When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So off I went to a meeting halfway down a mountainside where we drank fetishly brewed espresso with crema and ate deep-fried doughy rings in syrup called koeksusters, a local delicacy that is not for the fainthearted. All of us there had been sober a while and one woman shared (details changed here to protect identity) on her experiment in moderation management and how she had decided to give up driving rather than drinking. That way nothing could go wrong. Her boss picked her up for work the next morning and she threw up tequila-infused vomit all over him. Lost her job, had to pay for the car and his suit to be cleaned, learned nothing from the experience. Went back to drinking and driving.
We all sat rocking with laughter as she told us this story of humiliation and denial. I don’t know any other humour like the self-deprecating humour found in AA or amongst recovering alcoholics. We laugh at ourselves at our worst, we laugh at our persisting delusions, we laugh with one another.
‘I went on thinking I was a great asset to any party, an unpredictable fabulous over-the-top catalyst, a liberated wife and mother, someone everyone adored and forgave,’ she said. ‘Even when I came out of prison for the second time and found my husband was divorcing me and that I would be denied custody of the children, I thought, “Oh he’ll come around,” and just carried on living it up. I didn’t see my children again for 27 years. My mother died and I was in rehab for the fifth time, so I missed the funeral. My brother got cancer but I was living with a new man and didn’t make time to see him before he died. Then I was hospitalised with cirrhosis and nobody came to vist me in hospital. And oddly that was what did it. I couldn’t pretend anymore.’
It is a terrible story but she sat there smiling and talking as if she was describing a shopping trip to the local mall. We all sat smiling back and listening to both her story and our own. The same story. There’s nothing funny about drinking and driving. There’s nothing funnyabout a wasted life and neglected children, ruined families, betrayals, destitution, years in prison, severe alcohol-induced illness.
The joy and wry laughter comes from knowing it is a miracle any of us live to tell the tale. We were not ‘bad’people or evil or heartless or sociopaths. We are alcoholic, and alcoholism is death-dealing insanity.