Them and Us

Are you someone who drinks wine? Nice wine? Do you work hard, play hard, manage perhaps family and the home with precision and seeming ease? Are you horrified by the story in the news a while ago of a child being left by his Alcoholic Mother for so long he mummified in his cot? Or do you tut at the anti-social behaviour highlighted by the media of the drinking culture of the young, and the massive burden they put on the ambulance service and A & E?

We were once the same, oblivious, or at least in denial that quite possibly as dependent, home drinkers, with the odd foray out to dinner parties and nightclubs, we were sinking between 100-150 units a week of alcohol. Not once were we faintly observed as alcoholics, we just were not like them.

We had nice jobs, nice clothes, a nice lifestyle, but hidden behind the interlined curtains, we were drinking at least on a par with the reckless overtly boozy Brits. We would have giggly conversations the morning after the night before, on how amusing it was that we had got a bit tipsy, but nowhere near as sozzled as another. Another was the party piece among our friends who got so drunk she made us feel so much better about ourselves.

Because we appeared to be in control, articulate and reasonably intelligent, we were never really questioned about our drinking habits. The old guffaw about not being an alcoholic if you still drank less than your doctor was rolled out across a well-polished walnut table.

Yes that is them, and this is us. Our drinking was cleverly disguised, consequences were few, and as we progressed down our particular River of Denial, when the things started to fall apart, we just managed, barely, to cover it up even more, terrified that someone would ever point a finger and accuse us of being alkies. In fact so bad was our bigotry that we self-harmed to the point of almost killing ourselves. Too frightened to confess that actually we were not just drinking three glasses of wine a night, but preloading, and secretly drinking in our bedrooms. Hiding bottles in cupboards and wellington boots. Re-organizing the re-cycling so that even the bin men would not suspect.

And yet we judge others, because they are not like us. The fact is that they are just like us, just less fortunate or not as good at hiding it.

The over 55’s are now the biggest burden on the NHS in terms of alcohol related illnesses. The lowest cost to our health care and society as a whole are the under 35s. 20% of the population of this country suffers from liver disease, alcoholic liver disease mainly. So why is that the middle aged are never regarded as a problem? Because we are so adept at hiding it, until it’s too late to deal with the progressive nature of this. Not everyone likes drinking anymore, they are just pressured into drinking so that they don’t feel different to what has become the norm.  The overall cost of the problem, latest figures from 2007, was estimated at £55.1 billion by The National Social Marketing Centre. Quite sure that figure has increased since our country has been in recession.

27% of my clients over the last three months have come from the health sector, both clinical and mental health. The average age is 47 years. Not 16. These women are the Mothers of the drinkers who are often out there on the streets getting hammered. Do you think they have perhaps learned a habit? We hear of girls of 14 taking bottles of wine to parties, because if Mummy drinks it to help her relax, then it will help us do the same. After all she isn’t a drunk.

With the Sober Revolution Lucy and I have tried to inspire rather than bang on about the less savoury effects of our past, for surely the time has come to change the treatment of problem drinking, so that is becomes acceptable to not only talk about it, but better yet, to be proud and congratulated for overcoming the most accessible, acceptable and dangerous drug on the planet, without any kind of slavery to having to confess the sin for the rest of our lives, but to accept that we just don’t want to be imprisoned anymore or apathetic, and move on. This is not preaching to regular drinkers, you are still having fun with it, but for those who are not, let’s just start to fight back.

It’s time to start the conversation about US, and not them, because in terms of cost, to ourselves and others, we are right up there with the worst Friday night ever televised by car crash TV. Except for us, no one will ever see until it’s too late.

Author: Sarah Turner

Founder of the Harrogate Sanctuary.