Man and the bottle

Like a play, we all have a beginning, a middle where we face various challenges and conflicts that we must resolve, and, of course, an end. We do not know how the script will unfold for us at the start. But at some point, most of us will think about our purpose. Some of us will initiate change in the world, while some of us will live our lives never making any drastic impact, never questioning the status quo and never even mustering the courage to think outside the box.

Recently, I thought about the scripts for alcoholics. As I strolled along a street, one of them made some ridiculous joke as a way of getting my attention and I wondered if he thought there was any chance of me taking him seriously. Still, I began thinking about the plot that he and the many others like him are the centre of. Like the ones I often see gathered at the street corners, in yards or in the ‘rum shops’ with bottles and cups drinking themselves to the point of inebriation. It’s as if they are saying to life, “I don’t care if I live or die.”

Could that be the essence of the story? Laughing at life and mocking the standards that tell us that to be happy and healthy and to have a long life we must practice a certain lifestyle–exercise, eat healthy and don’t abuse drugs and alcohol.

The plot began to develop but would the story be a tragedy or a comedy? Alcoholics continue to be a source of humour for many, especially those older gentlemen and women slurring, staggering, and falling or those who can be found sleeping comfortably in what appear to be the most uncomfortable places, like on pavements and street corners or in dilapidated structures.

I wondered if I should make the alcoholic the antagonist or protagonist. Would he find God by the end of the play? Would his weary relatives inspire change? Or would a life-threatening illness be the catalyst?

But he is only one character. There would be many others, like those rarely sober men who would be drunk before the sun is high in the sky, who would spend their days with a glass in hand, over dominoes or cards and maybe some salted food before the nights would invariably greet them in urine-soaked attire.

Such characters are usually the butt of many jokes and the disgrace of many families. Wives release their frustrations by verbally abusing those husbands whose presence in the home is thought of as more of a burden than an asset. Their children’s respect would slowly diminish until naught. The play becomes a tragedy.

I spoke with some of the other potential characters. I asked one about his family. They were all overseas, he reported, and he did not care about them. He seemed a little angry, as if there was some hurtful event that severed the relationship. He seemed to have no plans for the future.

Another revealed that he works at a rum shop, which is surely an environmental barrier if he seeks behaviour change. Perhaps working there is a figment of his imagination and what he often does instead is indulge in the spirits at that particular location. He also revealed that he would be locked out of his place of abode after a certain hour at night. No adult man should be subjected to such humiliation but scenarios such as these are common among alcoholics.

Another told me about an accident. What I gathered was that a vehicle ran over his leg. Perhaps he was drunk at the time because he could not relate the details of the accident coherently. A swollen knee and foot showed the evidence but close by was also an empty liquor bottle. When asked if he was an alcoholic, there was no denying it. “What else is there to do?” he laughingly responded.

I asked myself: Was there nothing productive for a life just after the age of sixty? How could one’s usefulness as a human being expire, subjecting one to a life where the only goal was securing the next drink?

The other man was already drunk at just after nine in the morning. “Coloured rum” is how he described the brown liquid in the bottle. He seemed happy. But how could he be really happy? What happens when he becomes sober and reality hits? What happens when he becomes conscious of the many lines on his face, the dirt on his skin and his soiled clothing? Perhaps it is the reason such men are drunk most of the time.

Still, he and some of the other I talked to are just one class of alcoholics. There are others. And they may include our relatives, friends, co-workers and many prominent people in our society. Many appear sober, are well-kept and seem to be handling life well. Many are young people. There is no one play to be written and the truth is there are more tragedies than comedies if we are to stay true to their trajectories.

During an interview with some Berbicians a few months ago, I learned that there are children who begin consuming alcohol under the age of ten in many communities. There are cases where families would visit the ‘rum shops’ together and there is also alcohol in the schools. It is difficult to empathise with people who find themselves trapped in such circumstances. To many of us, their lives are like plays and the belief that it is make-believe protects many of us from confronting harsh realities. We are sheltered from such demons, like the ones that bond parents and children in a ritual of a spiritual and physical death. Many of these people are hurting for many reasons, including various forms of abuse, feelings of inadequacy, struggles with sexuality and lack of knowledge of self and they drink to numb the pain.

One of the men I spoke with said the government, escapees, crime and cost of living are not issues he spends his time worrying about. He finds a daily escape through the bottle. Perhaps, in a strange way, he is lucky. Social drinking is not the issue, but it is the prevalent excessive consumption of alcohol that is hurting our society. We have seen devastating consequences by way of accidents, conflicts and murders.

As I thought more about their stories, I wondered if the alcoholic ever pauses to question who wrote his script. Or does he embrace the notion that he is in control and could change the plot at any time? Or is he always ready for the end of it all?

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