Here’s another guest post from Martin Pankhurst. Martin is a recovering alcoholic who now runs support groups for people in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse and other addictions. He is currently working with me to create online programmes to help people with dependency issues, and their families. If you’d like more information on this or any of the other programmes I’m planning register at the Online Programmes page. If you want to know more about the mind of the addict read through our archives and join our mailing list, or get in touch directly.
One of my friends recently went on holiday, and before he left, he went around the house and made sure that all of the curtains of the windows facing the road were pulled half open in an attempt to give the impression that the house was occupied, thus deterring any potential burglars from trying their luck.
Having a chuckle to myself at this and wondering if an alarm system might have been a better solution,it sparked memories of my childhood and the long summer school holidays. I would ‘knock’ for my friends who lived along the same road to see if they wanted to come and play football on the back field, but I wouldn’t bother to ring the doorbells of the houses with half open curtains, because I knew that they would be away on their family holidays at Butlins or maybe a guest house in Devon.
As an 8 year old boy I quickly figured out when a house was empty. The lengths we sometimes go to in order to conceal the truth often highlights the very thing we are trying to hide. It’s also a constant reality in the life of an active addict.
I remember a story a guy told in the group I run for recovering addicts. Each day he went to the off licence for a litre bottle of Vodka he would buy a fishing magazine. In his mind, the magazine gave his trip an air of respectability and normality. He was convinced that the shop owner saw him as a serious hobbyist. The ‘Angling Times’ was also exactly the right size to wrap a bottle of spirits in to hide it from the gaze of his ‘nosey neighbours’.
His tale made everyone in the room laugh, and it sparked off a series of similar anecdotes.
One of the girls in the room confessed that she had a cupboard full of those presentation gift bags that we use when we give someone a bottle of wine or champagne, along with two drawers full of ‘congratulations’ cards. Every trip made to the supermarket or corner shop was ‘normalised’ by the purchase of these additional items alongside the wine or gin .
My own approach was to use of as many different outlets as possible in order to dilute suspicion. In the village where I was living at the time, there were four separate shops where I could buy vodka. I would religiously rotate them until finances dictated that I only visited the one that had the cheapest offering. I remember the shame I felt when I was standing in the queue in the Sainburys Local where the spirits are kept behind the counter at the tills. One of the ladies working on the checkouts saw me standing in the queue and reached up and pulled down a bottle of vodka ready for me when I reached the front. In a vain attempt to salvage what was left of my pride and self-esteem, I explained that I had no need for the bottle that day as I was a ‘take it or leave it’ sort of guy. I promptly went to the corner shop to buy what I needed, and was delighted to find a new employee behind the till. I bought enough Vodka to last me a couple of days, and had a little rare smile to myself when she asked if she could come to the party! Unfortunately, as most alcoholics will tell you, if you have enough drink in the house to last two days, it rarely lasts beyond one.
Many people I know spend their whole lives creating an image for themselves which they think other people will either be convinced by, or envious of. In recovery we find real serenity and freedom from not having to live up to other peoples’ ideas and idealistic expectations. With recovery comes humility, and we no longer feel the need to have our curtains half closed to give the impression that our empty lives are in fact occupied with interesting people and fulfilling experiences.
If ever I’m tempted to present an alternative version of the truth, to change the impression that someone has of me, I think back to myself as an eight year old boy walking down the road with a brown lace up leather football under my arm looking for football friends. The illusion of an occupied house only ever represented an empty one to me.