The Big Issue : Edition 472
THEBIGISSUE21NOV–4DEC2014 11 The Bottom of the Bottle MY WORD JOE AND I were together for five years. We fell in love quickly. In the early days we had the kind of romance you see in the movies: he’d run out in the pouring rain without an umbrella just to see the smile on my face when he handed me my favourite chocolates; I’d wait for him at university between classes with hot soup on cold winter days so we could enjoy the warmth of each other’s company for just a few minutes. We were best friends and soulmates. After graduation we moved from big city London to a small town in the west of England, where we both found jobs and began building our life together. We’d spend our afternoons in the local pub, daydreaming about owning a home and occasionally arguing over children’s names. Our future looked bright...and imagining how it would take shape over a pint or two was our favourite thing to do. It wasn’t long until Joe landed a job as a chef in an up-and-coming restaurant in town. We were both so happy; this job was one step closer to the life we wanted. Sure, the hours were long and the shifts often stretched until one or two in the morning, but we believed our love was strong enough to endure anything that was thrown at us. Only, we were wrong. It wasn’t the late nights that tore us apart; our relationship was about to face something neither of us was ready for. Something we didn’t know how to deal with when it entered our home, something so big we didn’t dare say it out loud. Alcoholism is a loaded word. It bears with it the inference of disease, depression, addiction and, for some, violence. Though there was never any violence in our home, there was helplessness. We were both in our twenties and had never faced anything like it before. Alcoholism is like a black hole that sucks everything around it into a cold, lonely void. Suddenly there was a huge distance between us. I didn’t know right away, but the empty whisky bottles he would soon be hiding in our neighbours’ recycling bins created and sustained that distance. The addiction that took hold of Joe, unlike our love, was nothing like what you see in movies. It was slow and it was silent. We didn’t see it happening until it was already too late. How much is too much? Everyone we knew enjoyed a drink. Friends and family would offer wine at get-togethers, colleagues would invite us for after-work drinks and then there was Sunday roast at the pub. Having a wee tipple at home on a night off wasn’t unusual either. But what was once a tipple, a glass, a pint or a drink with a meal soon became several. Until one day it was just by the bottle. Once I realised exactly how much Joe was drinking, I tried to get him to stop. I’d suggest an alcohol-free evening and he’d agree. But once I fell asleep he’d slip out to the liquor store, or he’d find a bottle of something kicking around the flat. I’d wake up feeling like I’d failed and he’d wake up with a hangover. The bottom of the bottle was just too much to bear, so Joe and I parted ways. As the years wore on, I wondered if we’d ever see or speak to each other again. Then one morning, checking my emails, I saw something that made my heart skip a beat: it was from Joe, titled ‘Unreserved Apology’. Joe had entered Alcoholics Anonymous a year ago and it’s an official part of the program to tell those you hurt that you’re sober and to apologise for the pain. Having woken up from the confusion that alcohol brought into our home, he’s now healthy and happy. There’s a lot of water under the bridge that neither of us want to wade back through, so we’re looking upstream instead. We’ve started a new relationship, as friends. It’s one day at a time and it isn’t easy. But even though it’s not how I imagined it would be, it’s nice to know that the future once again looks bright, for both of us. Joe is not his real name. » Tara Judah is a writer, programmer and radio critic. She works at a bookstore, for Melbourne’s Astor Theatre (to which she wrote a tribute in Ed#470) and is a regular contributor to The Big Issue. TARA JUDAH RECALLS HOW ONE ATTRACTION DESTROYED ANOTHER.