How commonly do we turn to drink to help us with our problems? I'm sure many readers will be able to relate to this on some level. From the cheeky glass of wine to take the edge off a rough day at work, or the binge that gets you through difficult emotional upheaval, to full blown alcoholism seeking continually to obliterate thoughts and feelings, booze is a ubiquitous drug in our society. Universally accepted and encouraged, the dividing line between being a pleasurable social lubricant and a destructive poison is often fine, and one that many struggle with the boundaries around.
At its worst, alcohol takes and destroys, and I've seen the damage up close.
A client of mine has been struggling with stress, low mood and anxiety, and at times has used drink as a coping mechanism. His relationship with alcohol is a complex one, that has taken us both a fair bit of time to unpick and understand, but ultimately the drug is damaging and destructive for him and his family, hence we have been talking about how he can change.
The other day I asked him to write a 'Dear John' letter to alcohol. I wanted him to personify and objectify the drug, thinking this would help him move his relationship with it to a different place. What he came back with was rather beautiful. The letter speaks for itself. I would encourage anyone reading this article to use the letter below to help them think about their own relationship with alcohol, and whether this is something that needs addressed or changed. My client's name has, of course, been changed, and I use this letter with his permission.
For many years you have created an illusion by painting a picture of something you are not. I'm writing because it's time we parted.
But, to meet you halfway, conclusively, I want to start with a picture I want to paint for you, Alcohol. Because it's vital to me that you hear and understand some home truths. Let's start with nothing, nothingness to be exact, a blank canvass, and take it from here. It shouldn't be difficult. It's something you are well acquainted with.
Imagine the moments before the Big Bang, when there was nothing, silence was the only song. Then, with a flash 'nothing was ended', and something else much better took its place: Life.
Allow yourself to consider a universe cascading to limitless potential from that point, planets formed, orbitals found balance, distance, time, matter, all established. Irrevocable to the imagination, etched in many places beyond what we know now. In my life, when I think of a time before I knew you as I do now, there was some peace in the system. The only motivation at times has been to find peace, a huge misdirection.
From about 17 years onwards, the system began to destabilise, to morph into a disruptive force.
Yes, we've known each other a very long time, at once we were close, you looked after me in lonely moments, I held you, tasted your charm, and I protected and hid you. But, now, my galaxy is different - it has expanded so much, and I while recognise you from afar, with caution, nostalgia, some bile, and weakness.
Back to the interstellar picture I’m painting for you. Much as I have spent time in your company, I need you to know that part of your illusion, your great deceit, is that you always believe you are the centre of the universe. “Pivotal to happiness and physical harmony”. You are not. And let this be simple - you are not the star around which other planets orbit. You are not even close. You are an asteroid. A discarded wretch flung from a void which has no true benefit.
Granted, from afar, you look stunning at times as you whisk by – your illusion succeeds; warm and something to help when I am struggling – energetic, different, confident in your trajectory. A vehicle for me to find some serenity, some cheer about myself, some confidence, some respite from the realisation that I am probably one of the more complex and difficult planets to inhabit.
But up close, now that I have travelled a long way with you, I know you as a sulking siren of a deep beyond, there’s an evident lack of light on your surface, and underground, you are a husk of bleak nothing, an avaricious and lifeless chunk of cold rock, which can only merit a glimmer of respect when I look at you against the gravity and beauty of the other planets which regally exist, enriching our system.
And where you are going, if I allow it, is to only end in a horrid crater upon something good. Damage is your only eventuality, and you will scrape the surface of any given planet, leaving a pock-marked furrow as proof you existed.
Other than that, we come back to nothing. When I spend time with you, I am hitching a ride with nothing, alone, putting distance between those I love. And at the end, I am much worse off, almost back to square one, before my life blossomed into what it is now.
Sometimes, when I think of the way I’ve consumed you, and you’ve consumed me, I feel jealous of the people who can consume and be consumed without any nothingness, any guilt, any problem stopping the meteor. But that isn't something I can control so it isn't worth thinking about.
I grew up around you, my kin were all apparently fine with their asteroid glitches in their systems, sometimes they existed within an asteroid belt. It was acceptable to be rocketing at interstellar speeds with a glass in your hand so long as you did it in a certain, confident way. It made me complacent, entitled, and reluctant to admit I wasn’t a robust voyager.
You are so many million light years off what I want in life. Now I need you to go further, and not return.
Ok, so you have a picture now. So let’s get specific.
I drank when I couldn’t be alone, to be connected. It didn’t work.
I drank when I didn’t want to feel connected to myself and others. I didn’t work.
You taught me that I was ok to have a couple, knowing I wouldn’t always stop. It was part of the insecure vision I had of myself being a vibrant, happy go lucky, sociable animal. Bullshit artist extraordinaire. You taught me to lie, to close up, to be obtuse and annoy the shit out of people I cherish, to risk so much, to deny my accepted place in this system.
You taught me that it was ok to punish myself, to become a slurring caricature of myself. When the temporary warmth finished, I would be sick, I would say horrid things, I would act terribly, I would forget what's truly important because I needed help with how I felt.
The truth was so different, and with a couple of nudges from fate, parental input, career, doubt, I somewhat agreed to go on the asteroid equivalent of a 6am flight on EasyJet to Malia in a force 10 gale when the loos are out of order.
I know you’ll argue that we had moments watching old films, reminiscing over music and great sporting moments, bonding with mates, finding love, dancing the night away. But really, reflecting in my mid-30s, you have only left anguish for myself and others.
I have a lukewarm cup of tea and ears full of crumpled voices from countless others in portacabins and dusty church halls who all have to step off their asteroids. Regret, fear, addiction, desperation echo in all – but these dirges are always challenged by hope and compassion against the odds. If you could bottle that, the whole world would be quenched. I have the familiar drag of guilt once I know I am drunk, and when I wake up I see the wasted moments of support from many, patience squandered on my poor behaviour and reckless abandon. I have the tears and worry in my wife’s eyes, we have a wealth of nothing from my asteroid trip.
Not a great legacy for anything and anyone. I know too that while I used to see your asteroid nearly every day, I no longer do, but you are still insistent, and occasionally I succumb.
Yet these moments are actually the dying embers of a grey-bleak bond which lost its zenith many years ago, and are desperate pops and crackles, only death throes of a beast soon to be extinct. You are losing your own game and you know it.
So, with kindness, and uttered from a very hairy and somewhat rotund body (;-), I need to let you go, and you need to accept you belong in a black hole, outside this constellation.
I’m moving on. I'll be looking at my human stars, child and adults, they are far more to me than you ever could be.