The Brutality of Alcoholism

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A reflection on events out of the life of an ex-alcoholic.

 

 

 

THE BRUTALITY OF ALCOHOLISM

Based on true events

 

There is this guy, let’s call him Ben, as there is an agreement not to use his real name. In his twenty’s he was a social drinker. As the years passed by he drank more and more, without noticing it. In his early twenty’s his life existed out of fast cars, fast bikes, and hard drinking. In his juvenile innocence he believed  the age of thirty was so far in the future it was never going to happen.  At the age of twenty eight he passed through an invisible barrier and developed into a full blown alcoholic. He drank until he passed out, and when he woke up he continued where he left off. He wandered from job to job, from one place of residence to the next. For the next ten years drinking before or at work became part of his life. At times he experimented with hard drugs, leaving him incapacitated for a few days at a time. His drinking habits cost him dearly.  During those ten years he had a number of bad accidents. He killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence with a friend’s car and totaled the car. This was followed by a charge of manslaughter and having to buy the friend another car. At one point he kind of managed to get his life in order and bought a very decent secondhand car. It lasted three months. One night after midnight he returned home from the pub and passed out behind the wheel. He drove of the road down a ramp, rolled the car over a one meter fence without touching it and converted the car into scrap metal. When he woke up in the early hours of the morning he was lay in the field a few meters from the car with no idea  where he was. He walked down the road for half an hour before he figured out his location. His house was actually five kilometers in the opposite direction. Then he bought an 1100 cc superbike. He had it for a year and one night after midnight on his way back from the pub he smashed it into a stationary car at 160 km/h. He fell himself out of his helmet, his gloves, his shoes and had only the upper part of his socks left. Both vehicles were beyond repair. The bike was half a meter shorter and the car’s trunk and roof were smashed in. He survived this accident with both feet broken in several places and seven broken toes. The doctors told him they can’t do anything for him as his feet were swollen to more than double its size. He lay in bed for six weeks before he could manage to walk with crutches. After he recovered he continued his drinking pattern. He drank himself out of his possessions, friends and family. Nobody wanted anything to do with him and at times he slept in his car. There were times when he decided to give it up and managed to stay clean for a week, and other times to stay reasonably sober for up to three weeks. Alcohol had a horrific control over his life; to the point wherehe found himself in the pub having his third drink, when he registered for the first time he’s been clean for a week and he actually stopped drinking. Years of habit made him walk into the pub and order a drink. The brutal side of alcoholism took over and shut his decision to stop drinking out of his mind, and he did not realize it was happening.

Once, after a period of hard drinking he made one of the decisions to stop. For the next three days he went temporarily insane. He was scared all the time.  He sat in the living room watching television when the flower patterned carpet came to life. It changed into a nest of snakes attacking him. He could see them and hear them and felt how their teeth bit into him. Filled with the fear of death he ran down the hallway. A rider on a horse charged him from the front. He fell flat on the floor and heard and felt the thundering hoofs and the wind when the horse passed over him. In the night he was too scared to put out the light. While trying to sleep he heard and saw two men entering the room, discussing how they are going to kill him. One of them shot him several times. He heard the deafening booms of the gun and felt how the bullets hit him. He covered the holes with his hand and checked as the blood spilled through his fingers. He got up and there was nothing and nobody.  He was alive and there was no blood. Incidents similar to this continued for three days and three nights before he managed to fall asleep.

At the age of thirty eight his family booked him into rehab for four weeks. He had to make up his mind, either he stops drinking or become a tramp. The day when he left the rehab center a new world opened up in front of him. He was cold stone sober for the first time in ten years. He couldn’t remember when was the last time he had seen the sky so blue or the trees so green and everything so colorful. For the first time in years he could actually smell the flowers. He decided to put his drinking days behind him and started to pick up the pieces. He was back where he was twenty years ago when he left school, except now he had a lot of experience and a seriously bad record. His name preceded him and in the area where he lived and worked for twenty years he had such a bad reputation potential employers refused to grant him an interview. Many doors closed in his face. It could’ve ended worse; he still had his car.

He visited old friends from years ago but it was not the same. The ‘friend’ and ‘we’re together’ feelings were gone. These guys were now married with kids, they were settled in their careers and they have moved on. They talked mainly about his addiction and rehabilitation and future work prospects, which created an uncomfortable atmosphere. After a few attempts to re-establish old connections he decided not to visit them again. What would these persons want with a guy who is thirty eight, broke, unemployed and with an old car as his only possession? He was that piece of the puzzle which fitted nowhere. Unemployed for a few months, with a non-existing social life and all his drinking buddies gone he found  he had a lot of time on his hands. He started spending a lot of time in libraries, to be alone and to study. He had a problem interacting with people in a normal manner. He suffered from feelings of inferiority and depression which slowly lifted as time went by. He aimed to find out how a bottle could rob him of the best ten years of his life. It took him some time to get this properly and analytically figured out. He wanted to know why two guys can go out for a night on the town, and the next morning one gets up and go to work and the other one keeps on drinking. He never found the answer to that. It is highly controversial and different doctors have different opinions. It is a complex condition which has to do with inherited genetic traits, the way and the rate at which the system metabolizes alcohol and the mental and nutritional condition. What he did figure out pretty fast was that alcoholism comes in two chapters. Dependency and rehabilitation, the one as tough as the other.

His search in libraries started with medical books on alcoholism which led to reading books on psychology. What he found was doctors in general refer to alcoholism as a disease, because it breaks you down biologically. Psychoanalysts refer to it as a behavioral disorder, because it breaks you down mentally. So the best starting point from which to continue this study would be to view it as a hybrid between a disease and a disorder, as it is a bit of both. When you live an alcohol free life the neuron system in your brain has the release and uptake of chemicals fully under control. What happens when you overindulge is the brain releases huge amounts of chemicals which make you feel good, but it cannot take them up again. After a while the brain becomes paralyzed leading to delusions. It only returns to normal after you worked off the hangover. It is a hugely complex electro-chemical process which involves billions of neurons and synapses, chemicals and electrical transmissions. All this happens in a part of the brain called the amygdala. This nerve and chemical center also controls your feelings, emotions and moods. Too much alcohol destroys the chemical balance and the proper working of all its parts and it transforms you into another person. Every time you get drunk alcohol kills thousands of cells throughout your body and it affects every organ. What happened when Ben fell of his rocker is a condition called delirium tremens. It happens when a hard drinker suddenly stops drinking. His brain has to handle the equivalent of twenty hangovers at the same time. It’s a combination of delusion and trauma. His neuro system goes into shock and this causes haywire in the electrical circuits in his brain. For a hard drinker to do this is dangerous; this can kill. It’s a fast way to a seizure or cardiac arrest. It’s simply a matter of the higher you go, the harder you fall.

Longtime abuse is where the mental damage kicks in. Alcohol destroys the self-esteem, self-confidence, the will to work, the courage, the ability to figure out, to calculate, to reason intelligently. Everything making us human.  It destroys to the point where an alcoholic cannot muster the courage to take a shower. That simple task lies in front of him like a mountain. All these psychological functions are our support systems. It gives us the ability to work effectively, to love, to support, to innovate and take care of bad situations. Once these systems are destroyed the only support an alcoholic has is his next drink. It becomes his crutch. Every time things go wrong the bottle is there to support him. When that bottle is taken away the foundations are ripped out from under his feet. He becomes as helpless as a baby. It is in this state where he ends in rehabilitation or on the streets. A rehabilitee needs a massive amount of support from the people around to successfully rehabilitate.  If people are not there for him a small setback can take him right back to where he was. An alcoholic has his hell on earth, as any ex-alcoholic can tell you. As the years go by the bottle replaces the support systems. It takes more to cope, and the depressions which follow become more severe and longer lasting. These are depressions that are unimaginable to persons who has not been there. Once in rehab a patient has to deal ongoing with destructive depressions which manifest in feelings of loneliness and despair, of self-loathing and worthlessness, and the road to recovery is long and hard. If a victim can overcome alcoholism it will be the hardest battle he has ever fought. Without mercy from above there will probably be no victory.

It took Ben a lot longer to find his answers than it takes to read this short story. In fact it took him months to piece together all this information out of libraries. He started on a foreman job in construction with a previous employer who decided to take a chance on him. He never quit his wandering ways and changed employers every couple of years. He was and still is a perfectionist and he excelled at everything he did. He approached his work as his signature and ended every project with flair and the finishing touch. His services were in demand and he never spent another day unemployed. To fill in his idle time he enrolled extra-curricular for a BA degree in Abnormal Psychology and recently completed his masters. Years later he is still not sure why he did it. He never worked for a day in the field of psychology, but it quenched his thirst for knowledge on the workings of the human psyche. At the same time of these studies he also enrolled for a degree in Civil Engineering which he completed successfully. His progress in construction was slow. Although he attained his masters in engineering in seven years he turned 49 before he attained employment as an engineer for the first time. Employers prefer them with years of experience or fresh from the college. He has the rare distinction to have completed two degrees in different disciplines at the same time, while he was working. In his forties he still paid for mistakes he made many years ago. He never became spectacularly successful, but he regained his dignity and his humanity. A brilliant man who endured hardships because he was just socially not well adjusted. He didn’t make friends easily and in his youth he addressed this problem by making friends in pubs, which led to his downfall. In his early twenties he missed the train when he allowed great opportunities to pass him by. He made a massive mistake when he made that choice to live in the fast lane with fast cars, fast bikes and binge drinking. It’s a deadly cocktail. In his own words; it took him more than a decade to pick up the pieces. Now everything is just so much better, sober all of the time. He learned the hard way; alcohol hits you brutally, twice. He still enjoys his passion for fast cars and fast bikes, this time without destroying them.

 

 

 

 


Submitted: July 20, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Steven du Preez. All rights reserved.

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