Last week I watched the latest release in the Hunger Games series. It was one of the last films that Philip Seymour Hoffman made before he died of a drug overdose. For me, the death of an addict has particular significance. With the still sober addict, it is a moment to celebrate their survival from this disease but for the addict in relapse, a terrifying reflection on the power that it has. It was made all the more poignant by the fact that Woody Harrelson was in the film playing a known alcoholic living in a prohibition state. I often wonder if society provides alcoholism with an acceptable face. The 'heavy drinker' is a well used term, someone who likes a drink (or many) but, to all intense and purposes, isn't believed to be an alcoholic. They are well known for long evenings at the bar, hangover fed mornings and wasted weekends. Jokes are told of their latest antics, their smart retorts and even, the accepted gaps in memory. Not knowing how they got home, where they left their phone, wallet, handbag; all told with smiles on faces. They get sponsored through a dry October, friends and colleagues admiring them for their resilience. They may be 'just' a heavy drinker but they may be an alcoholic in hiding, living on a knife-edge. Their every waking moment looking forward to that first drink when they arrive home, when their day will wash over them, the woes will disappear, the turmoil in their head will calm and clear. It's accepted as the norm, they think of it as the norm, they only know others who also consider it the norm.
The mental obsession doesn't have to be all day, it can time itself to kick. In my later stages, I went to the supermarket every day on the way home to get a bottle of wine if there wasn't one waiting for me. Often I would pick up something else, not to make it look better but just because I was there. I have a lot of friends who would share their buying across various supermarkets and off licences, aware that they might attract dubious attention. It never occurred to me that anyone would question why I would be there, it's not as if it was a bottle of vodka every day. Woody's character carries a drink everywhere, strangely seems to be surviving prohibition very well, just waiting for it to be over. An addict in relapse is a very different beast. To have known recovery, to have lived in sobriety and to have lost it, absolutely terrifies me. The idea of returning to a world that I now understand on a completely different level fills me with absolute dread and fear. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be my journey and I can work on a different one. The death of a famous addict brings the message into the media that there are ways of getting sober and gives recovery programmes a chance to be heard with the hope that this can save the life of others. Through the sharing of experience, strength and hope, this is our way.