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Changing the narrative around alcoholism and mental health.

Look before I start let me make it clear. Everyone loves a tragedy. Shakespeare made a career spanning half a millennia out of writing some of the most heart-wrenching tragedies ever put to paper. Humans, as a species, seem compelled to get the popcorn and take a comfortable seat when someone else’s life is imploding. Perhaps it’s the distance from our own lives, or the Tall Poppy Syndrome the media love to talk about while tearing people apart. Whatever the reason tragedy sells papers and magazines, and ensures television ratings.

Over the past couple of days, the media has been obsessed with the latest very public meltdown of former Olympic swimmer, Grant Hackett. First his arrest by police after becoming violent in his parents home and then again when he went missing the following day. You could almost feel the media’s disappointment when he turned up alive and not face down in a canal somewhere.

Type his name into Google this afternoon and there is nothing on the first few pages about his triumphs. It’s a litany of rehashed stories about his past arrests, current issues and a barrage of media talking heads having their say about what he needs to do to get better and reclaim his title as ‘hero.’

It’s obvious to anyone that Grant Hackett is suffering from some sort of mental illness. It’s equally obvious that he’s an alcoholic or at least he has trouble managing his behaviour when it’s alcohol fuelled.

None of his run-ins with the law appear to happen while he’s stone cold sober. Drinking is the underlying theme of his current narrative. And that, sadly, is something I have personal experience with. Drinking can distort and destroy your life in ways you won’t see coming, not even when you’re up to eyebrows in it.

When you have a problem with alcohol addiction you know it in your head, but it doesn’t stop you reaching for the bottle. By the time you slam into the ground with all the power of a jumbo jet hitting a mountain you can’t imagine life without it. You know it’s destroying you, killing you, and yet you can’t pretend, even for a second, that life could be better without it.

I speak on this from experience. It’s nothing new to the people who’ve been reading this blog for a while. Depression and addiction to alcohol have been regular themes in the narrative I’ve portrayed here. Over the past couple of years, in particular, I’ve concentrated on addressing my depression and anxiety.

I’m an addict. I have been since the first time I sucked on a cigarette or poured rancid, fermented, grape juice down my throat. It’s in my gene pool, both sides of it, there isn’t a generation that I know of that hasn’t had at least one or two people turn to pills or alcohol or something else, in order to numb their lives. I rarely call myself an alcoholic, mainly because I assumed to do so you had to be drunk every day.

And over the years I’ve done that. I can remember times when I’d wake up in the morning and there on the bedside table would be the glass of wine I got ready the night before. That pick-me-up, just waiting for my eyes to open. The top up as I sat in the backyard and smoked my first cigarette. If I was particularly fragile that morning there’d also be the one while I shaved my face before my shower and getting dressed to go to work. Terrible times, but a part of my life.

I look at people like Grant Hackett and I have to admit, being a nobody has its benefits. Sure I may struggle to pay the bills or find a job but no one knows who I am. My meltdowns, fall overs, screaming fights, they all happened away from the eye of the media.

Let’s be honest. Drunk Queen Screams At Friend Over the Phone Because Drunk, is hardly the newspaper headline to win the ratings, now is it?

Over the years I’ve quit drinking almost as often as I’ve quit smoking. And I’d do okay. For a while. Complacency “just one won’t hurt,” is always my downfall. It’s the minute I feel like I’ve got it beat. Like I’ve won. Just one stays that way for a week or two. My confidence in my own success grows and then it’s ‘just two.’

Sooner or later we’re no longer talking glasses and now we’re talking bottles. Bad day at work, that’s a 2 bottle job. A shit week at work, watch out Saturday night we’re onto the casks of wine; will 4 liters be enough?

I remember being in my early 20s and having drinks with friends. It took me two hours to walk home from their house that night. The sky was particularly dark, the stars particularly sparkly and the lock on the front door kept moving. I also required a couple of rest stops, lying in the damp grass and watching the sky spin around like a child’s spinning toy. My friends lived next door. Then there’s the time I went to a house warming party and woke up in the garden. Not the grass. An actual garden bed.

And as I said, I’m lucky. No one knows who the hell I am. What I put into the world is via this blog or social media.  I get to determine what the people in my life know, what the people who read my blog learn, and what the narrative is about my own shortcomings.

Grant Hackett doesn’t have that luxury. And it’s heartbreakingly sad that he doesn’t.

Grant Hackett has been a hero in this country for decades. In a country obsessed with sportspeople, with swimmers, he was a teenager when he first rose to the national consciousness. Today he’s a man, lost and adrift, obviously battling serious issues regarding alcohol and mental health.

The media needs to give him something he hasn’t been afforded since he was a teenage swimming star. They need to give him is privacy. His family, I can understand they feel lost and don’t know what to do, need to shut the media down not provide it with exclusive interviews. Grant Hackett’s mental deterioration should not be handed out as fodder to an ever hungry media machine.

To the media; it is ratings, it is viewers, it is readers and it is a tragedy. The media is already aiming for an angle, it can be seen in how it reacted to news he’d gone missing yesterday. Grant Hackett deserves privacy, he deserves to be given what most other addicts in this country take for granted. The time, the opportunity and the safety to heal.

If someone with the public profile of Grant Hackett can’t get help in this country that’s a different story and one that needs to be promoted but it’s not the one the media is peddling at the moment.

Falling over is easy, standing true is a hell of a lot more difficult. My latest fall from grace was in November/December 2016 after losing my job (yet again). I soothed myself with cheap wine. Lots of it.

On December 27th, 2016 I threw the alcohol away (and the cigarettes) and committed to one step at a time. One day at a time. I’ve never been to AA. But social media brings all sorts of tools right to your electronic device.

As of today, I’m 52 days clean and sober. Not just from nicotine, but alcohol as well.

My main goal is to reach January 1st, 2018 without falling over. Until I get there it’s all about not drinking – or smoking – today. Tomorrow I’ll worry about when it gets here.

It would be nice to see the media treat Grant Hackett not as a fallen legend or tragic figure but as  a man, a father, a person. Because despite all his other issues he is all three of those things mentioned.

He is not a fallen idol, not yet. He needs help and I hope he finds it.

And in the meantime I hope the media gives him the privacy and the space to heal and come to terms with whatever is driving his current behaviour.


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