Losing a friend to the bottle

20:40, Oct 17 2012

Need to talk about this. He's a mate, you see. A bloody good mate. Bit older than me, so I kind of always looked up to him. We go back that far. He was always the life of the party; it was probably his stories that created the acronym ROFL. Prolific in every sense, there always seemed to be a beautiful girl on his arm, a party in the offing and a good time to be had by all. Life was to be consumed. Now? Well, he's about to drink himself to death.

This isn't journalistic licence; he's already gone close. Visited him last year in hospital after he almost swilled himself into oblivion. He looked like something out of a Simpsons cartoon, his complexion was that yellow. His liver had almost had it; the result of decades of alcohol abuse. He was jabbering and yabbering, the toxins unable to be filtered by his body were messing with his brain. Can remember leaving the ward convinced he wouldn't come out alive.

At the time he was admitted, he was slugging down whisky in the mornings. He'd wet his pants but carry on regardless (one of the great ironies of drunks is that the last function they seem to lose is the one that enables them to swallow).  Would sleep on the couch in the clothes he'd been wearing, rather than change and go to bed. His curtains would be pulled, by day. Apart from the bottle, the gambling channel "Trackside" was his only other love.

Yet, somehow, he did come out alive. It had nothing to do with him; in fact, was no credit to him - it was all down to the medical care he received from our doctors and nurses. Over a period of about three months, they saved his life. It was that simple. One of the ways to gauge liver damage is to measure something called bilirubins. Whatever the normal count was, my pal's was about a zillion times more than that. He survived only because of others.

How has he celebrated his great escape? Well, he started well enough, although his stubbornness in not being able to admit to his alcoholism always boded ill. The only way he's ever celebrated anything is with a bottle in his hand. The only way he's ever coped with disappointment or stress is with a bottle in his hand. The only way he's lived life is with a bottle in the hand. The other day he downed four bottles of wine in a day, including two while watching the All Blacks.

Spoke to him on the phone and asked him what he was up to. You know what he said? "I enjoy a drink and think I'm able to have a drink, in moderation." Righto. Of course, in moderation. The one concept he's never been able to grasp for the best part of 60 years. I remember crying over his pathetic, unconscious and hospitalised body a year previous, and nearly praying (a big step, you'll agree) that he might be lucky enough to have another chance.

To be honest, don't even know why I'm writing about this. It has no beginning; it has no end. Was expecting to discuss the lack of police trust or Paula Bennett's hypocrisy but couldn't distract myself from issues closer to home. It just seems so futile; watching someone you love and have admired, self-destruct in front of your eyes. Watching him lying to, and bullshitting, the very people, the only people, who can help him. All for the love of a drink.

Anyway, these days his curtains are drawn, once again. This time, though, I expect it will be for good.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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