When ‘one for the road’ is a drink too far

On August 12th 2016, I spoke on the phone to my dear friend Jacquie for the last time. I didn’t know it was the last time, of course, one very rarely does – but I had a horrible feeling that it might be.

Jacquie had become a chronic alcoholic, and hidden the extent of her alcoholism from me, as people suffering from addictions tend to do. Although more ‘socially acceptable’ than heroin or crystal meth addiction, alcoholism is no different in its ability to destroy someone’s life. This is a story of Jacquie and me . Here we are in 2008 in Las Vegas, and in 2002 in Los Angeles.

I met the most glamorous rock chick in south-west England in 1993, on a cross-Channel ferry on the way to a David Lee Roth concert in France. Our friendship grew in the days before the internet and mobile phones, despite the fact that we lived a few hundred miles from each other – we used to write letters and make phone calls, seems archaic now! –  and we had countless wonderful times together. The most noteworthy, I suppose, were the trips to West Hollywood, when we would spend every evening in The Rainbow – the ultimate rockers’ hangout! Then there was Las Vegas for my birthday, more gigs than I can count, shopping trips in London to buy the clothes we both loved, happy days just visiting each other’s houses and sitting around chatting, or just evenings phoning each other up with a bottle of wine; as we lived so far from each other, we used to call them our ‘girls’ nights in’.

Jacquie was very beautiful, in fact people used to look at her in the street all the time, but she was the least vain woman I ever knew. She’d only ever look in the mirror once before she went out, and that was it. Here is another photo of her, this one taken in 2003:

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We both liked a drink, and there was never an occasion that didn’t seem to merit a glass of wine or three. The difference between us began to show when Jacquie told me she was drinking every night, and I don’t mean just one or two glasses. She didn’t like her job, she was unhappy in her personal life, and she said that drinking was the only thing that she enjoyed. A few years ago, it started to take its toll on her appearance. I wish she had been more vain, it might have stopped her. Granted, we all change a bit as we get older, but this is what alcoholism did to Jacquie in the space of 10 years.jacquie before and after

 

Believe me, you really don’t want to know what she looked like a few weeks before she died.

Over the years her drinking moved from the ‘fun though a bit excessive’ to ‘out of control’. It had a detrimental effect on all her relationships, spoiled social occasions, got her into trouble at work, sucked up far too much of her salary, made her depressed, ruined her looks, and, of course, did the sort of damage to her health that often can’t be detected until it’s too late.

Jacquie was a very kind, non-judgemental, gentle, sweet person. She would always listen if someone needed help or advice, and would never dream of imposing on others if she could help it. I knew she was in big trouble when she telephoned me in June of 2016, crying and saying that she felt terrible. We had a long talk, and a few more after that; I was very worried about her drinking and tried everything to make her stop. I alternately cajoled, sympathised, predicted dire consequences, lost my temper, begged, encouraged, offered suggestions of counselling, enlisted the help of friends who lived near her – oh, just anything I could think of. She refused to believe that it was alcohol that was making her ill, even when she had to give up work and could hardly move from the sofa, though she described herself as an alcoholic. She said she was just depressed.

In August 2016 I wrote a letter to Jacquie, telling her there comes a point when all alcoholics have to decide whether they want to live or die and begging her to choose before she ran out of options. Two days after receiving the letter, she gave up drinking. It was too late – Jacquie died on 7th September 2016. Her death certificate read ‘Multiple organ failure due to alcoholic hepatitis’. She was in great pain, but they couldn’t give her morphine because her organs couldn’t take it. People say she’s at peace now; I hope she is, but I am not. I think about Jacquie most days, and I shall miss her forever. No, I don’t blame myself at all, but I wish so much that I could have done something to save her.

I’m writing this to tell you that if you know someone who drinks to dangerous levels, please do everything you can to persuade them to do otherwise, but don’t think you can be a miracle worker. And if you are a slave to alcohol, please get some help. You might actually die – by the time you decide you don’t want to die, it could be too late and believe me, it won’t be a peaceful slipping away. There are many organisations that will talk to you, understand what you’re feeling, who have people to help you who have been through the same experience as you. (Jacquie only ever drank wine by the way, just to inform those who think that ‘real alcoholics’ drink hard liquor in the morning!)  You don’t have to drink every day to be an alcoholic, and be warned – a year before her death, Jacquie underwent a work-mandated health check that said her liver was fine, despite several years of excessive drinking.

Jacquie left behind her grieving parents and relatives, countless friends who had stuck with her throughout, an ex-husband who still cared very much for her, a man who was the love of her life, and many colleagues who’d supported her and enjoyed being her friend over the past 25 years. (I would just like to say, although it’s kind of people to do so, I am not writing this so that people may offer me their condolences, that’s not necessary, I really don’t want that – it’s more important to me to honour and celebrate Jacquie’s life, and if my words help even one person, then she did not die in vain.)

In memory of my beautiful friend, who has reminded me to redouble my efforts to live every day to the full, and who brought an irreplaceable sparkle to my life. Here she is on her 40th birthday, riding in an open-top car down Sunset Boulevard!

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I am grateful to my sister, author Terry Tyler (@TerryTyler4) for her help and suggestions with this post. She also has lost some friends to alcohol abuse, and wrote this post a while ago, as a tribute and a warning. One for the road and another for the pavement

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.” ― Henry David Thoreau

 

 

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23 thoughts on “When ‘one for the road’ is a drink too far

  1. Thanks Julia and thanks to Terry for her input.
    A very sad life. Alcoholism was big in my family also (the death of at least two of them) and I am in touch with others who have had their lives affected by it. I offer a little help/support when I can.

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  2. It occurred to me to make the point about wine when I was in the doctor’s yesterday, and saw all those leaflets urging people who worry about their drinking to seek help.

    It’s almost de rigeuer to drink too much wine these days and make jokes about it, isn’t it? But white wine, in particular, is so easy to knock back like it’s lemonade – I’m not talking two or three large glasses a couple of times a week, I’m talking the habit you can get into of opening a bottle as soon as you get in from work, or when you sit down to watch the telly, most nights. Then ‘most’ nights becomes every night. Then one night the bottle is empty at 9.30, and you still want another one. So you open another bottle. And so it gets worse and worse.

    Wine is so much stronger now than it used to be (the stronger the alcohol, the more people are likely to get addicted, the more they will buy), and it’s become the norm to drink in those huge bucket glasses. A large glass of wine in a pub is a third of a bottle.

    Kate, who I mentioned briefly in my article, above, only ever drank wine, too.

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    • Absolutely, Terry, it’s practically encouraged. And if you’re in the pub/restaurant with your friends, 3 large glasses is actually a whole bottle. Not saying I haven’t done that myself on more occasions than I could shake a stick at, but you see my point – this shouldn’t be the norm. For at least the last couple of years of her life, Jacquie drank 2 bottles of wine per night at home (she’d stopped going out, because she didn’t trust herself in company and had lost friends because of always getting too drunk) and saving a little glass for the morning to stop her hand shaking.

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      • Very good points Terry and Julia.
        I would also add that you can become an alcoholic without drinking every day. A friend of mine was a binge alcoholic and could go days and days without a drink. But when she started she couldn’t stop. So there were many ‘lost weekends’ (and longer) once she got stuck in to a drinking session. She lost friends, a job, a home and ended up being sectioned.
        Fortunately she decided she didn’t want to die and she’s been dry now for about 30 years thanks to AA. She always says that when drinking costs you more than the price of the drink – ie your health, friendships, relationships, your job – then you have a problem.
        I am sad and sorry about Jacquie. What a tragic waste.

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      • Thank you, Trish. I know that alcoholics come in many forms, and I hesitated to say how often Jacquie drank, or what sort of quantities, because I didn’t want an alcoholic in denial to think that this post doesn’t apply to them. I’m so glad your friend broke free, and thank you for your kind comments about Jacquie.

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  3. I’m sure this was very difficult to write, but the message is such an important one and I salute you for having the strength to publish this tribute. I gave up alcohol nearly three years ago because I spotted the signs that ‘fun but a bit excessive’ was a large part of my life. I was lucky, I saw it coming. Far too many people get sucked into the spiral of alcohol/depression/ill health without noticing. You are a true friend. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Julia, and her family xx

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  4. It’s so sad, and as you say, avoidable. I hope this post, difficult as it must have been, helps people in the same situation. I lost my cousin a few years ago in exactly the same way. We were close from being young children and it didn’t register at first when she’d have to have a drink before we went out during our late teens. I think it started with her because she lacked confidence. Such a shame.

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    • Yes, indeed, a terrible shame, and I feel for you. Also, you don’t always know when it’s become a real problem for the person because they hide it. I found out that Jacquie was drinking in the mornings only a few months ago, and I hadn’t seen her in that time. Heaven knows when she started doing that! Having a drink before you go out in your teens or 20s isn’t really that big of a deal, so it wouldn’t necessarily have alerted you. If only we can help one person to stop!

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      • It’s very true, the person becomes very adept at hiding the problem and I think they’re in denial in a way, even when it escalates.
        I’m very sorry for the loss of your friend x

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  5. Jacquie was in denial until 5 days before her death when she was in intensive care with medical staff crawling all over her and sticking tubes and needles into her. She said to her ex-husband, ‘I’m dying, aren’t I’. Way, way too late.

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    • Sorry about your cousin, Cathy – I think it’s because of that old ‘it happens to someone else, not me’ attitude that’s in us all, alas. As for the hiding thing – at a few times in my life drink has figured more largely than it should have done, and it’s surprising how good you become at hiding it – and at drinking more than other people without them noticing.

      It’s such a waste of life. That picture above the recent one – that could have been Jacquie now, happy and healthy (and probably looking forward to being with Paul again), with years ahead of her. That’s what makes me so angry, with so many things to do with this.

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  6. This post is sad yet seems cathartic for you and also provides an important message: “The drug is just as powerful.” The socially acceptable aspect of drinking alcohol vs, say, taking heroin, makes this almost more dangerous. Or, at least, more easily overlooked. I’m so sorry.

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  7. The effects of alcohol and substance misuse have a wider impact, not only on the user but the network of family and friends. This network is often supportive and asked to do things beyond the boundaries of love. But there comes a time when the supportive person can no longer just be there, continue as a punch bag physically and mentally and clear up the trail of devastation the misuser has left.

    Eventually self-preservation kicks in and then there is the guilt for giving up on the loved one, the grief for what could have been. Instead we watch with horror the general decline of the person. There is nothing we can do to stop this self-fulfilling prophecy, of total destruction. Perhaps there was a point where we could have intervened, tried another course of medication, counselling, rehab. But in reality we know it is down to the person themselves, if they want to break the cycle of change then it is down to them using the the support tools. No one else can do it for them. For me that was the saddest part: how many times have we heard I am sorry, I will change tomorrow….?

    The stark reality is the loved one is on a course of self-destruction, and no one and no intervention will help. They have chosen the drug of choice over you. That is hard to digest as a person in the support role, particularly having spent a lifetime clearing up the devastation, the mess left by the misuse. And now we as the supporter have to make a decision to walk away, we can no longer manage the negative sides of your misuses, the late night visits to A&E, police stations, or just the quieter times doing the basics for you, cleaning you up, putting you to bed.

    The misuse has not only destroyed your life, but impacted on my life, and now you are gone, I will always have the guilt, and the combination of anger and grief. I wish you could have understood that.

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    • Thank you so much, Mandy. I can see how much this cost you to write, and I very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts to help others who are also in the supportive role. Perhaps by writing our thoughts and experiences, we can help someone else along the way. It’s too late for Jacquie, it’s too late for your relative, but somewhere, perhaps reading your words right now, there is someone whom we can save from this end. Julia x

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