Monday, July 16, 2007


In Canberra, there are not many truly poor people, but there are a surprising number of beggars in the central district. Now, some of these people are homeless through unlucky circumstances, some are mentally ill, but probably most are drug addicts.

As a result, most people in Canberra are quite hostile to the beggars, but I have stopped and chatted to a few of them. Sometimes I give them money, sometimes I don't, but I find that I worry about particular individuals - Where did they sleep last night? On the street? It's below zero degrees at night in Canberra right now. Do they have children? Are those children okay?

And I think this is partly because I relate to them at some level. And this level is at the level of addiction.

Because I love wine. I know that my love of wine is more than average or moderate. I like everything about it. I love perusing the labels on the wine, I love taking it home, I love the glug-glug-glug as I pour it into a glass, I love that pleasant little buzz, that sense of relaxation and wellbeing. But nowadays, unlike in the past, I know where to stop.

I used to be quite a heavy drinker. I had a high tolerance for alcohol - for instance, I hardly noticed any effect on me until I had drunk most of a bottle. And this developed into a habit, in times of stress, of alcohol as a solution. Because when you're drunk, you don't really care. All that anguish, all that over-thinking just kind of vanish in a pleasant haze. I used to drink at least half a bottle a night, and usually several bottles a week.

I actually stopped drinking altogether at one of the most stressful times in my life. It was surprisingly hard. The whole problem with an addiction is that you don't notice it sneaking up on you until it has you in its grip.

Even nowadays, I have to be kind of careful. I might have a drink or two one night and I find that I want some the next night. If I have that, then I definitely want more the third night. As a result, I never drink at all more than two nights in a row and I often deliberately go through phases of no alcohol at all. I think something biological must happen to your body from previous heavy drinking. You would think that the brain would note the damage and make you repelled, but actually mine just loves to light up those pleasure centres.

But one of the reasons I was able to stop is that I really had no truly serious trauma or disaster. When you talk to homeless people, one of the things that becomes very clear is how often they have got this way because of some terrible misfortune - sexual abuse, death of a child, some other piece of arbitrary bad luck that could happen to anyone. And they want and need a release from the pain. It's not hard to understand.

I kind of suspect that, in their position, I would do the same. I might even sink into alcohol with a kind of relief - not more striving, no more effort, no more cultivation of that successful facade. Just a kind of fall into not caring any more.

So, truly, I have a kind of fellow-feeling with those beggars. There but for the grace of God, and a lot of arbitrary good luck, go I.


Blogger Fiona said...

All that you write, Emily, is so true. The slow, growing grip, how some people end up drowning, and especially the last sentence : There but for the grace of God, and a lot of arbitrary good luck, go I.

And also, strength of mind. The ability to see beyond the rim of the glass, the ability to put your hand over the top of a glass when offered more. That sometimes is the deciding factor between addiction and enjoyment.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Digger Jones said...

Ah yes. I know the beast that is addiction all too well. The temptation to swill something down just so that you can have that "Who gives a fuck?" attitude is a real powerful draw! And I adore lighting up those pleasure spots.


6:38 PM  
Blogger Brown Eyed Chap said...

Yep, wine is one of my vices too. I totally relate to what you said here Emily.

1:23 AM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Emily, you Dear Lady are truly a Princess of a woman!

How good it is to see someone repeat one of my favorite sayings.

Sadly, right now , in the goold old USA most people seem to be about smug, judgemental, condemnation of those who show the ravages of some misfortune.

PAX to you, and your homeless crew.

10:28 PM  

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