Last night I watched a BBC documentary, about a former BBC presenter who was taking a long hard look at his drinking habits.
Chiles’ drinking was exactly like mine. Every day, not to total blackout every day, but some binges as well in there. He added up his units to 100 + a week. Alcohol is part of his life, as he describes it, it’s in the fabric of his social life, meeting friends in the pub, for dinner having few beers. But it was catching up with him, although his liver function tests were normal, his liver scan was decidedly abnormal; he is overweight with high blood pressure and also has a mood disorder.
Within 5 minutes I was shouting at him to give abstinence a try – that being completely alcohol free is not a disaster and can be managed. The programme however veered down the ‘moderation’ route and at the end, three months after filming, Chiles revealed that he was moderating his drinking – to only 25 units a week. That’s still twice the recommended limit. I had the feeling it was with some difficulty, and perhaps skeptically I thought this likely to be a) an underestimate and b) probably will creep up.
What to make of it.
Firstly I commend his bravery in making this film. It revealed a very ordinary man struggling with a very common problem, and he was very honest and open about his difficulties.
Secondly, he really came over as full of self loathing and despair. I felt sad for him with a mother who said on camera that she doesn’t believe in depression, a heavy drinking father who, forced to cut down, said it was “no fun”, living in a place of anxiety and chronic sadness. He made the connection between drinking and his mood disorder, but didn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. The closest he seemed to come was in a filmed session with an addictions therapist, and he did attend a club soda lunch … but expressed dismay that the occasion was dry!
Thirdly, I could not believe that none of his friends, even the 13 years sober alcoholic, or the comedian, sober for 30 years, actually seriously suggested he should STOP drinking, that he is in denial about his problem and that there is a life free of the stuff. (The comedian, Frank Skinner, is 10 years Chiles’ senior but looked 10 years younger)
Fourthly the denial. Oh my goodness the denial, from ALL the drinkers. The complete denial that they were drinking excessively – because everyone else they know is doing so too. The use of the word ‘alcoholic’ and the search for a ‘fits all definition’ – the one that emerged seems to be that you cant be an alcoholic if you
- don’t drink in the morning. (But Chiles was filmed having four pints of beer well before midday)
- Don’t always want to drink
And lastly I just felt a huge suge of relief that this tortured struggling person is no longer me, that I have found a way to manage my alcohol misuse that works for me. Maybe Chiles can moderate, and maybe he will get away with not ‘having’ to chose abstinence,
You can see the documentary on BBC iPlayer here