When I originally wrote a series of bullet points for this section I wrote five words: alcohol, anger, debt, conflict, depression. They came to me so easily and so succinctly that I recognised the power of destruction that lay behind this period in my story. It is a difficult part to write because it involves other people with whom I reacted negatively. It is not my desire to talk about them, what they did or what happened to them.
This is my story and will remain about how I reacted to and dealt with life. Neither is it my desire to imply that things happened to me that I had to deal with. Clearly that happens in life, unexpected events happen, but inherent in this whole exploration is my understanding that I create the life I lead. Whatever occurs is either directly created by me or comes in to my life through my attracting that event or behaviour. This part of the story, therefore, is about me, not anyone else who seemed to have agency during this period.
Alcohol was always big for me. It eased my ability to connect with others socially and it was just so damned enjoyable. I loved beer and wine, and came to enjoy brandy and whisky, as well as being partial to a drop of gin occasionally. I often drank too much, as you may have already gathered and came to hate the hangovers that resulted. Although I indulged on a regular basis, alcohol never came to rule my life. I was never addicted and I never felt that I was an alcoholic. The problem I came face to face with during this period was that there were several alcoholics in my family. Knowing an alcoholic intimately allowed me to see, on a direct basis, what alcoholism meant and how it affected those around me.
Once I accepted its existence, I had to find the strength inside myself to deal with it. This is where things went wrong for many years, until I moved on into a new life. That story is for later, what is important at this point is how my reaction flowed from how I was as a man and how destructive that reaction was.
I was always a solutions man. I always felt that I knew how to deal with outside situations, even when I did not know how to deal with my own life. I could see what was wrong in other people’s behaviour and I knew how to correct that. At least that is what I told myself. I was arrogant, even if it was in a kindly way. The problem was getting people to listen to me and accept my version of the truth. This where the anger came in.
You may well have gathered by now that I was addicted to control, and you will not be surprised to hear that that was the method I chose to help the alcoholic turn their life around and become ‘normal’ again. It was so inherent in my approach that It made matters much worse over many years. Later on in this dance with alcoholism, after I had joined Al-Anon, the 12-step group for friends and family of alcoholics, I was able to realise how addicted to control I was. As a member of Al-Anon, I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) convention where I spoke to a gathering of around 300 AA members, 300 alcoholics. I chose to open up the debate on alcoholism by into looking the wider context of addiction. I focused on my own addiction which, at the time, was having a worse effect on those around me than alcohol was. That addiction was to control. I talked about how much time I spent try to ‘fix’ the alcoholic in my life because I knew the answers.
Through understanding my own involvement in what was happening I came to see the person and the alcoholic as separate. I remember hearing a women in my Al-Anon group talking about how she had come to terms with her husband’s drinking. She saw that the man behind the drinking had not changed and was still the same man she married. When he drank he changed and became the alcoholic who was totally self-obsessed, as all addicted people are. She was able to separate the two and still love the man while hating the alcoholic. This is a difficult path to tread, one that can only be taken with care.
Early on I talked about the simple ideas that could be adopted to control the drinking. I mapped out how temptation could be removed by changing daily routines. I had it all figured out. It was all so simple. Looking back I am amazed that I could see it so simply. I still do not understand how I could think that drinking too much was simply about how to go shopping and when to eat during the day. The result of my advice not being taken was my anger. At this stage I was till not able to control it. At the time the irony of this was lost on me. Here I was telling the alcoholic how to control their drinking while I had no ability to control my anger. As they say, it is always better to show people what to do than tell them. That idea was lost on me.
The anger spilled over into my family, my work , indeed all areas of my life. I was lost as to how to deal with it and frustrated that it just came out of nowhere, seemingly beyond my control. As I have explained in earlier chapters, I knew where the anger came from, but that was no help. It raged in me, it fought against the injustice of what was happening, it made sure that others understood what was being done to me and how unfair it all was. I was known for my anger and I was feared because of it. While that had certain advantages at work, it was destructive at home. I drove away the very people I wanted to support and inspire.
Debt and conflict became the keywords in my life and in our family life. I lost control of where we were going and lost any ability to guide us to safer waters. I spent increasing amounts of time away from home, partly because of my growing lighting design business, but mainly to avoid the conflict. Debt got worse because I became increasingly unwilling to look at the situation and act sensibly on it. I spent to dull the pain, even when I realised it didn’t. Conflict surrounded me and I stopped seeing any fun or beauty in our family life.
The depression followed. Depression caused by my expectations being constantly thwarted. I had lost control and that was the worst situation I could be in. I needed to be in control my life and those around me. In the long term I dealt with the depression and the anger, and came to see how I could turn my life around. The anger remains as an inherent part of my personality, but it no longer controls me. I am still subject to anger but I see that it is all about me, the anger is about how I deal with life even when it seems to be directed at others. Coming to understand my depression caused me to let go of my need to control. It does not stop me trying to control what I am directly responsible for but it helped me to see that that is all I can control. Ironically the Serenity Prayer, that AA uses is the key in this,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
That wisdom was a long time coming.
This period was a crucial turning point in my life and in my understanding of myself. I was unable to help others involved in this situation, something that has upset me ever since. It happened, though, and the clock cannot be turned back. It taught me to move on and accept what I can do and what I cannot do. I would wish I had been more capable, but I wasn’t. I don’t condemn myself for that, just accept it.
Next week I look into how I blossomed in another part of my life during this period. I find it interesting that when things seem at their darkest something amazing can still result. That is what is to come.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Matthias Ripp