Unhappy Hour Continued
"This is the second part of an article published in the South African Mens Health magazine. It caused quite a stir. It has been some time since I posted it on the blog. Have a read and it will give you an idea of my motivation in writing this blog. Not pretty but true."
We live in a quiet suburb of Margate and I had a five-minute drive before running into any traffic. I knew the area like the back of my hand and as a result I could stay off the main roads as much as possible and avoid the local traffic cops. I found the trick was to drive slowly. Luck had really been on my side, especially in the last couple of years. I had never been stopped in a roadblock, let alone tested. One advantage of Manaba Beach shopping centre was the fact that there were no car guards to deal with. Nothing personal, but I didn't need to be looking for change on my return. That would only add to the list of things to do and right now I was beginning to feel bad. As I parked, one of my attacks started. The sweat poured off me while terrible cramps hit my stomach. I rested my head on the steering wheel and waited for it to pass. Sometimes they came and went in a couple of minutes. This time I realised that I was in trouble. I urgently needed a dop and felt unable to walk. The bottle store was only 50 metres away, but it might as well have been on the moon. I flung the door open and vomited all over the tarmac. Luckily I was facing away from the shop entrances and this event went unnoticed. After retching for a minute I slumped in the car seat. Tears filled my eyes and the urge to cry out overwhelmed me. My hands were gripping the steering wheel and I turned my head slightly to take in a breath of fresh air. Looking out I watched normal life going on, people oblivious to my drama. Taking a deep breath I managed to get out of the car and take a good look at the scene in front of me. There were no cars parked between me and the bottle store so I had a clear path. I checked my pockets for money and found a R50 note which would get me 24 beers, more than enough to last until this evening. I walked very slowly and stared straight ahead but after a few steps I had to stop and drop to my knees, resting my hands on the ground. Then I lay down. Turning on my back I looked up at the clear sky. Not a bad view.
My mind was spinning but I had not lost my urgency to get to the bottle store. One beer and I would be okay. I summoned what was left of my strength and got to my feet. The manageress and a guy behind a till were the only people in the shop and I made my way to the walk-in beer fridge at the back. Over the months they had got to know me well and no doubt had their own thoughts about me. But I was probably one of their best customers so they always treated me politely. They could not have failed to notice the huge amounts of booze that I was buying. As I made my way to the beer fridge the shop assistant appeared out of nowhere and greeted me. "Sawubona," he said. He seemed to stare right into my very soul. I wondered what was he thinking. He sometimes helped me to the car and today would be no different. No doubt I was a shock to him as well. Maybe I was too paranoid. Sure I was gaunt, filthy and sickly-looking but then maybe there were plenty of people like me coming in and out of the bottle store every day. Maybe all that intrigued them was where the money was coming from. That must be a mystery as I looked like a typical down and out. Bugger it. Let them ponder. The cold beer fridge revived me a little and I always stayed a couple of minutes longer than necessary. I found my beer and asked the assistant to help me carry the case to the till. There I fumbled for the money and handed it over to the guy. He remained silent and passed me the change which I gave to the assistant. He mumbled a quiet "Siyabonga," and carried the case to the car. The prospect of a cold beer had greatly lifted my spirits and the walk back to the car was no problem. Once there I ripped open a plastic cover from the beers and twisted off the top and drained it in one easy action. It felt good. I grabbed another and flopped into the driver's seat. The trip towards Margate was uneventful, but I was gasping for a beer by the time I pulled into my driveway. Running our business from home meant that there was always somebody in the office and this time was no exception. The trick now was to get my beers into the fridge without attracting too much attention, but the internal garage door led off the office. So I just went for it. Even now I still resented people questioning my actions. I felt no need to take other people's feelings into account. I was totally self-absorbed in my own misery and my own personal struggle just to get through the days and nights. I felt that I had no choice any more. The liquor consumed all my mental and physical energy. The people who came and went in my life saw me as a babbling wreck. I comforted myself with the thought that they should see me when I was deprived of my beers. I stopped at the fridge long enough to sink a cold one and then walked into the office. My entrance went unnoticed and only Mary looked up and asked how I was feeling. Plonking myself down, I couldn't fail to notice that it had turned into a lovely day. I was oblivious to the chatter going on around me. By now it was common knowledge that I was 'not well' and most people who had regular dealings with me were polite and concerned in my company.
They had seen me turn from a well-known and respected businessman into what I was now. My self-esteem and confidence was at its lowest ever. I had not bathed or showered for God knows how long and a shower was something I had been planning for a couple of days. At least today I would almost smell like a normal human being. Peeling off the filthy rags that I had been wearing for the last few weeks, I cautiously stepped under the stream of water. I had placed a beer just outside the shower and for the time being was content to just stand there and sip it. But that apparently innocent action brought an immediate reaction from my beleaguered body and I vomited all over the shower floor. Even so, I began to laugh. It was a sight to behold, me, sitting on the shower floor, beer in hand, laughing like a crazy man as my vomit washed away. The laughter soon turned to tears and the joke was on me. What had turned me into this pitiful wreck? Why couldn't I empty the beer down the drain and start over? At that moment I knew deep down I needed help. I am not an openly religious man, but I believe in a God of love and mercy. I was broken and scared. Scared of what lay ahead and whether I'd have the strength to do the right thing. The laughter turned to terrible sobbing.For days I had promised myself that I would continue drinking until the very last possible moment. I felt that the only way I would walk into that hospital was if I was completely out of it. The very thought that my last beer was now becoming a reality was not one that had any great appeal to me. It seemed impossible that after all this time I would pass even 10 minutes without something that had become so much part of my life. Once back at my desk, my eyes never left the clock. I had half a beer left on my desk and I found myself staring at it. After all the tears, screaming and drama, I needed all the inner strength and resolve that I could possibly muster. Grabbing the bottle, I pressed it slowly to my lips and let the last liquid slide down my throat, and for the next few seconds mumbled a silent prayer to whoever was out there and listening. Mary and my parents were standing now, aware of the turmoil that I was going through. They knew that they had to be strong for me.
As drunk and confused as I was I could not resist picking up the empty beer bottle, giving it a kiss and shouting at the top of my voice, "Go to hell!" A final goodbye, done in my own twisted way.Two young nurses were waiting for me in the ward and I climbed into bed. It felt clean and fresh, a stark contrast to the way I had been living for the last few months. They immediately tried to insert a drip into my right arm but couldn't find a good vein. Most of my veins had started to collapse. Turning to my left arm, they pushed the drip in and out of me until they found a vein. Mary and my stepfather, Rudi, were at the bedside, reassuring me. I was close to tears and asked one of the nurses to let me go home. Of course she was wiser than that and cracked a joke instead.The doctor had explained that I would more or less be asleep for a week while the withdrawal symptoms passed without causing me any pain or grief. Now that I was here, I needed to say something to my loved ones while I was still capable of speaking. My time had arrived and I was no longer frightened. "How long have I got? I want to say something." The nurse smiled. "About three minutes, Mr Butterworth." The tears streamed down my face and I remember Mary taking a step forward towards me. "Please forgive me. I couldn't help it." She was talking to me, but I could no longer hear the words. It was time to sleep.The morning afterIt is almost two years since my 'D-Day' in Margate and I can look back with some objectivity. My hospitalisation was merely the beginning of my fight against alcoholism. I had won a battle but faced a greater threat the day to day mission of staying sober. This is really what this disease is all about. Staying sober required every ounce of my mental and physical strength.I gradually recovered physically, but the mental fight twice broke my spirit. On the last occasion eight months ago, for reasons I cannot remember, I went out and sank a bottle of the hard stuff and was rushed into hospital for a stomach pump. I awoke the next morning in my own bed with absolutely no memory of the drama that I had caused. Once again my life was in turmoil and this was the closest time I came to losing Mary. I didn't need any other reason not to drink again. Like many alcoholics, I became depressed and took to prescription pills to ease the pain. But the terrible cravings for alcohol continued. As I write today the cravings are still there only I can control them. Why am I an alcoholic? Who knows. Medical science is divided on the reasons. It could be genetic or it could be a personality trait. While there have been great advances in treating alcoholism, the best possible cure is still total abstinence. Easier said than done. To even think about spending the rest of my life without a single drink is almost too awful to contemplate. The only way is to take it day by day. We live in a world of alcohol, from the restaurants we eat in to the ads on TV. With the help of my loved ones, the caring medical people and the power of prayer I would like to leave you with one thought: turn your greatest weakness into your greatest strength. You are not alone.
"Part 3 will continue with my next Post."