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, celebrating a special birthday.
I met the most glamorous rock chick in south-west England in 1993, on a cross-Channel ferry on the way to a Bon Jovi 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 girly clothes in shops like Mango, or window-shop at Victoria Beckham, 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:
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.
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, sweet, gentle 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 admit 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!
I am grateful to my sister, author Terry Tyler (Terry Tyler’s Twitter Page) 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