It was never my intent to use this blog as a stage for personal vents on alcoholism, but after writing about a man I know, Steve (not his real name,) earlier this year, I feel compelled to add to the story once more. It became apparent in a conversation today, after The S*n’s ridiculous campaign begging people to not serve Paul Gascoigne a drink after his most recent, sad relapse.
What followed on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show was a stranger discussion in to whether it should be made illegal for people to buy known alcoholics drinks or for bartenders to sell drink to known alcoholics. Whilst the sentiment seemed reasonable, we all know such laws would be impossible to police and would never be realistically practical. What finally struck a chord with me though was one caller, a bartender by trade, who said that it was not her responsibility but “the responsibility of Gazza’s, or any other alcoholic’s, friends and family to stop them drinking.” Some people truly have no idea.
The battle to save Steve from his alcohol addiction continues. It will continue to rage on and be lost until there is nothing left to fight for. Liken it to the U.S.A.’s war on the Middle East in search of oil. Neither side wins, both will be depleted and exhausted from the fight, and all for one side’s thirsty greed for something they have no right to. We’ve tried everything to save Steve. Trust that his friends and family have drained every avenue, yet we can’t stop him from drinking. So if he walks into a pub this evening and orders a beer, does that mean that we have failed in our responsibilities?
I say we have drained every avenue, and this has involved trying to work with the local landlords and pub regulars. Whenever Steve has lapsed and entered hospital, they all show what seems to be sincere concern when I see them. I’m always brutally honest at this point – Steve is very unwell, we don’t know whether one more drink will kill him. They seem shocked and saddened. I believe at that time that they’ll do their bit to help out their “friend” but as soon as Steve re-enters that pub, these same people will be the first to buy him a round. You have no idea how crushing it is to see people end your own emotional hard work so easily.
Recently, Steve made one of his false attempts and promises to sort himself out. I stopped believing in these assurances many years ago but will still support them whenever they arise. He made this particular promise after he was found, collapsed and bloodied, near his house by a local family including a heartbreakingly tearful little girl. Perhaps this would be the event to make him see sense. The local pub has recently changed hands so, to do my bit, I speak to the landlord about Steve and explain that he will still come in for the “social” side but is only to have coke or non-alcoholic beer; that he needs to heal. The landlord understands. He quickly orders more crates of non-alcoholic beer to be sure there’s enough. Certainly, whenever I or anyone familiar with his plight are present, Steve sticks to his new diet. Some begin to believe he’ll right himself this time, including his poor, long suffering wife. I’m not so sure and, inevitably this weekend, discovered that when Steve thinks nobody is around he knows, the landlord will happily serve him whatever drink he orders.
I want to seethe but I can’t blame the landlord; it’s true that it is not his responsibility. Only Steve can do it for himself. But would it be so wrong for anyone serving alcohol, who knows of somebody’s predicament, to use their rights as a publican and refuse service? Wouldn’t this landlord feel better in himself knowing that he didn’t provide the drink that finally killed Steve off?
Of course, these posts are always filled with hypocrisy. This is, after all, my blog about my passion for beer. How many times have I awoke on a Sunday, unable to remember everything from the night before, but knowing I had too many drinks? Yet, not once in my time have I ever heard that apparent bartender catchphrase of “I think you’ve had enough, son” and been refused service. When did that phrase lose its popularity? Or is it a myth that it’s ever been used at all? Do bartenders truthfully ever refuse drink to drunks anymore?
And look at us all as beer enthusiasts. I remember my first beer festivals were usually full of merchandise that idolised Oliver Reed. “Oliver Reed – died in action,” some slogans would swoon. I even had a chuckle at them myself a few times. I don’t wish now to snarl at self-deprecating humour, but the truth is such merchandise isn’t funny in the slightest. If you still think it is, I suggest you ask those that tried to help Mr Reed in those dark days whether they find it comical.
Since I wrote that post in April I’ve all but given up on Steve. I’ve given it all over the years but the sacrifices have recently become too much. I’ve given up so much of my own future and lost a few people who were very dear to me, whether they couldn’t take the emotional pressure themselves or were simply heartless. Now the mental and emotional exhaustion has hit a point where I need to look after myself for a while. I’m drained. I’m hollow. Yet, even as I write those words I know that I’ll backtrack on it, that I’ll keep hoping I can save him, because I’m a sentimental fool who’ll always put those he cares about first. Or maybe I’m just selfish, because I want the peace of mind when Steve dies that I couldn’t have done anymore, that I am a good person who loses sometimes. I want to be guilt free. I know Steve will kill me emotionally before he kills himself physically. Neither side wins remember.
You may have no sympathy with Paul Gascoigne. It doesn’t make you a bad person. I can relate to that wariness of care when you start to think it’s pointless sympathising with somebody who doesn’t want to help themselves. But you should have empathy and respect for Paul’s friends and family who I bet have poured a lot into trying to save him. Though I find the S*n’s campaign tacky and unfeeling, he is a recognisable figure who could be helped out just by people understanding his situation a little more. Rather than disparagement and belittling of the alcoholic’s you know, maybe you can do your bit to help them out. No addict is going to want to hear refusals, but perhaps they’ll make some progress when they realise people aren’t willing to help them indulge in their addiction.
I hope I don’t have to use this stage to write about Steve again. Maybe once more for an obituary I’ll write to remember the better times and where I’ll forgive him for all he cost me. Save your sympathy if you don’t wish to give it, but do try a little harder to understand the full picture.