When you see the scruffy old guy sat in a shop doorway swigging his bottle of white cider early in the morning, what do you see?
You probably see a disgusting, smelly, drunken low-life, loser who deserves no sympathy for getting himself into that state. In other words, you see the drunk not the person but every drunk and down and out that you see has a past, has a family, probably used to have a job and hasn't always been a drunk.
Once you've become a fully-fledged alcoholic you get to know most of your local fellow sufferers at least by sight if not to talk to. You meet them at the drop in centres, at Alcoholics Anonymous or at hospital and guess what? They’re people just like you.
People that I've met, who belong to this secret society of alcoholics, addicts, and mental health patients, come from all walks of life and 99% of them are trying to do something about their problems.
here are of course exceptions to this. There are a few local homeless addicts that I know who have refused help. They say that they like being on the street. But these are the exception to a rule.
Before I came to the hostel I was warned not to by many people. I heard the horror stories of how it was filled with alcoholics and drug addicts and a really bad place to be. Well of course there are addicts here, that’s what the place is for but by far the majority of people that I have met are trying to re-build their lives and stay clean. Here are just some of the people that I have met at the hostel and in hospital:
- Corporate Hospitality Executive
- Long Distance Lorry Driver
- Dustbin Man
- Computer Network Engineer
- Military Policeman
- Satellite TV Technician
- Self-employed Swimming Pool Technician
- Taxi Driver
- Hotel Catering Manager
Tagged with their ‘normal’ life labels you see nothing out of the ordinary but consider this list instead:
- Recovering alcoholic who still has binges
- Recovering alcoholic and heavy drugs user
- Recovering alcoholic doing very well
- Recovering alcoholic and gambling addict
- Recovering alcoholic
- Alcoholic, but trying
- Schizophrenic alcoholic
- Alcoholic also suffering from PTSD
- Alcoholic and acute anxiety sufferer
- Psychotic and, devout Muslim
- Alcoholic trying hard but finding it difficult
Same people, just a different label. Would you invite this group to a party?
Addiction and mental health problems can strike anyone and there is still a huge stigma attached to both but, in my mind, the general ignorance about alcoholism is just unbelievable.
We know about drugs and the effect that they have. Children are warned about drugs in school, films and documentaries have been made and it regularly crops up in TV shows but rarely do we see anything about alcoholism. Perhaps it’s just too close to home. Because the majority of the population do drink at some time and it’s a perfectly legal high, we don’t want to be shown what it can do.
We see graphic pictures of lung cancer on cigarette packets but I doubt we’ll ever see a picture of an alcoholic choking on his own vomit on the side of a beer glass. No, what we see of alcoholics is deemed to be either funny; the drunk falling over on You Tube or disgusting; the homeless drunk in the shop doorway.
Alcohol isn't an evil tool of Satan or any of that rubbish. For most it’s just a harmless part of relaxing and having fun.
Equally, though, an alcoholic is not just a low-life loser. He, or she, is a person just like you, but with a problem that you don’t, yet, have.