Alcohol The Big Question

It is said that those of us that were around at the time can remember where they were when they heard of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. For me it’s also true of the death of John Lennon and the invasion of the Falkland Islands. These events, although mostly not linked closely to our own families leave their marks on us and time stamp our brains. Other landmarks are also etched in our memories i.e. birthdays, anniversaries, when we started a particular job or maybe when we passed our driving test, it’s all there, saved in the hard drive of our minds.

So I find it surprising that the starting point of something that could have wrecked a life, destroyed a family or lost a career can be difficult to pin down. Most of us know roughly when various Prime Ministers were in office, can name the presenters of Blue Peter when we were young and recite the names of all the teachers who taught us at school. We can remember all our pets by name, the smell of the leather seats in our Father’s car and the swish swish of the wipers on a rainy day. All this is easy stuff, but ask someone whose drinking is out of control when it all started to go wrong and you will be hard pressed to get a definite answer.

This is of course because there is no definite answer. We could ask - When did drinking socially become hell on earth and threaten the very sanity of the person involved and their loved ones? Or we could say - When did having a pint after work become drink after drink until midnight or the early hours? Then we could ask - when did you first wake the morning after, hung-over and depressed, feeling full of guilt and regret, wondering how the hell you can even stand in the shower, get to work or drive safely and worrying if anyone will notice the smell of stale alcohol apparently seeping from every tired pore of our skin. We can ask but I think It’s impossible to narrow it down other than to maybe to the nearest decade.

That’s because alcohol dependency creeps up on you slowly, often when you are not looking or when you are bound up in other things, other things that we call life and we all know what life can throw at us. That’s the cleverness of alcohol, it’s also a poison for all seasons and all events, celebration or commiseration, births, weddings, illness or funerals, alcohol can appear to be the answer, a release from pain and unhappiness that in reality only makes things worse.

In counselling I believe it’s useful to think about when the client’s drinking first became a problem. And by `problem` I mean interfering with normal life or threatening the person’s health. It’s not about sleeping on a park bench or living in shop doorways. What was going on at that time for the client and is it still going on or has it been resolved. Heavy drinking is often all about blotting something out and for a few hours at least, being able to forget something and have a rest from it.

The reality of course is that when one wakes in the morning the problem is usually still there but the person is even less able to cope with it because they are feeling ill, unhappy and hung-over. So alcohol can be seen as the paper which we put over the cracks however what needs to be addressed in counselling are the actual cracks themselves.

Therefore in counselling we don’t judge the person whose drinking is out of control. We don’t think they are bad or weak people. We realize that drinking is probably a symptom of another personal problem and that is what we tackle first. It’s no good working on the drinking itself to start with when the cause of it lies elsewhere. We take the nail out and repair of the tyre before we inflate it again.

David Trott copyright 2012

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