I remember registering at a new GP surgery shortly after I had moved home and being asked to go in for an initial appointment where they ask some basic questions and take a couple of tests as a new patient. The nurse asked me:
“Is there any history of illness in the family”.
Unable to recall any pattern of diabetes, heart disease or cancers, I replied:
I was being facetious. Well, partly, anyway. Because addiction does run through my clan like a slow burning wildfire that has smouldered on our family tree since as long as I can remember. Whether it be opiates, Valium or alcohol, there’s not been one of us that hasn’t worn it’s crown. After losing my uncle when I was ten I suddenly found I was the only one in my class who knew what an overdose was and that I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Some have been higher functioning than others, but even my own beloved grandfather- a lifelong Muslim- saw no contradiction with strolling out of mosque everyday to grab a couple of John Smiths in a pub called (of all things) the Adam and Eve.
And now this week, we have suddenly and unexpectedly been forced to say goodbye to another much loved member of our fold. It was the bottle that got him, and in our world there isn’t much of a stigma about alcoholism because it’s seen as normal. I remember once meeting them all in the local pub and ordering a soft drink as I was working later on.
“Eeeeeee, is she definitely your daughter!” someone shrieked with laughter at my mam. Of course it was immediately decided I must be pregnant, as that was the only possible explanation they could come up with as to why I had refused, and I spent the next hour with barely coherent acquaintances staggering up to me, patting my stomach, offering ginger biscuits and saying “you’re still allowed a couple you know”. Not that I’m about to become the poster girl of the Temperance League anytime soon. I’ve had my own struggles with addiction and unhealthy coping mechanisms on and off, and I certainly don’t class myself as any more functional.
But there’s a tendency in addicted families and communities to rewrite events when something happens that scares us. With our latest family member, the form that has taken is a rumour that he died of Covid-19. Which he didn’t. But it makes some of those who knew him feel better rather than admit he died of living a lifestyle that is identical to theirs. If they believe that, they can carry on as they are now. But hiding the truth is insulting, even if I understand why they do it. It hides how ill he got. It hides the events that led him to that path and it hides how eventually he did try so hard and determinedly to save himself. It was just sadly too late. There has been a huge surge in alcohol and drug intake during the pandemic, which was entirely predictable as we all found ourselves in a state of collective trauma and uncertainty which left some of us reaching for any vessel with a ‘DRINK ME’ label on it to escape to another world.
But it veils our passion. It kettles our love and anger that drives us to change the things keep us miserable. Because it forces us to nurture that other craving more, pretending to us that it is nourishment.
I’m certainly not here to give an intervention to anyone, but if you have found yourself in this position more recently, either because of the pandemic or for other reasons that have left you overwhelmed, it’s okay. You aren’t by yourself and there are hands reaching out to pull you up if you look up to grasp one.