At Ease. July 2016.

Dear Rowley,

As you are aware, I have been known to lift a few in my time. I’ve also had every quip with a sting about the booze learned by rote. Alcohol is a disease. Yes, but I’d rather have it than TB. Live for the day. I do! Cheers! I have taken more from alcohol than it has from me. Nobody likes a quitter. I could go on…

But for all the smart arse comments, it had become increasingly clear that the booze seemed to be the answer whatever the question. Happy? Have one. Sad? Have five. A great day? Celebrate. A bad day? Commiserate. As a dear friend of mine pointed out, you know it has got the better of you when life is dictated entirely – entirely! – by drink.

I recall more than a few times in recent months when I am itching to get away from a dinner, a theatre or a cinema just so I could get home before the 11pm supermarket curfew and nab another bottle of Prosecco as a nightcap. It has often be the case that, on waking-up, I would split the fizz with fresh orange juice and think it was all terribly Hollywood circa 1930 not under Waterloo Bridge behaviour.

Whichever way you paint it, a dependence on alcohol is not in any way shape or form doomed glamour. There is nothing chic about losing hours to alcohol not to mention losing jobs, friends and dignity on a regular basis. I recall a fashion designer telling me that I was the most serene person she’d ever met. The reality was, at that particular party my anxieties and nerves were chemically coshed with gin and I was too drunk to trust myself to speak.

So embedded is alcohol culture in the UK that you practically have to turn-up at a dinner party reeking like a tramp and completely incoherent before anyone will really take you to one side and say you’ve got a problem. Drunkenness in London is a badge of honour not a source of shame.

I have fooled myself time after time that the booze is a treat: a balm to soothe the troubled brow after life had thrown another mountain of crap at you. Inevitably, you wake-up the next morning feeling like the wrath of God and the downward spiral continues. Alcohol turns one’s life into Groundhog Day. It never gets better and never changes as long as you keep pouring 40 per cent proof over it.

I have danced with alcohol my whole life and I mean my WHOLE life. As Liza says, when non-alcoholics taste a drink they feel jolly. Alcoholics feel like Tony the Tiger: Grrrrrrrrreeat!!! Not for long, granted, but the first sip usually induces relaxation that you are incapable of finding anywhere else and no little elation.

Addicts are great fun. They can be some of the most intelligent, amusing people you’d ever care to meet: the life and soul. They are also devious, invariably depressed, anxious and incapable of repairing the wears and the tears of life with anything other than booze. I have understood this for years but been incapable of making friends with the truth. Alcohol is the problem that brilliantly shape shifts into the solution.

Just like the wisecracks about being a confirmed drinker, I’ve also tried so many coping mechanisms to allow me to keep alcohol a part of my life. I did the Elaine Stritch ‘two-drinks’ rule when working only to take another twenty when the job is done. I’ve tried only drinking Champagne for two years and crying-off wine and spirits. I tried desperately to make every allowance to keep booze in my life.

London is a great enabler and colludes with addiction to allow it to pass unnoticed under the radar. So are some people but blame doesn’t lie with them. Nobody puts the glass to your lips, after all. A jolly good indication for me that alcohol was the controlling influence on my life was the lack of interest in food, friends or looking after oneself in any way, shape or form.

The Brits in particular like a stiff one to heroically keep that upper lip stiff.  Keep buggering on and all that. But how long before your greatest ally turns it’s fire on you? I have reached the point when enough is truly enough. It wasn’t as if I didn’t commit to my drinking career with tenacity, loyalty and great physical endurance. I got away with it for so, so long without starting to look like Gazza. Deep down on the surface – where it mattered – was all that concerned me.

As long as I presented well and met my deadlines, all was well. Really? Really? It is a trap of one’s own making and leads to a life that looks a lot more fun than it was. Put manic depression into the mix and you are guaranteed breakdowns of ever increasing frequency. It’s not even a risk. It is a guarantee.

So here we are. It’s an oldie but a goodie. Denial is not a river that rises in Egypt. I get it. Finally, I get it. What to do with it is yet to be decided but I have a sneaky suspicion that the method that has worked for millions since the 1930s is the only guaranteed way of slaying the beast.

My pictures this week say it all. It starts like a Toulouse Lautrec: the sinister glimmer of wicked, reckless fun in the dark. It progresses to Degas’s Absinthe Drinkers: lonely, squalid and profoundly sad. If it continues, it will end with Goya’s Black Demons inhabiting your brain until you can bear no more. It is at this point that one has to say it is either alcohol or life because believe you me the booze is a killer. Fortunately, no one has to fight it alone unless they choose to. Wish me luck and don’t wave goodbye quite yet. Until next time…