Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Problem with Drink

I recently read an article about the Bishop of Stafford condemning binge drinking as sin; actually what he said was “Alcohol abuse is one of the major ‘sins’ of our time – and it is one that governments do very little to prevent.” and I agree with him.  We now have a society in which significant proportions go out not to have a drink with friends but to get drunk without any thought for the costs to the whole of society in policing them and treating them when they hurt themselves, others or do permanent damage to their bodies.  Unfortunately bishops are no longer respected figures whose pronouncements have the ear of government but are considered to be out of touch with the modern world and so they can be ignored; even when they are right.

People who know me may well be saying “hypocrite” knowing that I like a drink and have often had more than is good for me and, in all likelihood, for those around me.  To that I have no answer except to say that I now acknowledge that I had a problem and I no longer drink as it is incompatible with one of my medications.  That, however, is only part of the story as I wasn’t an alcoholic (I would stop for periods when I wanted to) but my drinking was one of the ways I was trying to cope with the depression that had been part of my life since I was in my teens. While I admit that I like good beer, full bodied red wines and malt whisky they, in themselves, were not the problem; I was drinking, and drinking too much, to dull the inner pain of depression.  In the end this didn’t work and I end up in what my wife called the ‘loony bin’ for 2½ weeks.

It was only then, and through months of counselling, that I could openly admit what I knew deep inside – I had a drink problem.  When I was put on Prozac I had to give up drinking as it won’t work properly when combined with alcohol but this has given me the opportunity to not drink and to begin to appreciate not drinking. I am limited to the small glass of wine I am allowed at special celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries and my son’s forthcoming wedding and that is all. I had thought that if I ever stopped taking Prozac I would be able to have the odd drink but I now realise that this won’t be possible as I rarely stop at the ‘odd drink.’  So I am now going to say openly something that inside I have known for some time: I have to give up alcohol. 

I have to give up alcohol not only for myself but for those around me, family and friends, who have had to put up with me drinking too much.  For years I have kidded myself that the only person I was putting at risk was me but I have just read the book ‘Jesus, my father, the CIA and me’ by Ian Morgan Cron and it made me realise how much I have damaged my family (and possibly others) by my drinking. I can’t go back and undo that damage but I can make sure I stay clear of drink so that I don’t make the same mistakes in the future.

I will still allow myself the small glass for celebrations but that is all or I will slowly (or quickly) fall back into drinking too much.  Alcohol in itself is not the problem but there are some of us whose genetic makeup makes us vulnerable to its hold even though this can take years to make itself apparent but once it does our best hope is to steer clear and not drink.

I know I haven’t explained myself very well so I have tried to put what happened to me into a poem.

I like a drink.
I like the taste of good beer.
I like the taste of full bodied red wine.
I like the taste of malt whisky.

But somehow that stopped being enough
I needed a drink.
Not for itself,
But to dull the pain.

The pain of being.
The pain of being me.
The pain of living.
The pain of living with depression.

At first it was just a drink.
Then it took more.
Enough to make me hide it
From those closest to me.

I needed the drink
Not for itself
But to kill the pain.
Then I could cope.
A couple of pain dulled hours
And I could cope with the pain.
For a while.

But I wasn’t coping.
The pain was building;
Building until even the drink didn’t help.

It was only then
When all hope had gone
That I could admit the truth.

The truth that drink didn’t help.
That it just hid the problem.
Hid it from me.
Hid it until it was too big to hide.
Too big for me
To cope.

It was only as the pain washed over me
That I could confront it,
Find the wounds
And bind them.

Some wounds will heal.
Other have to be cleaned
And dressed
So they don’t spread infection.

And that means no drink.
So the wounds can close
The infection die
And with them
The pain.


sattler said...

I can see we're thinking along similar lines today It's an irony that what was intended by God to 'gladden the heart of man' should be become such a stumbling block. My reflection was around food, which also raises huge problems. I'm a type 2 diabetic so have had plenty of occasion to reflect on the links between food, health and lifestyle. Shalom, phil

Still Breathing said...

Phil, Thank you for your comment. When God created He saw that it was good and one of the challenges facing the church today is to reclaim that image. Food and drink in themselves are good but our western society is abusing them and turning them to evil. God bless Hugh

Alastair Newman said...

Hugh, it's extremely brave of you to post about this so honestly. Thank you.

I wonder whether any church has the right attitude to alcohol? From the lower end of the spectrum (Sally Army, Methodist, Baptist) bemoaning the evils of demon drink and requiring teetotalism as a requirement of membership in some cases (SA); to the much more laissez-faire attitude at the higher end (Catholics and some Anglicans) where drinking to excess is alright as long as its in a middle class way, you understand! I personally don't think anyone has really got their attitude right. I think the problems are twofold - firstly it is symptomatic of the church's appalling record on any sort of mental illness, including dangerous releationships with alcohol (not just alcoholism) and secondly there simply cannot be a "one size fits all" policy when it comes to this issue. What might work for someone (a little alcohol occasionally) would not work for others because of their different circumstances.

Yet again the church needs to realise that it is composed of a lot of very different people with completely different genetic make-ups, very different backgrounds and very different experiences with alcohol. It's not sufficient for the church simply to "do something" i.e. to set a party line and then to try to enforce it strictly instead of "entering into relationships" with people.

Or at least that's what I think!

Karin said...

I'm not sure that talking about 'sin' is helpful, and it certainly isn't the way to communicate to people in 21st century Britain. If Bishops want to get their message across, they need to use the language of their target audience and speak in terms that they will find meaningful. Of course, perhaps he was talking to fellow churchgoers who just wanted to feel pious, in which case he probably pitched it just right.

As you have said yourself, heavy drinking is often a symptom of another problem. If the problem is depression, it could have been caused by negative attitudes from parents, teachers or the church, in which case heaping more guilt and feelings of inadequacy on a person won't be helpful.

I don't know why young people drink so much today, but I think it is about being sociable and being accepted by their peers. My husband is a moderate drinker and I drink even less, not being very fond of alcohol, but our children go out drinking with their friends more than we ever did. However, from what we can gather, they don't seem to be totally senseless. As much as anything it seems to be what their friends do when they go out, so they have to join in if they want to go out with their friends.

The fact that alcohol is cheap and often very sweet, and that the government enjoys the revenue from the tax on it are probably all factors in it's popularity among the young

Still Breathing said...

Karin, Thank you for your comment. I think you have opened a whole new subject when it comes to the language the Bishop used; how much do we have to change our language to communicate with those outside the church and how much is core to our beliefs? In an odd way the word 'sin' is at the heart of the Christian message as without it there was no need for salvation but do we have to find a different word to communicate the idea? I think the Bishop was right even if his language may have clouded the issue.

For myself I believe the church has to help people with drink problems without being judgmental; drink in itself is not evil. The analogy the springs to mind is that drink is like a car, if you use it just as a means of transport and abide by the rules of the road it is good but if you get obsessed by it and have to drive everywhere at high speed it is a mjor problem.