Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

I’m allergic to alcohol…

Days of Wine & Roses

One of the great things about Days of Wine and Roses, the powerful 1962 Blake Edwards film starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, is the way it lulls us into a false sense of security. Having got used to Jack Lemmon as the comic actor, we feel we’re about to see a romantic comedy where the main character occasionally has funny, drunken mishaps that will have us rollicking in our seats. But when Joe Clay walks into a glass door with a bunch of tulips in his hand we can almost feel the shock vibrate through our own bodies. As a lift door closes, decapitating the flowers without him noticing, we begin to understand we are on a rollercoaster ride into the horrifying world of alcoholism.

A friend of mine recently told me a humorous experience of his with a woman friend, who is part of our social circle. She arrived at the home of his girlfriend and his in a state he called – rather diplomatically – tired and emotional.

His girlfriend had to take their dog out for a walk leaving him to deal with the situation. No sooner was she out the door than his woman friend cast aside all her inhibitions and began chasing him around the room. Once she’d cornered him, she threw her arms about him in an attempt to cement their lips together with a generous dollop of slobber laced with strong spirit. Ducking and diving, he managed to avoid her mouth. But the chase continued. He described it as rather like being pursued by an over-friendly St Bernard mountain rescue puppy that had managed to prise to the cork from the barrel of brandy round its neck to slug the entire contents. Several pieces of beloved furniture, he managed to get between them, narrowly missed getting destroyed. In the end, he couldn’t escape both his cheeks from being liberally smeared in 90° proof saliva. Luckily, his understanding girlfriend returned at that moment to save him.

My friend’s a forgiving sort of person, having thrown a tired and emotional fit himself on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, in a phonecall a few days later, he told her in strong terms not to call round the house in that condition again, and asked  if she was taking any sort of medication, as certain medications intended to tranquilize achieve exactly the opposite effect when accompanied by strong beverages. Like a lot of people with problems of a liquid nature she apologised profusely, offering the excuse she suffered from an allergy, which had caused a reaction when she drank on top of the pills she was taking. There’s an answer to that.

But he’d already heard a radically different version by then. According to mutual friends, she’d been drinking with earlier, she worked her way through the major portion of  a couple of bottles of wine, before attacking a bottle of Jameson’s. She became so loud and argumentative the friend, who’d driven her there, had to drag her away beore she got herself into real trouble. Normally, she is respectful, polite, generous and friendly. This was not an allergy in the proper medical sense of the term.

Not to be hypocritical, I’ve been more than partial to a bit of a tipple in my time, and am so allergic to excessive amounts of Scotch it makes me start falling all over the place and vomiting. So I try to keep the right side of drink. Not always completely succesfully, I might add. My allergy to excessive quantities of beer and wine has also led me to hugging my friends and telling them how much I love them. A few minutes later I’ve told them what’s wrong with them, and why everybody dislikes them so much, including me. Their problem is they hate to see me having fun, used to be one of my favourite lines, before weeping out of self-pity, and then telling them how much I love them again and again. One of my Norwegian uncles used to do the same. I probably get it from him.

But, although I jest, without wanting to moralise, extremely heavy drinking is a very serious problem for many people we regard as good friends, at certain times in their lives. The drink they seek solace in, as a way to solve their problems, becomes their chief problem.

I am a drinker, I like to drink and I have drank to excess on more occcasions than I care to remember. The fact I can remember, has helped me exert more control over myself than a good many other drinkers, but not always.

So how do I tell a friend it’s time to stop drinking too much? How does any of us tell someone if they keep on going the way they are they will lose their jobs, their homes and all their friends?

Though it doesn’t seem fair, there are many people who can get away with drinking too much throughout their lives without it affecting them so much they lose everything, except perhaps their good health. We have differing levels of physical tolerance and different psychological make-ups. Not a very satisfactory state of affairs for those who can never drink responsibly, admittedly. But knowing that doesn’t help solve the problem.

How can we tell those we love they will end up in the streets if they don’t stop drinking, without them becoming mortal enemies?

Please feel free to offer your opinion on this growing problem for individuals and families everywhere, as I’d love to be able to help both my friends without causing offence and making the problem worse.

Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming

I also cover this subject in a series of short stories that go under the title Some you never win, some you always lose. The first in the series is Enough for a Lifetime


16 comments on “I’m allergic to alcohol…

  1. therapyjourney
    May 6, 2014

    Thanks for such a considered and incredibly personal response Bryan. I think things like this are worth talking about on a public blog, and I have no problem with my online handle appearing here, as I blog anonymously.

    I approach your response from a slightly different angle, as it is me, a woman in a relationship with a man, who always has been the abuser. I can’t deal with a term like domestic violence when I am the person doing the violence. It is so upsetting that I have sought to attach labels to my partner, like “alcoholic”, “passive aggressive”, “arrogant”, “manipulative”, “domineering”.

    Some of these labels are not far from the truth but ultimately it was my own lack of willing to accept my failings and control my erratic behaviour that caused the problems in the first place. If I hurt someone that I love of course they will kick back, not to hurt me but to protect themselves (and me) from myself when I’m going nuts.

    As the prime cause of the abuse within my relationship (and past relationships), I have been seeking help for six months now, and will continue to throughout my life I think. It is possible for people to change – if they want to. I have to keep believing that.

    Oh and on the subject of children, I finally managed to have that conversation this weekend. It was a bit of a surprise for him to hear me talking about what was important to me in life, but the outcomes and responses were realistic and positive. He wants the same thing as me, but only if we can hold it together long term of course. Alleluya! We’ll see how things go but I feel so much better now we have goals & timescales regarding family life, with no pressure.


    • Bryan Hemming
      May 6, 2014

      Well, good for you! My heartfelt good wishes go out to both of you.


      • therapyjourney
        May 6, 2014

        Thank you! You’ve really helped me. All the best to you.


  2. therapyjourney
    May 1, 2014

    Hi Bryan
    Sorry to hear your father was an alcoholic, I can’t imagine how tough that must have been and how that has made you feel today particularly with your own relationship with alcohol.

    Unfortunately it is a very contentious issue for most of us that use alcohol in our social and personal lives, in whatever way.

    With the issue of a problem drinker, I think that you have to take it day by day. The drinker can’t make be expected to make any promises because when they don’t keep them, it’s failure in their eyes so back to square one and ‘why bother even trying to give up’.

    It’s also one day at a time for the friend/ partner/ family member who desperately wants the drinker to calm it down. You can’t dictate, you can’t scaremonger, you can’t threaten, you just have to be gentle, encouraging and above all accepting.

    If they are going to stop (or calm down), they will because they want to and no other reason.


    • Bryan Hemming
      May 2, 2014

      I took a little time to mull over your comment, as the subject is so serious.

      In the particular case I case I write about, the friend is not a close friend of mine or Anji’s, so there’s no desperation on either of our parts to stop her drinking, in that way.

      But her behaviour in public can affect us when we’re all out together. She doesn’t mean any harm, but becomes incredibly bossy and attention-seeking, which begins to spoil everything for everyone to the point you just want to get away from her.

      Luckily, her closer friends are patient and understanding, but even they often feel the need to excuse her, which shouldn’t happen, as they’re not responsible.

      But you’re right, you can’t stop anyone from drinking, they have to want to stop themselves. Nevertheless, someone at some time has to point out the wider implications of her behaviour on others, in order for her to understand. If they aren’t pointed out, we’re just allowing her to indulge herself at the expense of others. At the very least, that’s very selfish of her, and she should know exactly how others feel in order to make her own decision. Without knowing, she can’t.


      • therapyjourney
        May 2, 2014

        The problem is with those who don’t believe their drinking is a problem. Whose behaviour, when you really really think about it – isn’t a problem. Those who don’t wake up with missing teeth/ a stranger in their bed/ in police cells/ in their own vomit. Sure, if someone behaves in an outrageous way, it’s easy to give examples of their atrocious behaviour and how it’s affected you, and chances are they will stop in time. What about those drinkers who drink loads and always but without visible detriment to their health, without any impact on their working lives, and without ever causing upset/ violence/ embarrassment? Is there any case for a gentle nudge in the direction of moderation – even if that makes you a hated killjoy hellbent on curbing their idea of harmless fun that they are perfectly entitled to enjoy…every single night…?


      • Bryan Hemming
        May 2, 2014

        You’re describing my father to an extent. He was the jolly man, who drank each lunchtime and each evening to his heart’s content without it ever seeming to affect him too much. But behind closed doors, at home, he was a moody monster, angry much of the time. He had his own business, a little shop and market stalls, and wasted much of the takings on booze and the nags, while not putting quite enough food on the table and having the shabbiest kids in school at times. My mother, my three sisters and I, all worked for his habits, at weekends and during holidays without decent pay. He came from a reasonably well-off family and was left what amounted to a tidy fortune when his father died. It all got frittered away so my sisters and I ended up without so much as a penny when he died, which I knew was going to happen, so it didn’t really bother me.

        My mother, who thought she’d been left money didn’t realise, he’d let her pay for almost everything in the last years of their lives together, so he only left her what she would’ve saved had he paid his share. At least she had enough to live a reasonable life to the end of her days.

        So, those who have families, and are the life and soul of the party down at the boozer, are not so nice at home. I don’t want to be hypocritical because I’ve drank more than enough on far too many occasions, but there are virtually no alcoholics that don’t make a mess of other people’s lives as well as their own, in one way or another.


      • therapyjourney
        May 3, 2014

        Food for thought definitely… means a lot coming from someone who’s lived through it and witnessed the effect of the behaviour on the family unit. I am coming to the point where I’m going to have to do some serious thinking (and talking) about whether this guy is the right one long-term. I would like to settle down in every way, and definitely have kids and marriage and stuff. The few times he’s initiated a conversation about drinking less it’s always ‘I’ll cut down at the next milestone” eg when one work contract finishes, or it’s a new year, or when we move to/back from Spain. But the drinking never changes. The good resolutions go out of the window. If I broached the subject of kids, I’m sure it’ll be “things will be different then, when I have real responsibility, I’ll be able to quit or cut down really easily”. But I have to be very careful not to believe this because unfortunately it’s lies, I’m starting to realise that now.

        My guy is a monster at home but a very clever one who always manages to make me feel bad for ‘initiating’ the upset. He’s incredibly angry, yet I’m the one in therapy for my anger issues.


      • Bryan Hemming
        May 3, 2014

        It’s impossible for me to give advice on personal issues because I don’t really know all the details, and I would never attempt to.

        But I can relate some of my own experiences. My partner, Angelica has two children by a man, who was a reformed alcoholic for a while, but gradually slipped into his old ways. He made our lives a misery for a hell of a long time, after starting a relationship with another woman, while the children were relatively young. I met her after she’d been thrown out of the house.

        He lied in court to get custody of the children and they are now seriously disturbed. The story is long and complicated, but he was one of the main reasons for conflicts between Angelica and I, simply because of the stress he constantly caused and the way he used the children, as a method of getting revenge on her for something he has in his head. He was awful to them. Once they came of age he threw them out of the family home, and he also finished his second relationship. But he’d thrown his son out to live with us a couple of times before. We never knew the full truth of anything. And still don’t.

        The point is that you do have to be very careful, who you have children with. I decided when I was fifteen or sixteen not to have children, for fear of treating them like my father had treated my sisters and I. I actually like children and get on well with them. I still have contact with children of friends of mine, who are now grown with their own families. Both my nephews keep in regular contact, and one flies over to Spain to see us from time to time.

        The only thing I can say is that people who continually break promises will continue to break promises. Men who abuse women inside the home will almost certainly continue to abuse them throughout their lives, and the abuse is very likely get worse rather than better. They are also likely to abuse their children. They never, or rarely, seek help because they can’t see they are the problem. True commitment has to be shown before by both parties, not constantly postponed, or promised. That is the antithesis of commitment.

        Although I feel uncomfortable conducting this debate on a public blog, mainly because I’d prefer your identity to be protected, I feel it has to be done, as it may help others. And I’d love others to join it.

        Nevertheless, I will respect your wishes if you decide you would prefer me to remove these exchanges.


  3. Bryan Hemming
    April 26, 2014

    You’re right, it is a very tough topic indeed. And I know what you mean about trying to lecture people. I hate people trying to lecture me.

    But I think I’m going to have to take the plunge, and tell the woman what I think in the kindest way possible. I can’t bear to see herself damage her life the way she is. And if my friend is a friend, in the truest sense, he must understand that he is not the only one having to make too many allowances for her, his friends are too.

    Pretending something isn’t happening just spoils everybody’s lives, not just those closest to the ones suffering the problem. If they can’t see I’m trying to help, then let it be.

    Allowing things to carry on the way they are isn’t my way. I would always feel a certain amount of responsibility if I did nothing at all.

    If people who behave in insulting ways feel insulted, they must question themselves. I’m already asking the questions.

    Being a writer is a lonely occupation, and I’m used to being on my own. I quite like it.

    Thanks so much for taking part Evelyne, it’s so important to hear the opinions of others. My father was an alcoholic, whose alcoholism often made my life a misery. It also made it tough for me to deal with alcohol at times, and that remains with you for your whole life. It’s the way it affects others that concerns me, as much as anything, for chronic alcoholism can be a very selfish disease.


  4. evelyneholingue
    April 25, 2014

    It’s a tough topic and offering advice can be seen as giving a lesson, especially to someone who drinks a lot. You touched an important point with the combo medication/alcohol , which seems to be more common nowadays. I enjoy wine and, like you, don’t like and can’t handle hard liquors. With people I know and like I would try to offer other events that don’t imply drinks, like a movie or a play. It is really when we are sober than we realize how embarrassing we can be when we are a little wasted. Like the woman you wrote about. Cheers.


  5. Wendy Kate
    April 23, 2014

    It’s a difficult one to be sure. I am not sure you CAN tell them, maybe they have to want to stop themselves….A friend of a friend’s husband has been told he will die soon if he does not stop..and still he says he is not ready to. You say Bryan, you don’t forget things when you are drunk – I do! I always know I have had a good time and luckily I am a happy drunk but cannot remember details until someone reminds me… 🙂


    • Bryan Hemming
      April 24, 2014

      Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I can still remember things that happened years ago that make me cringe.

      But I can’t quite recall all the details of the night I was invited to knock bag tumblers of vodka by the Russian mafia in a hotel in Yerevan. When the Russian mafia invite you to knock back tumblers of vodka, you knock back tumblers of vodka. I just know I felt like death would be the kindest relief next morning…but that’s a tale for another day.


      • Wendy Kate
        April 24, 2014

        ooh, I’m intrigued! Tell it soon 🙂


  6. Bryan Hemming
    April 23, 2014

    Thanks for taking the time to compoase a well-thought out comment, Wesley.

    I’ve known people, who just didn’t mind being on Skid Row. If you asked them if they wouldn’t like to have a better life they’d shake their heads and say ‘No.’ They weren’t stupid and were often well-educated. But they knew they were drunks.

    It’s the ones that don’t know that face the most problems, they think it’s everybody else. Like you, I don’t know really what to do, or whether I should do anything at all. In this particular case, my feelings are the woman does want help, but has yet to understand it properly. At the moment, she has some good friends, and I think they know the score. With luck it’ll work itself out.


  7. colltales
    April 23, 2014

    Very courageous post, Bryan. It’s so hard to offer a clear-eyed view of this kind of situation, without resorting to preaching or climbing a hideous high horse. But it’s a fact that some people should never drink. And that a lot of those who don’t, do so not because they can’t handle it but to have their heads above the water at all times. That happens a lot with couples and I’m being biased here, without getting too open about it. Even more if there are kids involved. Someone has to be able to drive and keep things going, when all else falls apart. Ironically, those are the people who, when they used to drink, never passed out, always knew how to stop, and usually did it to only have a grand time, not to pick stupid fights or making asses of themselves. That’s just the way it is. I can’t say that I don’t miss it or that I don’t envy those guys I see night after night at the bar across the street. As the smokers who calmly arrive at the scene of a collapsed health-obsessed runner, they’ll probably outlive me. It doesn’t matter; it’s been all worth, otherwise. As for telling anyone, it’s tricky. Some stage ‘interventions,’ but I’m extremely mistrustful about their real intentions. ideally, the person has to realize it on their own; we can’t lose sight of each one’s free will and right to self-destroy, if they want to. It may break our heart and of those around them, but we all have our burdens to carry. Sometimes, however, not to do anything is not an option. I wouldn’t dare assigning advice, though, which many seem so eager to do. Ultimately, it’s a hell of a personal choice and no one has the right to take it away from the person. Thanks for this.


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