(Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)
Perhaps we should talk about the elephant in the room…
Your elephant or mine?
I was thinking of yours, namely your addiction to alcohol, which killed you…
What d’ you want to know?
Where and why it started.
It started with you.
Me! What d’you mean?
I mean that you’re an alcoholic too. Us alkies, you know, we’re good at spotting others. In your case it’s not that you drink huge amounts or get drunk, but you drink very regularly and you find it hard to do without it. True?
Yes, true. In my own mind I’ve known for a long time that alcohol was dangerous to me, so I’ve become very disciplined about it. I only ever drink with a meal, and never on my own.
A very disciplined alcoholic. It may not control you, but you do not completely control it. Anyway, it’s always been part of you; and certainly when I was a girl, a happy part, associated with leisure, celebration, conversation, jokes, good times, so naturally I was attracted to it, as I grew up.
I remember being astounded when your teacher said you’d a drink problem, as I was totally unaware of it.
So was I, or at least, I wanted to be unaware. It was there with me, throughout my time at Aberdeen Uni, and after, when it made me unsuitable as a trainee teacher. It was certainly a factor in my long relationship with M, an escape from his violence. Perhaps after we broke up, it was a substitute for him, something well- loved and destructive.
Certainly you behaved that way… your addiction was obvious…
But in those days I could control it, not by drinking less but by not drinking at all, for months, once almost a year. That re-assured me that I was in control…
Was that why you avoided the AA, because they insisted on members admitting they were not in control of it?
That, and their evangelical attitude, confess your sin and be saved by a higher power. I did meet some lovely people at AA. But I just didn’t believe it. I accepted counselling, a number of times, and benefitted from it, without any real difference to my addiction.
I began to be frightened for you, knowing that you were at risk when drunk, from accident, theft, rape.
They all happened, especially the last. I wanted so much to think of myself as an attractive woman that I took less care than I should, and brutal men took advantage.
Then I did have a resurrection, when I decided to train as a minister and studied at St Andrew’s. I felt renewed and hopeful. I found my own faith. I went on placement to churches and found that I was good at it. But I didn’t stop drinking, and my addiction returned to torment me, taking control in ways that frightened me, putting my calling at risk….others called it my demons, and I thought it apt. Finally the church authorities decided that my poor health meant my status as a candidate for ministry had to be revoked. That was equivalent to a judgment that my demons could not be exorcised. For them, a diagnosis of chronic illness entailed expulsion. I doubt if it could be called an evangelical decision, but it resolved a bureaucratic problem. For me, it was a sentence of death.
I understood their problem but was appalled at their nullifying of vocation; their readiness to make serious illness a reason for abandoning any commitment to you. At the same time I feared what addiction had done to you, and what it would do now.
Lovely church people got in touch to encourage me. And you and mum never gave up on me, but I gave up on myself. This body is too sick and useless, I thought, I need rid of it. And that’s what happened.