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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
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