This is reposted from my old blog from May 2015, it represents my thoughts and feelings at the time and is unedited. I strongly believe that alcoholism is a terminal illness.
TW: Alcoholism and death. Some gory details.
For six years, my dad had the alcoholic’s prayer printed on a piece of paper, folded like an A6 Christmas card, and carefully stood on the mantelpiece. In 2008, he had briefly stopped drinking, but then fooled himself into thinking there was a “safe amount” or a “stable amount” that he could get away with, that would be okay. The amount gradually increased again.
The media glamourises many addictions, but none more so than alcoholism. One of the ways they glamourize alcohol is when any character experiences any slight stress, they “need” a glass of wine. It’s become so normal in our society for people to say this that you’re viewed as different if you don’t drink.
Another way they glamourise it, however, is the recovery. Now, I’m all for people knowing that there is hope and that recovery is possible, but they make it out to be so damn easy and not only that, but they always show the characters having a clear turning point at which their life can’t get any worse, when they make the decision to quit drinking. They hit rock bottom. Then they just decide they will change their life and it magically happens. Everything just falls into place.
I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as “rock bottom” except in hindsight. In fact, until the decision has been made to quit, there is absolutely no way of knowing whether you have hit rock bottom. You can just keep falling endlessly until you die. The only thing that will stop your descent, if you don’t try and take control of the problem, is your untimely death.
I was fooled by the media and the websites of certain alcohol charities into thinking that my dad would have a moment of realisation, a rock bottom, from which he would see clearly that he had to stop, where he would realise what was happening. Where he would make a decision to stop throwing up blood every morning and I could get him the help to keep him dry and support him to put his life back together again. Until that moment, these charities advised, we are to do nothing but wait and not discuss drinking with the alcoholic. So I didn’t mention it from that moment on.
The rock bottom moment never came. And he died. We don’t know yet whether it was alcohol toxicity or something else, as the results of the investigation haven’t come back yet, but what I do know is that he was going to die soon anyway. There was no rock bottom, no last minute salvation from God, no person or thing or clever set of words or support group that could get through to him about the path he was on. He just followed it to its logical conclusion.
For the past two years, he had been unable to conduct a normal conversation, his sparkling wit now a cloud of confusion. He had not eaten properly for several years, but now he had stopped eating altogether. He smoked 40 a day and drank a whole lot of whisky and lager. I have heard of people drinking much more and surviving to allegedly have their rock bottom moment, but I now believe that a lot of the stories are exaggerations for sensationalism. I think it takes a lot less alcohol than people expect to build up toxicity over a longer period of time. And the death is not pretty. The stains on the carpet and the white kitchen roll at the top centre of my picture, above? That’s where he had vomited blood. It’s all over his flat. He’d been doing that for a while. Many of the carrier bags had tiny human shits in them, because he was too unsteady to get upstairs to the toilet and wasn’t eating anything solid. They could have been done by a toddler.
Rock bottom is only something that you can look back on your life and pinpoint. Until you stop, it just steadily gets worse and worse, and if you never stop, you just die. The only way to have a rock bottom moment is to decide that right now is your rock bottom, but it only works if you stop drinking right now, and then you need to take action at once, join a support group, get some librium (or other medication to prevent anaphylaxis) off the doctor, throw away all the alcohol in the house. And please learn from his mistake. Once the addiction has a hold of you, one drink is too many. You are an alcoholic for life (but you CAN stop drinking).
I’ve seen it across three generations of my family, in six different people. Four died directly because of alcohol. The fifth died of the damage she had done from her poor lifestyle choices because she needed a cigarette and she needed a bottle of wine to relax nearly every day for thirty years. It was too late when she stopped. The sixth is still alive. None of them ever had a rock bottom moment.
For six years my dad had kept that alcoholic’s prayer next to his armchair by the mantelpiece. When I went to pack up his belongings from the flat, it was not there. He had given up on ever finding his salvation.
Don’t wait for rock bottom. You could die before you hit it.