For Alcohol Awareness Week 2021, the theme is Alcohol and Relationships. The following blog has been written by our Connecting Families Development Officer Tich.
Before I stopped drinking over 5 years ago, every relationship I had, every single one, was impacted by my substance use problem – my alcoholism.
Employers had to have those difficult chats with me to say they had to let me go because I was late or not fit. That was despite liking me, despite being my friend or even a drinking buddy, despite having to rearrange rotas and find a replacement, despite wishing me all the best.
Relationships with girlfriends had to end. I had behaved very badly. I had said something horrid. I was too chaotic. I was generally disrespectful. I reminded them of their father.
My children suffered without knowing it as I took them to the pub rather than the park. My drinking was the main reason for breaking up with their mum and not giving them that family they may at the time had hoped for. Sometimes I was short-tempered. I couldn’t afford holidays abroad.
These are key relationships that I needed to keep well – work, love, and family.
But perhaps it is normal friendships that get overlooked when we think about the impact of alcohol on relationships.
I am very fortunate to have a lot of amazing friendships. When I went to rehab, I cried on the front steps because I knew my life wouldn’t be the same again. I knew my relationships would change. I was scared to think about social events without alcohol or other drugs. I worried about the friendships that may slip away down the plughole as I symbolically poured the last drink away.
Across the twenty years of problematic drinking, I made a lot of friends as I was a bit of a social chameleon, merging into lots of social settings, and adjusting my invisible mask to fit in and try to be accepted. I was a sociable drunk in the main. Most of the time fun. Always up for a drink. This meant other responsibilities often came last. It also meant I wasn’t always a great friend to the ones that really cared for me and who’d been in my life the longest. I’d forget birthdays constantly unless there was a party attached. I would be agitated in their company if it wasn’t in a pub. I always needed to borrow money. Always.
One of my friends, Rory, has been with me the whole journey. Possibly there the first time I was drunk, which I am not that clear when it was. It was his house most of the nights began and often ended too. He was there as my mum got unwell and supported me after she died. He is like a brother. When I had endured a difficult court case, he invited me to travel with him to Australia. I only made it as far as Glasgow when I left Edinburgh, but it was what I needed then; support to make a fresh start, for already then I drank to escape.
He would be offering all the correct encouragement when I was unemployed whilst he worked night and day in preparation for travelling. Meanwhile, I am drinking and blaming the world. It must have been frustrating and concerning. Eventually, he said, “Tich, we are not going to Australia if you are going to drink every day there”. Fine. I didn’t go.
At the time I justified it because I had finally found half-decent work and I said I would be coming back to instability, so I needed to take that opportunity. I was just too scared to stop drinking. I also had a new playground in Glasgow where not many knew me.
He went and had a wonderful time. I had a great time too. Our friendship endured but we saw each other far less as he was only back in Scotland now and again over the next few decades. He was around and his parents made visits the first real attempt at sobering up which involved an NHS detox.
The detox didn’t come with recovery attached. I relapsed and stayed drunk for another 9 years. During that time when we caught up, he generally had to foot the bill, but I also gave him a playmate.
We shared serious stuff too. We would always squeeze in a quick art exhibition to help us feel cultured before getting wasted. He has always been great with my kids who love Uncle Rory. I managed to behave enough at his wedding to do my duties and deliver a speech. He gave me a thank you gift which mapped all the pubs we drank in together in Glasgow. Lots of great memories. That is the trouble with drinking. It wasn’t all bad and I could often idealise the good times and minimise the bad times. It makes it hard to stop and to stay stopped.
When I did finally get to rehab at 39 years old, Rory was one of the teams of supporters who helped get the finances in place. He sent a pair of running trainers which has allowed me to keep relatively fit ever since.
In recovery, our friendship has continued and improved. He came up for my 40th birthday which was one of the life events I could never picture doing sober. I spent my first sober Christmas with his family in Edinburgh. My first sober wedding was his brother’s wedding. In sobriety, he asked all the right questions and seemed to have found out about what I suffered from so he was able to support me. As I got back to work, I again received his praise as I always did with success large and small.
Maybe that is what really helped. I always felt praised and not criticised. I always felt supported not abandoned. All is good for me.
Me, me, me.
So, what about him? I guess even despite working a recovery program and trying to live life more selflessly, I don’t know if I really know about the impact on him.
How did he cope? Did he have to learn about boundaries? I also wonder if he has any advice for people who find themselves in similar positions.
At Scottish Families, we have a campaign called ‘Love Makes You Family’ because we recognise all families look different. Scottish Families supports anyone affected by someone else’s substance use and embrace an expansive and inclusive definition of family.
Rory is a massive part of my family and I’ve asked him to share his perspective.
(Rory’s blog will be posted tomorrow, Thursday 18th November)
If you are worried about someone else’s alcohol or drug use, we are here to listen and to help. You can contact our team on 08080 10 10 11, email@example.com or use the webchat on our website.