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Why Haven't I Learnt Alcohol's lessons?

I’ve never taken part in the “Session” monthly blogging event, though I quite enjoy reading through many of them each month. Once, I considered what topic my own session would focus on and it was of very similar ideals to the one hosted this month about ‘Finding Beer Balance.’ Whilst I didn’t take part in the session, and this is not an attempt at a late entry, reading through the varying opinions made me remember a post I’d started to write in the past about dealing with alcoholism when having such a dangerous hobby.

Beer is now my definition and personality. To those who know me personally it seems to be my number one characteristic; the trait that sticks with them when they think about “Mark Johnson.” I never intended this to be so, but since most of my social life revolves around this particular interest of mine, or crops up as a subject in every bar or restaurant I visit, it’s easy to see why others picture me as this beer monster. It is the subject of most of the work banter I receive during working hours. People I’m not particularly close to, or haven’t heard from in a while, send me out of the blue messages along the lines of “Just read this article in the paper about beer, I thought you’d enjoy it.” Even my girlfriend’s Nan, who I’d previously met on only a couple of occasions, informed me this Sunday all about a beer festival she’d read up on in the local paper and thought I’d be interested in. It’s nice to have such a quirk, but this inevitably leads to questions and judgements surrounding the a-word.

For me though, it’s more personal. There is somebody very close to me, who we will refer to as ‘Steve’ for the interests of this post, who is an alcoholic. It’s severe. There have been several emergency rushes to hospital, collapses, job losses and general distress for Steve’s family. I’ve witnessed some of the falls, ridden in the ambulance with Steve and seen his wife’s suffering through his addiction. It’s caused me much personal anguish but with great perseverance I’ve done what I can for him. Unfortunately, it’d never been enough. However, it’s led to me being asked the same question, numerous times, by different people. It was that question that led to me considering writing this post. It wasn’t until my most recent girlfriend predictably asked it that I really gave it some thought.

The question is: “Hasn’t Steve’s illness changed your view on beer?”

The translation of this question is: “Haven’t you learnt your lesson with alcohol from Steve’s illness?”

I should explain that Steve is a lifelong real ale enthusiast. He is one of the traditional kinds that we probably all know at least one of. He doesn’t go anywhere new without his Good Beer Guide guiding him. He is a local CAMRA branch member and enjoys attending the meetings and festivals. He loves nothing more than finding a small, traditional, multi-roomed pub with real ale available in an unusual location or seeing his local have such favourites as St. Austell’s Tribute or Hopback’s Summer Lightning on good form. In many ways, his interest in beer also defines him to his peers. Steve still enjoys all these activities in the present, but behind those ale enthused eyes hides many lies, bottles of cheap spirits and an incapability of going six hours without an alcoholic drink.

I’ve no sympathy with addicts, having never been one myself. I’m sure it’s terrible to go through, but to me, addiction is weakness. I used to casually smoke and never once had any strong cravings so can’t understand people who find it impossible to quit. It’s the same with alcohol. I drink more than most people I know personally, and I was a student for God’s sake, when pouring vodka into pints of crap lager was the norm, and never once have I been close to feeling how Steve feels. So to directly answer the question I’m so often asked, then no, it hasn’t changed my views. To answer the real elephant in the room, there was never a lesson to learn.

Yet, that isn’t strictly true, and it wasn’t until reading the recent posts by others involved in the “session” that I truly realised the affect it’s had on me. I go out of my way to make sure I have a minimum of three alcohol-free nights a week. This week I’ve already made the cognisant decision to have Sunday through to Thursday alcohol free. Though I think about and buy beer a lot, I drink comparatively little at home. Whilst people think I am constantly on it, the majority of times when I think ‘I really fancy a beer right now’ I don’t. And the reason for this hesitance is because of Steve. He has changed the way I think about drinking.

It’s because I have seen such a beer enthusiast deteriorate this way that I have general concern for some of my peers that I follow on social media such as Twitter. Whilst even I will frequently come out with age old lines such as “Absolutely gasping for a beer today,” there is a line and I see some cross it. Occasionally I’ll read people saying “Tried to have a full night off the beer but succumbed to temptation,” or “tried a week off the booze – failed after an hour.” I wonder, when reading such quotes if this is mere banter or the start of a deeper underlying problem. Whilst beer is on my mind habitually, I can resist it whenever I need to. Is this the way Steve’s predicament has shaped me? Or are the alarm bells that ring for me justifiable?

Alcohol affects different people in different ways; I’ve heard that from doctors enough times whilst sat in the hospital with Steve. I know of people who can drink four litres of vodka a day and show none of the signs of illness that Steve, who drinks much less than that, shows almost acquiescently. It’s why the government’s and health official’s unit limitations are complete nonsense. It’s about understanding your own body and own limitations. I’ve never woken up craving beer, I certainly never have when feeling tender from the night before, but who am I to question those that do? I frown at myself when I feel I am judging those that have ever used the excuse: “it’s the hair of the dog.”

I don’t intend to change the way I drink. We all know that it’s not about being completely gazeboed every night but rather the interest, the sharing, the tastes and the collector’s items. But so it was for Steve once. I know sooner rather than later I’ll be attending Steve’s funeral and I only wish he’d treated his passion with a little more caution and responsibility. People may have defined me with beer, but it will never become me. I hope that it is the same for us all.



Unknown said…
Great post, really sums up the same thoughts of feelings I've had about beer lately
Curmudgeon said…
Important point, and I have to say that over the years I have come across some "beer enthusiasts" who actually were functioning alcoholics (and one or two who went over the edge into becoming pathetic drunks).

However I would say that the general atmosphere of CAMRA meetings and events now is noticeably less boozy than it was thirty years ago.

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