So, I was watching Mock the Week – a British news comedy panel show – a couple of weeks back. One of the panellists was Katherine Ryan, a young Canadian – a sort of potty-mouthed Anne of Green Gables, if you will.
Yes, she was funny and witty and smart. But raked into her improv were one too many booze jokes. You know, the ones that comics routinely deploy, especially in the UK, because they’re guaranteed a laugh. Here’s one (and apologies if I don’t get it absolutely right – I tried to find it on YouTube, but no luck):
“I’m mixed race. I’m Canadian… but I accept my boyfriend’s drinking like an Irish girl.”
I couldn’t laugh. I can’t laugh at jokes about drinking any more. I’ve always found that kind of humour empty and puerile, but now – now – I find it distressing. My immediate reaction is always: how can people laugh at that? It’s just NOT FUNNY.
When people make light of alcoholism, I find myself short-circuiting. There is nothing – nothing at all – about drinking that makes me laugh. I can’t bear to hear people being flippant about the devastation that alcoholism brings, the mayhem it drags into your life, the trauma it leaves behind.
On Saturday, Rosie and I met Ben, as always. He arrived late because he’d slept in. This irritated me and set the tone for the rest of our day together. I kept wondering why he hadn’t made the effort to wake up on this, the only day he had to spend with us. The reality was that he was ill (a chest infection), but even that wasn’t enough to mollify me.
By the time we got back to the flat, we were both on edge, and Ben took his usual dip into the propanolol. Later, we went into the garden and Rosie dared him to lift me up. Ben being Ben, he ignored my warnings and hefted me up on his shoulders. About 15 minutes later, he was tucking into the paracetamol to ease a sharp pain in his leg and back. He lay down on the couch, breathing heavily, and all I could see was the Ben of old, crashed out on the sofa, moaning to himself in a drink-fuelled fog.
He spent a fair bit of the time we had left, supine. I tried to keep the panic down. I knew he hadn’t been drinking. I knew he’d injured himself pretending he was still fit when he clearly isn’t. But the overall effect of seeing him horizontal like that, eyes closed and unresponsive, was too much. I was back there again.
Years from now I may laugh at this, after all, I often find myself laughing at my situation – at its absurdity. But right now, it’s impossible. Every time I think I’m ok, I see something that sets my heart racing. Like the man clutching a can of Special Brew in the middle of the day today, just outside the office. I looked at him, at his empty, distressed eyes, and I saw Ben. I saw exactly what he must have looked like a few months ago – what he might look like again a few weeks, months or years hence.
The wounds are still raw. It’s at times like these that I realise how far we are from resolution. This is the only thing that gives me hope. I don’t want a resolution – not yet. I can bear nothing more than this slow shuffle forward. Let the end remain out of sight for now.