Staying Sober Can Drive You To Drink (Welcome to The Life Sentence Club ) Final Installment next week Folks
Posted Oct 07 2008 7:15pm
"Google" the word Alcoholism and you will get 14,100,000 search results. Alcoholism information regarding recovery and treatment is widely available. You can also add in all the information on how to beat Depression and all the associated issues such as anxiety or depression. Stop anybody in the street and ask them what they associate with the word Alcoholism and the answers will more than likely include the replies, hitting rock bottom,detox, down and out, addiction, messed up life, homelessness, crime blah blah blah. Pay a little more attention and do your research and you can find out that when you drive at night one out of seven drivers on the road are legally drunk. The Medical Research Council states that alcohol abuse costs the South African economy around R9 billion a year and half of all murders are the result of drunkenness. The stats are never-ending and cover all aspects of South African society from child abuse to pedestrian deaths, home violence and the tragic cases of childbirth defects. Almost all events that you consider bad news probably have to a certain degree alcohol involved somewhere or other.
However on the inevitable other side of the coin, studies have found that the use of alcohol has significant advantages in the general treatment of stress, heart disease and related illnesses. Add to this the economic benefits of a massive industry contributing to the nations wealth and job creation and we almost have a stalemate.
Into this balancing act comes the plight of the individual . Somebody once said, and the name escapes me now, that there are stats, more stats and then there is dam lies. But there is no doubt in my mind that this is a problem that has to be looked at very carefully. The general consensus is that approximately 1 in 17 people over the age of 15 years are predisposed to the potentially fatal illness of Alcoholism. Another frightening stat holds the premise that only 1 in 37 diagnosed Alcoholics ever make a full recovery over the long-term. Food for thought indeed.
A few years ago I went through the ordeal and horrors of acute alcoholism. I was one of the fortunate ones. I survived though the grace of God, the love and compassion of my loved ones and friends and the skill and care of the medical profession. I went on to write a feature article for Mens Health which turned out to be my heartfelt account of my spiral into a dark world of despair, desperation and depression. The article itself contained nothing new for students of this silent killer disease. Started drinking. drunk more, made excuses, raged at the world in general, got drunker, screwed up everything dear to me, approached death, ruined my body and my mind and finally thankfully collapsed and went to hospital and dried out . The reaction to my "Unhappy Hour" article was overwhelming. I was soon to realize that this was an epidemic spinning out of control. I was definitely not alone.
I went on to regain my self-esteem and rebuild my life. A close call that many people do not make it out of and then have the luxury sitting and looking back as I have. So now there I sat congratulating myself on beating the odds. Now what?
Well to be brutally honest "now what" involved a new phase of my life that would require me to bite the bullet all over again, except this time this was not going to be solved with a 10 day detox and sleep therapy, in some overpriced private hospital. My Doctors words started to resonate in my brain. " It's simple Alan, do not drink again and you'll be fine. Drink, you die"
That was it in plain English. The only problem was that I was having a problem coming to terms with that concept. Let me get this straight. I was 45 years old and let's say I lived until 80. 80 minus 45 gives you 35 years. A long, long time in anybodies world. That's a hell of a lot of barbeques, weddings, celebrations, bad days, ar....le bosses, traffic jams, disappointments, celebrating the closing of deals and watching the Rugby Springboks beat the All Blacks and Chuck Norris 50- nil. Maybe the medical guys had made a mistake. Maybe I was not an alcoholic. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Time was to prove them right. I had not beaten the odds. Eighteen months later on one particular bleak July day in a not so sunny Margate I sunk a bottle of my favourite hard tack and ended up in the emergency room waiting for a stomach pump. For some obscure reason only known to the big guy upstairs I made it out of the hole again. As my relationship, business and health were back on the line once again, I finally made the decision. My version of mothers milk and Alan Butterworth had to part company and this time for good.
I had now became a member of a club that nobody in their right mind wants to join. Serving a life sentence with no parole. The medical advice now became quite specific. Not a drop of alcohol to pass my lips. The 6% or so of us who have this defective gene are advised to not take the chance of alcohol entering our system in any form whatsoever. This unnamed and undetectable gene sends us types nuts and as a result we cannot have a few shots after work or at the weekend just in case we go berserk and drink ourselves into an early grave.
Once I had heard my sentence I now had to work out how to serve it. I've read that real prisoners talk about "hard and soft time". It was at this time that I had an "Oprah" moment. I got it. Regret is too mild a description. I had screwed up big time and now was going to have to pay for it. Big time. Hospitalization had ridden me of my withdrawal symptoms but now I had to deal with the mind games.
The public at large are no doubt familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous and the sterling work that they do to help those unfortunates stricken with this potentially fatal disease. Day by day is their anthem. Most of us initially fight against this prognosis dished up to us and truly believe that we will beat the odds. We start to think that maybe they had got it wrong. Maybe I can have a break and start again. Here came those dam maybes again. So, for many, starts the so-called falling off the wagon and then having to pick yourself up again. But the awful reality is that " they" were more than likely right and you have to make a plan. Somewhere,sometime I came across a quote from one of those old guys in the good old days. I think it was the American poet Robert Frost. As he sat in the countryside he came up with something that, for me summons up this whole fight with alcoholism - "Two roads diverged in the woods. I took the one less traveled, and it made all the difference." The difference here is to stay sober, no matter what.
After leaving the hospital my body gradually began to heal. It desperately needed to. For all those out there who want to hear a few good reasons to not reach the chronic stage of alcoholism and what I like to call the " last legs" phase, here are a few. They are not pretty but they are a reality. They will happen eventually. If you are strong, lucky or just have an angel looking after you you might one day survive to talk about it. If not, have a nice trip.
This phase lasts a few days, weeks or months, depending on your constitution. It is a slide into hell rendering you powerless to prevent an existence on the edge of a gaping black hole. I kid you not. The blood vessels in my eyes started to implode. My legs were uncontrollable and went on a mission of their own. I had no visible veins left. To this day I can only guess what the green gunge spewing out of me was. Medically my liver and kidneys had almost called it a day . There seemed to be no difference between my sleep and my waking hours. I drifted between paranoia, hallucinations and voices in my ear.
The phrase "dead man walking" definitely springs to mind. Maybe if I had learnt from all the information available on Alcoholism I would not be in this very dark place. Maybe if I had figured out how to beat Depression or could tell the difference between anxiety and depression I would not be living this nightmare.