Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sleepless Night Thoughts [Anthony McCarthy]

I've mentioned here before that, contrary to the stereotype of the Irish, neither my parents nor my grandparents drank. Of my great aunts and uncles I know of, only one of them drank and he was a hopeless alcoholic, infamous in his town as a loud, belligerent drunk but who was known to those who knew him as a gentle, kind man when he was sober. I say he was a hopeless alcoholic because that's his story, he died from the effects of alcoholism in the 1930s, he couldn't control it. I wouldn't be surprised if it was not from the witness of his sad life that my grandparents and parents avoided alcohol except on ceremonial occasions when they might take a sip out of convention. The minimal involvement with temperance in our family tradition takes the form of a single in-law, whose arguments on prohibition were rather definitively shattered by the failed national experience in the 1920s.

In my generation and next one, drinking became more common, none of us ever saw Uncle Jimmy, we only heard the stories. Some of us drink, some of us don't. Among my nieces and nephews, it's more common than in my generation. I used to drink, and I enjoyed it, but I haven't had it in many years because I liked it too much and it had a deleterious effect on my music.

One of my brothers who drinks is an alcoholic who has been in and out of short term rehabilitation, the three day dry out, and has been seeing a psychiatrist for years and has been getting steadily worse. Long term committal isn't available to him and he would reject it if it was.

This month he appears to be determined to drink himself to death, if he doesn't die in a car crash before then. He is in imminent danger of losing his house and his job, and with his job will go his ability to see a psychiatrist or pay for the in-hospital dry outs. It's a painful reflection of my family's previous experience with the mental health industry, which I have written about here before, which I will not go into again.

In our desperation to help him quit drinking about the only thing we've got left is encouraging him to try Alcoholics Anonymous. If he loses his job, as he could as soon as tomorrow, it will be the only health care possibility that will be open to him. Unlike the ineffective psychiatrist and hospitalizations, it's open to people without money.

Unfortunately, he knows all the current rote lines about AA.

There is the line that it is “woo” because it is “statistically ineffective”. Though as is obvious from those who have quit through it, for them it has been effective. The statistical ineffectiveness of “science based” psychiatry, for him, is proved.

Then there's the line that it's replacing one addiction, going to meetings, for another. Though AA meetings are not known to increase your chances of dying, being injured, losing your job, destroying or causing enormous suffering to your family, etc. As I mentioned, his drinking could lead to all of those as soon as this week.

And, of course, there is the line that AA is “religious”, one of the more popular things said these days in the effort to make it taboo. Though we can point to people who have quit drinking through AA who are not religious, two of whom we know.

Most absurd of all is the line that it's no guarantee to work, that people who stop through it, resume drinking. That is true of every methods of stopping, including the “science based” ones. Including sobriety, itself. You might as well say that all of us are in danger of stepping into a death trap of addiction.

That any or all of these lines are something to be eagerly grasped onto by an alcoholic, just more excuses to not try to stop drinking and an encouragement for them to keep drinking themselves to death, is no surprise to anyone who has witnessed someone doing just that. The last thing an alcoholic needs is to be presented with an excuse to not try dressed up as scientific rationality. They might as well be encouraging a suicide to jump from a building.

So, here I am, on Sunday morning at 3 AM, sitting at the computer, after one more web search for something new to try, thinking about the reason no one in my family is getting much sleep these days. We've seen it before, then it was due to the fatal mental illness of a niece. Tonight it is one of my brothers' alcoholism. Wondering if he's dead in his house or on the street, wondering if he's going to end up killing someone else in a car crash. Or if he's going to lose his job tomorrow, which will just accelerate the death spiral. Wondering what this is doing to our very old, far from well, mother, his son, the rest of us. This has taken up a lot of our thinking. It's put an end to my patience with a number of things.