The Tricks of the Trade
One of the things that helped me and my partner start to get on top of things was a particular kind of honesty. Not just “yes dear, I felt shit and had a drink,” but more detailed this is where I hid it, this is how I got the money and all sorts of other mini-crimes and deviousnesses. I have been meaning to write about this for a while because if you don’t know the detail of how we behave and can only see the results, you are at a disadvantage. I suppose I am turning Queen’s Evidence.
So if you are a concerned family member or friend or significant person in some struggling other’s life, read on. Part of the solution is laying bare, absolutely, and in forensic detail, how it all happens during the darkest days. This does NOT stop alcoholic behaviour, but it can be a useful part of the process. These are just some of our experiences. They don’t have to be yours, and you may have others. But if this helps anybody – good. It is written mostly from the point of alcohol, but the principles apply to any addiction.
Try controlling the money supply. It is inconvenient and the addict will feel indignant. Also, it won’t work, but it will teach the concerned partner about the addict’s behaviour. It won’t work, at least to begin with, because we will go out of our way to confuse and conceal. We will invent things it has been spent on that cannot be discovered (like a load of chocolate that, guess what, we’ve eaten already!). We will steal other things from shops to provide free money for booze. We will steal from your purse, cleverly, so that you will have to know at every hour of the day exactly what you have. We will use credit cards and burn bank statements, get cash by arrangement with a passport if you take our cards away, borrow from anyone we know on some ludicrous pretext. All of this is without recourse to more significant crime against others, like flogging a stolen hi-fi to fuel and expensive habit.
We become exceptionally good at this and you will find you can rely on us less and less. We quickly learn the best prices, and the minimum standards, for every food product, and the best price per unit of every drink. This creates margins within which we can squeeze a drink or two into a weekly shop. The bigger and more complex the shop, the easier it is for us. And no, don’t be silly, we don’t bring receipts home. The only money we are safe with, shopping wise, is a small enough amount that won’t buy a proper hit. If all I can do is squeeze in (say) a couple of units worth of alcohol (maybe one can of beer of a certain strength) I probably won’t bother because that will just give me the taste and then I’ll feel worse. Best thing is don’t send me shopping! Little shopping trips can also be very problematic on holiday. “I’m just out to get those tomatoes,” is a load of bollocks if there is a friendly shop around the corner and the local poteen will be down my neck before I get back to the flat.
We’ve all seen old films of someone hiding the whisky bottle in the bookcase. Amateur. Bookcase, yes, but also loft, gig bag, rarely used rucksack, frequently used rucksack but not the main pocket, behind the flour in the kitchen because I do the baking, in the cycling clothes drawer, in the potting shed, the working shed, behind the bins, behind the furniture, somewhere in the garden, hidden in plain view as water if it is vodka, in the car, under the car, about your person. Then there is the double or triple gate defence. Decant it to an innocent bottle first, and/or wrap it in a bag. This won’t stand scrutiny because it looks suspicious but it buys time if you are caught cold by an unexpected arrival. I have hidden things so well that I have forgotten where they are in my drunkenness and once found a full bottle of vodka I had forgotten about completely. That was a good day or a bad day depending on your point of view….. And it is easier with Class A drugs, where the volume of merchandise is smaller.
Because we need to drink pretty much all day when the moon is up, mixing is a common habit. No-one thinks twice about someone with a sports drink in the street: you can’t see that it is 50% vodka. With practice it takes seconds to get a bottle of vodka into 3 or 4 sports drinks in the supermarket loo. One of them won’t even make it back out to the car park. We probably have a favourite surrogate bottle for all this, so get to know which ones if you can. And around the home and garden, do not assume that the fruit juice is just juice…..
Fake booze? Is that not back to front? Oh no, it is a form of hiding – you are hiding it in your own body by drinking it! Screw top white wine looks the same if it is full of water and if your friend doesn’t drink that stuff it can sit in the fridge in plain view. Meanwhile you have scoffed the wine and you can worry about the bottle later (later is always fine if there is a drink now). You can do the same with cider and lager bottles if you take the cap off carefully and snap it back on.
You cannot in any way reliably cheat a properly administered breath test, although the internet is smothered by clowns with stupid ideas to this effect. Only once in hundreds of tests have I managed to get a meter to register zero, and I am not sure how I did it. I thought I was toast. For the determined drinker the next best method is to discredit the results. I knew off by heart the full list of side issues that can affect a breath test machine in the margins, and also the stated accuracy of the testing equipment. Inaccuracy in cheap testers can be the drinker’s friend, so if you are the relevant friend, buy a good one. Then accept no excuses for a reading, however small, and absolutely you can judge “guilty” if a breath test is refused (which is what the law in effect does).
The disciplined drinker will sometimes have enough control not just to dive into the nearest available hooch. We may wait until you come home so that you start off looking sober. We may save the big hit for just before we hit the sack, so then we are all asleep and the pantomime is suspended until tomorrow. We may be waiting for a drink to wear off (see below), or we might aim to take advantage of a complex situation where there are lots of people around and your mind is elsewhere. If we are out and about together we might feel you won’t have the chance to call us out.
Just a point of detail here, particularly if you are deploying breath testers. Anybody who goes on the drink driving course (yes of course I bloody have) is told that we metabolise alcohol at one unit an hour after the first half hour of starting drinking. This is a useful rubric for use with ordinary mortals but dangerously simplistic for use with us. Being of scientific bent, we tested my metabolization rate close to when I was at my worst, and my body was responding about twice as quickly as a normal one. To put this in context, I could “clear” somewhere north of 15 units within a working day to the point where even a very good breath tester would not pick up any residue. You could and should play tunes on this theory – mapping consumption against periodic tests in different circumstances. It will make it harder for the addict to cheat and easier for the friend to help.
The other problem with a simplistic metabolization rate is that we drink differently (doh!). Your evening might start with a glass of wine, but my day might start with half a bottle of vodka. My first half hour is very different to yours…….
Confusing Health Issues
Finally, this bit will not be of relevance to some, but will certainly be relevant in the case of people who have complicating issues and chief among these is diabetes. The problem here is that a diabetic with blood sugar too high or too low can genuinely exhibit signs of drunkenness. To low and we can become vague, slurring speech and losing focus (mentally and optically). Too high and we can gabble excitedly and develop the attention span of Donald Trump on speed. Either way, unwary folk, including in my case employers once or twice, can draw the wrong conclusion. Equally, there is an opportunity there for the addict to entice someone else to draw the wrong conclusion if they are in fact sloshed. I have done this. More generally, any physical state that can affect bodily or mental function will tend to queer the pitch so you may need to think in the round.
One of the problems in getting through these situations and getting everything out on the table is that even when the suffering addict desperately wants to co-operate, as I did, they will still not find it easy. The sense of shame and embarrassment when you are straight makes it difficult to admit what you have done, even in the most understanding company. And when you are not straight it may be that little short of violence will drag things out of you. You become three people: the bashful child and the scheming monster, in between which is trapped the simple soul who wants the whole damned pantomime to go away.
The complexities and compulsions in these behaviours can make us appear cruel and lead us to and act in villainous ways. Because we addicts do also generally have a conscience spirited away somewhere, it is one of the hardest things to bear – for both us and others.
And don’t forget – this is the description of some of the processes and behaviours involved in addiction. It is NOT a cure and it is NOT an explanation. It is just a little personal anthropology that might be of help to anyone who wants to support somebody like the person I was.