulted in his latest, and final admission, had a name. Steve was an alcoholic.

But it wasn’t always like that. Alcoholism takes its time, comes and goes as it pleases for years. There was a time, many years before, when my brother pushed me about in my buggy, played at being Dad. He took me fishing, teased me, and made me hate him by locking me in his room while Michael Jackson’s Thriller played on repeat. Years later, he called me when his cats were giving birth, and looked after me when it was school holidays and my parents were at work.

When I got older he would invite me to dinner and we would eat lasagne from oversized colourful plates and he would talk to me about his woodworking and huge movie collection. Now, I wonder if it was my childhood naivety that casts our earliest shared memories in a joyous light. Perhaps what for me was a lovely night with my brother pointed to a deeper loneliness on his part. A fact that something was missing, a hole there to be filled. It was a sign of what lay ahead, although I never realised.

I lived just around the corner. But it was only when he died that I came to understand the predicament he had been in; there had been no choice about the way he lived. And it was only after that insight that I came to appreciate that alcoholism wasn’t a lifestyle he had adopted as the easy way out of disappointment. It was only after he died that I realised how nobody would have chosen to live like my brother, on the sidelines of a family who loved him, isolated from the world, surrounded by chaos.

It was never preferable to live the way he did rather than how he would have liked, which is why, even when I felt hopeless, he never lost his faith that one day it might get better. He never stopped making plans to stop drinking. He always hoped that a better, happier life was waiting for him on the other side of sobriety.

After we lost him, for a long time that sense of injustice stayed with me; it wasn’t the fact that we had lost him, but the disappointment he felt while he was alive, how his treatment had failed, and how, to his chagrin, he had never achieved the quite simple dream of loving and being loved in return by somebody other than his family.

 

Every time I hear about a person with an addiction, I think of my brother. Every time I hear that someone has battled their demons, I feel as proud as if they were him. When I see men fishing from the end of the pier in Limassol, Cyprus, where I now live, I remember the times he untangled my lines, and told me that another lost float didn’t matter. I see his face when I look at the bowl he made, which I took from his house after we lost him.And each time I think of him, I realise I was as wrong about him in death as I was in life. For years, I thought he was no longer with us, but he was, filled with hope that there was another chance waiting for him, a different life we could be a part of.

So perhaps when I thought he was lost already that day in hospital, he wasn’t. Perhaps he was still with us. Because although there might have been no hope to save him that day, he never stopped hoping that we could. That is how I choose to remember him.

 

We needed to break down my brother’s door before we could see the problem for what it was. On that occasion he was found unresponsive, and was admitted to hospital for detox and rehydration, and was back out within a couple of days, unharmed and unchanged. One of my brothers fixed the door. Steve was fine, OK?

But the episode had put an altogether different spin on what was happening, and quietly, between ourselves, the first mutterings of alcoholism passed our lips. I began to understand what everybody else already knew. So a new routine became our norm: sporadic periods of silence, mixed with concern, always topped with a thick slice of denial.

The problem was not my brother’s drinking, per se, even during periods of inebriation. It was the fact that drinking was altogether something normal. Acceptable. Having a drink at a family dinner or finding a two-litre bottle of cider in the fridge would have been entirely reasonable if it had been anybody else.

Well-intentioned strangers couldn’t see the harm. But they didn’t see that the cider was the only thing in his fridge, and the food that should have been in there with it was still in the carrier bags, rotting on the kitchen floor. They didn’t have to help him down from the roof of his garage when he became disorientated and confused. They didn’t wait for half an hour each day on his doorstep over a two-week Christmas period calling his name through his letterbox, only to hear him moving around inside, denying their wish to spend time with him, knowing he was wasted. Wasting. By then the time for breaking down doors had long since passed.

As we inched towards the later years of my brother’s life, frustrated by his continued demise despite our best efforts to maintain a sense of normality, such desperate measures as broken-down doors seemed an overreaction. The alcoholism had taken hold of all of us in some way, reduced our expectations about what was possible. Still, during crisis moments I would wake up at 1am to a call that something wasn’t right.

We all took our turn when it came to those late-night dashes, to stand in his room amid the disarray, crouched in front of our tearful eldest brother, feeling hopeless, even when he agreed to do anything we asked. He would go to rehab, call them tomorrow. He would find a therapist, a different one. He would go to the GP, and this time take the tablets. Those nights would often result in sporadic attempts to set things right. Pens and bowls would be turned on a lathe with surprising precision; we would receive invites for dinner and find the house immaculate. When treatment would commence. Despite the failures, these moments offered blurred remembrances of our bright, hopeful, and unfailingly kind brother with a crude sense of humour that we all missed so much.

Often, I was frustrated by alcoholism and therefore my brother. It seemed so simple to me in my easy life where I could mix cranberry juice with vodka and it didn’t imply another failure. Just pour it away, don’t buy it, go to work, and come to my house.

The comments are heart-rendering sharing of other young deaths caused by King Alcohol as pictured above ((Image: “King Alcohol and His Prime Minister” c. 1820)

Sober Inspiration: Have a love affair with yourself

So last summer I read this book and there was one chapter that was like a punch to the gut.  It is Ch 11 in Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More and the chapter title is Have a Love Affair with yourself.

I could quote the entire chapter but would get into copy right trouble so I’m going to cherry pick the bits that I reread repeatedly as I attempted to let them sink in.

Over to Melody:

Most co-dependents suffer from that vague but penetrating affliction, low self-worth.  We don’t feel good about ourselves, we don’t like ourselves, and we woudn’t consider loving ourselves.  For some of us low self-worth is an understatement.

We don’t like the way we look. We can’t stand our bodies.  We think we’re stupid, incompetent, untalented, and, in many cases, unlovable.  We think our thoughts are wrong and inappropriate,  We think our feelings are wrong and inappropriate.  We believe we’re not important, and even if our feelings aren’t wrong, we dont think they matter.  We’re convinced our needs aren’t important ….. We think we’re inferior to and different from the rest of the world – not unique, but oddly and inappropriately different.

We pick on ourselves endlessly, heaping piles of shoulds on our conscience and creating mounds of worthless, stinking guilt.  We think a thought and then tell ourselves we shouldn’t think that way.  We feel a feeling, then tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way.  We make a decision, act on it, then tell ourselves we shouldn’t have acted that way …… We are engaged in a form of punishment designed to keep us feeling anxious, upset and stifled.  We trap ourselves.

A few of us believe we can’t do anything right, but at the same time, we demand perfection of ourselves.  We put ourselves in impossible situations, then wonder why we can’t get out.  Then we finish the job by shaming ourselves. 

As codependents we frequently dislike ourselves so much that we believe it’s wrong to take ourselves into account, in other words, appear selfish.  Putting ourselves first is out of the question.

Much of the defensiveness I’ve seen in codependents comes not because we think we’re above criticism, but because we have so little self-worth that any perceived attack threatens to annihiliate us.  We feel so bad about ourselves and have such a need to be perfect and avoid shame that we cannot allow anyone to tell us something we’ve done wrong.  One reason some of us nag and criticise others people is because that’s what we do to ourselves.

We can find endless means of torturing ourselves: overeating, neglecting our needs, comparing ourselves to others, competing with people, obsessing, dwelling on painful memories, or imagining future painful scenes.  This “what if” attitude is always good for a strong dose of fear.  We scare ourselves, then wonder why we feel so frightened.

We don’t like ourselves, and we’re not going to let ourselves get any of the good stuff because we don’t believe we deserve it.

I read this with my mouth open like she was talking directly to me …….

So having deconstructed us she then restores us 🙂

Actually, it doesn’t matter when we began to torture ourselves.  We must stop now.  Right now, we can give ourselves a big emotional and mental hug.  We are okay.  It’s wonderful to be who we are.  Our thoughts are okay.  Our feelings are appropriate.  We’re right where we’re supposed to be today, this moment.  There is nothing wrong with us. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with us.  If we’ve done wrongs, that’s okay; we were doing the best we could.  In fact, codependents are some of the most loving, generous, good-hearted, and concerned people I know.  We can stop picking on ourselves for picking on ourselves.  This habit is not our fault either, but it is our responsiblity to learn to stop doing it.

We can cherish ourselves and our lives.  We can nurture ourselves and love ourselves.  We can accept our wonderful selves, with all our faults, foibles, strong points, weak points, feelings, thoughts, and everything else.  It’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.  It’s who we are, and we we meant to be. And it’s not a mistake.  We are the greatest thing that will ever happen to us.  Believe it.  It makes life much easier.

We aren’t second-class citizens.  We don’t deserve to lead second-hand lives.  And we don’t deserve second best relationships!  We are lovable, and we are worth getting to know.  People who love and like us aren’t stupid or inferior for doing that.  We have a right to be happy.  We deserve good things.

We need to be good to ourselves.  We need to be compassionate and kind to ourselves.  How can we expect to take care of ourselves appropriately if we hate or dislike ourselves?

We need to refuse to enter into an antagonistic relationship with ourselves.  Quit blaming ourselves and being victimised, and take responsible steps to remove the victim.  Put the screws on guilt.  Shame and guilt serve no long-term purpose.  They are not useful as a way of life.  Stop the “shoulds”.  Become aware of when we’re punishing and torturing ourselves and make a concerted effort to tell ourselves positive messages.

We can be gentle, loving, listening, attentive, and kind to ourselves, our feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, desires, and everything we’re made of.  We can accept ourselves – all of us.  Start where we’re at, and we will become more.  Develop our gifts and talents.  Trust ourselves.  Assert ourselves.  We can be trusted. Respect ourselves.  Be true to ourselves.  Honour ourselves, for that is where our magic lies.  That is our key to the world.

And for me that all started when I put down the drink …….

Sober Inspiration: How to Feel Sorry For Yourself

So I read my first Augusten Burroughs book in my very early weeks and months of recovery.  On that occasion it was Dry: A Memoir and what a fantastic book it is too.  This is How is equally as good if not better and I’m going to quote these excerpts from the chapter How to Feel Sorry For Yourself.  It gave me shivers reading this …..

“Self-pity knows it’s hated.  It’s one emotion that lives up to its name: it’s something reserved for the self.  Self-pity is a feeling you allow when you’re alone.  If you allow it when you’re around other people, they fuss at you and never give you the sympathy you want.  So self-pity becomes your private, secret feeling.

I believe self-pity is an emotion from our earliest days, probably among the first emotions we experienced.  You can see self-pity every day if you live near a playground like I do.  Little kids trip or get shoved and they fallover over all the time.  Little kids also know that injuries are an opportunity for extra affection from the adults.

Self-pity isn’t the most accurate description for this feeling because it describes only half of it: sad for me, I’m hurt.  What’s missing is the other half: and you need to do something about it.  In other words, self-pity feels childish to adults.

Which is why self-pity is a very dangerous feeling for any adult to harbour.

It’s one thing to recognize that you’re hurt.  It’s quite healthy, in fact, to see and appreciate your own emotional injuries.  BUT we have to be that adult for ourselves.

Where this healthy self-empathy turns into a malignant self-pity is at the arrival of resentment.  “Fuck everybody.  Nobody gives a shit about me.  Fuck them all.”

That is self-pity and it is dangerous because it signals a lack of accountability for one’s mental state and worse, the outcomes of one’s life.  Self-pity can last for years.  Sometimes, it can last a lifetime.

In pre-school, when somebody hurts us, the teacher sees to it that the person who hurts us apologizes.

It is engrained in us from a very early age that inflicted pain or wrongdoing or unfairness should and will be corrected.

Note the passive phrasing: “be corrected.”  We will not, as children, take control and make sure the amends are delivered in a timely fashion.  That is the job of the teacher.

In adults, self-pity turns darker and more dangerous as no playground rescue arrives.

The feeling solidifies into victimhood.

Somebody with victim mentality believes life has screwed them over.  Somebody with a victim mentality blames everybody else or “them” but takes no responsiblity themselves.

This is the quicksand of life.  Once you have become a victim, you may well remain a victim for the rest of your life.  Taking no responsibility, no action, and, as a result, seeing no change for the better.

The truth is that nobody is owed an apology for anything.  Apologies are lovely when they happen.  But they change nothing.  Thye do not reverse actions or correct damage.  They are merely nice to hear.

The truth is that life is brutally, obscenely unfair.  Fairness is not among the laws of the universe.

Avoid self-pity by taking responsibility for everything that happens to you, even if somebody else is at fault.  By taking responsibility, I don’t mean play doormat.  I mean, repair yourself.  Move forward.  Move on.  Then, only then, see if you can wrangle some empathy.

The truth behind the truth is this: even if you are a victim, you must never be a victim.

Even if you deserve to be one.

Because while you wait for somebody to come along and set things right, life has moved forward without you.”

I think the reason this was such a zinger for me was because when I stopped drinking I wallowed in my own private pity-party for a long time, railing against the world because I thought I could no longer drink and this was horribly unfair.  “Why me?” I cried.  Yes I could argue that things had happened to me in my childhood that were unfair but it was me as an adult who had chosen to drown my distress in alcohol and me who had to take responsibility for what choices I made now.  Tough but true.

What do you think of what he writes?  Does this resonate or hit a nerve for you too?

Alarming scale of addiction in over-50s

So this post was actually published by The Guardian last summer but I’m posting it today to catch those at the end of their January abstensions and relates to the scale of addiction in over 50’s.  This would have been me as I turn 50 this year so hits a particular resonance.

Alcohol and substance abuse, and their detrimental health effects, have reached worrying levels among baby boomers in Britain. Katherine Brown from the Institute of Alcohol Studies sums it up: “This is the first generation of home-drinkers who are far more likely to buy cheap supermarket alcohol than visit their local pub. They are drinking more than their parents and it’s no surprise that their health is starting to suffer as a result.”

Tabloid imagery of inebriated young people lolling in the gutter couldn’t be more misleading. The hard core of the drinking problem is those aged 55 to 74, who outstrip any other age group including millennials for alcohol-related injuries, diseases and conditions.

The phenomenon is being seen in other countries as well – by 2020 the number of people receiving treatment for substance misuse problems is expected to double in Europe, and treble in the US, among those aged over 50. Cannabis, opioids and prescription medications are increasingly part of the picture.

In the UK there are calls for tailored addiction programmes for older people. Karen Tyrell, from charity Addaction, said: “[Older adults’] drinking and drug use tends to be around age-related issues, so things like retirement, bereavement [and] being quite lonely.” Screening for alcohol dependency and other drug issues during visits for health problems such as dementia or liver disease is also being proposed. On a practical level, older people should limit their standard drinks to a maximum of 11 a week rather than the government guideline of 14, says Dr Tony Rao, an old-age psychiatrist with expertise on the issue.

And this piece was followed up the next day with this:

‘Alcohol was my go-to friend’: substance misuse in the over-50s

More than half a million adults aged between 55 and 74 were admitted to English hospitals with alcohol-related injuries, diseases or conditions in 2015-16 – more than for any other age group, according to NHS Digital data.

While risky drinking is on the wane in the UK and Australia, those in the over-50 age bracket buck the trend. By 2020 the number of people receiving treatment for substance misuse problems is expected to double in Europe, and treble in the US, among those aged over 50.

We asked people over 50 to share their experiences and thoughts on the trend.

‘What started out as a hobby became a problem’ – Adrienne, 62, Wellington, New Zealand

My experience was drinking too much wine for years, over a bottle pretty much every night for maybe three to four years before I stopped altogether eight years ago. I was a wine aficionado and really knew my vintners, wineries and wines. What started at as a hobby became a problem.

Wine is alcohol, but I really thought of it as a food group. I loved the mystic, the people and places and the taste of wine. Alcohol addiction is a progressive condition. I was in my early 5os before it became a problem.

I received private addiction therapy for about six months. I had few bad physiological effects from stopping drinking, just a long process to undo a life centred around wine and entertainment. Normalising alcohol addiction in private was critical to developing a bit more self esteem and more emotional honesty. I became a much nicer more grateful person when I stopped feeling ashamed of myself and hiding bad hangovers. I went to AA a couple of times and made lots of people laugh with my stories of self deception. That was good too, but I didn’t feel the need to go regularly.

I am a very high-profile person in NZ, and most people would be astonished to know I was once addicted to alcohol.

‘If you use a poison as an antidote to life you are in real trouble’ – Phil, 61, London

Heavy drinking over decades slipped into dependency and on to addiction, where everything I did revolved around where to find the next drink, notwithstanding that I held down a job and was successful. I used substances to negate fear and anxiety with life and numb emotions, which in my experience is the a common element among addicts. Alcohol was my go-to friend to cope with life – and if you use a poison as an antidote to life, you are in real trouble.

Addiction is an illness and the most selfish of conditions. Nothing, including family, could stop me in my quest for oblivion on a nightly basis. Sure, there were good times along with the bad, but there came a point where despite knowing I had a problem I continued to drink and put at risk material success and relationships.

It is unfortunate that we addicts have to reach a real crisis point physically or mentally, a rock bottom, before we decide to change. That was three years ago, and I have been sober since then.

Lets be clear: this is not social heavy drinking – it is a need to be alone with a bottle and no one in the way. After a particular bad binge, it was clear that the drink was no longer working and I was so desperately miserable and unhappy (mostly with myself) that I had to take action for myself and not anyone else, or end up dead or in a mental hospital. I was reluctantly ready to do what no one else could make me do: go to rehab and begin a total rethink around alcohol.

One-on-one therapy became a weekly story of my drinking and unhappiness but with no solution. Residential rehab for three weeks where for the first time in years I had the opportunity with help to look at how I was destroying myself and those around me allowed me to understand I was trapped in addiction and the freedom that might be on offer if I could recover. I regularly attended AA, despite being an atheist. Do not be put off by the religious element. Freedom from addiction is far too important not to discuss it. The fellowship is full of interesting people ready to help.

 

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.

There is huge evidence building about this age group and the issue and I’ve written about it too and you can read here where I have collated all news sources into one post:

Overage drinkers

It goes without saying that if you are reading this and you think this describes you then please seek help before you pick up a drink again now February is here.

Guest Article in Recovery Today Magazine

Just a quick post to share a guest article that has been featured in this month’s Recovery Today Magazine.

Thanks to Sherry Gaba who approached me to write the article and who let me know today that it was up:

Yea!!! Your article ran this month.  If possible please let your followers know.  Thx you again for your contribution!!!!

I am so proud of my audio interview with Russell Brand.  He was absolutely brilliant!!  Subscribe for FREE at www.recoverytodaymagazine.com.

PS We flew into Mount Isa today and we’re busy settling into our new life so will update you again soon! 🙂

PPS This also popped up in my FB feed today featuring yours truly at No 8! 🙂

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