I touched upon a subject in a previous blog post that I didn’t feel ready to talk about on here thus far. I have recently made the decision to begin opening up more about this situation as I feel sharing our vulnerability and struggles is what brings us together; brings change and brings awareness.
When we think about addicts, alcoholics in particular, we often see them as aggressive, confrontational or a bane on society. When in fact, in a lot of cases we couldn’t be further from the truth. The media puts shame upon those with addictions, conveying that it is in fact a choice they are making. Which to a certain extent is correct, however, when you are addicted to something, it stops being a want and becomes a need. You initially made a choice to drink, do drugs, gamble. But at that stage, you are in control. You don’t need to do it, you want to. You like the feeling it gives you, the buzz, the high it creates. But as many addicts know, that first feeling of euphoria can never be beaten. Yet you keep trying to chase that unreachable high. And that is where the problems begin. You start feeling a need to bring back that feeling, a need that must be met. But at what cost?
Someone extremely important to me has been an alcoholic for a number of years. Probably even longer than I was aware. In my early years I don’t remember it having a negative impact on my life, or his in fact. It was normal for me to see him with whiskey and lemonade in his nightcap glass. It was normal to have a room in my house dedicated to that drink of choice. “Lemonade Room”. I never saw him blind drunk, falling around or being aggressive. He was always the kind, intelligent, grumpy man he’d always been.
It was only when I was around 17 that things went rapidly downhill. That period in my life is still a bit hazy as I was aware but not fully understanding of the severity of the situation. I guess I was old enough to see something bad was happening, but still too naive to fully know the consequences.
He had lost his mother a few months previous, which I believe to be the main reason behind the decline in his mental health and consequently fueling his alcoholism. He was very depressed which when hand in hand with alcohol dependency proves to be a huge battle for any individual. The first incident I can remember was late at night. I had been asleep and was woken up by a loud bang, followed by someone saying “oh shit!”. I immediately ran out of my room onto the landing and looked below me at my stairs. He was lying at the bottom of them, seemingly unhurt by some miracle, but clearly very dazed. Or maybe that was partly down to the whiskey!
That was the first of a few incidents involving trips to the hospital and attempts to help him come off the drink. However, it wasn’t the worst one for me as this one had been an accident, falling down the stairs drunk is totally different from someone wanting to end their life. I feel extremely vulnerable and even slightly uncomfortable writing about this because it has been such a taboo for so long, not necessarily intentionally, but its definitely not something you just openly discuss to people who aren’t closest to you. However, talking about anything traumatic, hurtful, triggering is difficult. Talking about feelings in general is difficult, let alone ones that don’t portray happiness. And I believe that hearing the impact of addiction from a perspective other than the addict can help massively. It shows the domino affect mental health and addiction creates, and the long term impact it has on everyone.
One very hard time in particular always sticks with me. I don’t remember a lot in the run up to this incident but its the smaller details that remain with me. The what ifs. It was a normal evening and I’d gone to bed. I woke up to my mum telling me that he wasn’t okay. I had that sinking feeling in my gut once again. Everything about this situation at that time was so unpredictable and I’m extremely surprised that Ben didn’t resurface at that age. God only knows.
My mum is a religious woman who uses her faith in times of need as a strength and reminder that she has support from who she believes to be God. She went up to bed that evening and as she settled down for the night, in her words, she said someone in her head spoke to her. As a faithful person she believed it to be God, but whatever it was saved his life that night. She had an incessant need to go back downstairs and check he was okay. She said she didn’t know why, she hadn’t had any doubts before going to bed, but something had triggered this need in her. Going back down to try and calm these worries, she was instantly aware that something wasn’t right. Luckily, she was still able to get some sort of sense out of him and found out that he had taken a considerable amount of paracetamol. Around 50. To put it in perspective, around 10 can kill you. When the paramedics arrived, he was very upset. I can still clearly remember feeling angry but desperately sad and worried. He held my hand and he said sorry over and over again, to which I didn’t have much of a response. I didn’t know what to say in that situation, to someone I loved with all my heart but needed more help than I knew how to give.
Fast forward nearly 7 years and things are better in a lot of ways, but also still the same. He is still an addict. He is currently not alcohol dependent, but only through the help of my mum. He still needs help, which is the hardest part to grasp because he won’t take it. And as someone whose seen his and experienced my own poor mental health, I can find it very frustrating. But as I’ve been told time and time again, you can’t make someone get help, you just have to be there for them until they feel able to take that step. Which I always will. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel incredibly angry about the situation – I do! Quite often too. But my anger won’t change anything, it would just damage my relationship with him which I’m not prepared to do. When someone you love is an addict, it can be very debilitating. You see someone change into a different person, and there’s not a great deal you can do about it except be there to support them where you can. I still have times where I am extremely anxious about what will happen in the future, about whether he’ll ever truly cooperate with someone to get long term help. I get anxious if he’s left on his own for even just half a day because I remember that awful period of my life when I was 17. And I don’t ever want that to be repeated again.
For anyone who lives with, loves, cares for someone who is an addict or suffering from a mental health problem, be patient. Be kind and don’t give up on them. Even if they give you 100 reasons to walk away, to let them carry on by themselves, to let them “mess their own life up”. Find that 1 reason to stay. It won’t be easy, but having just one person in your corner can mean the difference between life and death.