Counting down to lift-off

So, Rosie and I are leaving for a month. We leave in a few days. Ben is still drunk, claiming he’s detoxing himself slowly. I don’t see much evidence of a detox. He is glazed over, unshorn, and reeks of beer. His stomach is bloated – a sure sign he’s been abusing. He’s usually thin as a city fox. As soon as he drinks, his stomach inflates like one of Louis Armstrong’s cheeks.

I’m stressing, of course I am. If he isn’t sober by Monday, he’s in trouble, because the rehab centre he is visiting doesn’t offer detoxes. He has to be clean before he is admitted. I have little confidence that he is going to turn up, anyway. He’s already blown two appointments with them. Am I going to have to miss my four morning meetings to make sure he gets up there? Am I going to have to put that time in? Or do I leave it to him, and if he comes back, tell him he can’t come back?

The disappointments keep adding up. I can’t restrain my anger when I’m around him, either. I find myself telling him horrible things – harmful, undermining things. I tell him he’s a failure, an idiot and a waste of space. I slap him on the legs – twice – when Rosie and I come home and find him drunk and crashed out on the futon at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Then I leave with Rosie, and meet a friend in the park. I apologise to Ben over the phone. As long as I am not actually looking at him – seeing that glazed over, red-faced, stupid expression – I can speak rationally to him. But if we are in the same room, I ¬†feel revulsion… and guilt. I look at him and feel responsible.

He’s on the sofa right now. The tv is blaring as usual, and he is umming to himself in his sleep. He’s on Prozac, beta blockers, vitamin B and booze. He is permanently sweaty. I can’t bring myself to sit on certain parts of the futon. The smell is too off-putting.

So, it’s Saturday. A few more days and that’s it. If things go to plan, he’ll be gone by Monday. Much as I want him to go, I wonder what it will be like to be on my own with Rosie. Just the two of us from then on. The thought of it fills me with sudden and unexpected dread. I’m scared. Why?





This is the root of his alcoholism: depression. Ben is clinically depressed and on Prozac. But the Prozac hasn’t had a chance to work, because of the amounts of alcohol he’s necking. He’s adding a negative to a positive and ending up with zero.

As every specialist will tell you, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. And alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re depressed and you drink, you’re just feeding your depression. One of the best ways to counter depression is with physical exercise. But Ben has gone from being an energetic, fit man to an idle, exhausted one.

He slouches around in the alcoholic’s costume: shapeless, stained sweater, ragged jogging trousers, ill-fitting jacket with deep pockets (deep enough to hide a can or small bottle), scuffed trainers. His feet are bone white. He is always cold.

I see them everywhere now. Shuffling about in their drunks’ uniform, some wearing dark glasses and knitted tuques.

One of them regularly begs in the pedestrian subway by my local tube station. His nose is a ravaged potato, his face red and ruined.

At my unkindest moments, I’ve told Ben he might as well join the pedestrian subway guy, because that’s where he’s sure to end up the way he’s going. He’s not far off now. He’s lucky I haven’t thrown him out, because that’s exactly where he would be, sitting on a broken bit of cardboard, nursing a tall can, holding out a dirty palm or paper cup…

This is the thing that stops me from sending him packing: the thought of walking by him one day with Rosie. What would she say? Would she recognise him? Would he her? How would we explain it to her? Would she ever forgive me?

So was it the depression or the alcoholism that came first? Hard to say. Both run in his family. His mother is depressive. She has also been alcohol dependent. What I do know is that his alcoholism is fuelling his depression. He’s coasting down into a dark and oily well. Before we know it, he’ll be there with pedestrian subway guy – in spirit (see what I did there?) if not in body.

If we’re lucky, the treatment they offer him will address his depression – unlock the root of his anxiety and help him find healthy coping mechanisms. I’m waiting for Monday, and that elusive rehab assessment. But Monday feels like a whole continent away right now. And the end of next week, a whole world.