At Smarmore Castle Hospital, we treat a lot of people who say that they wish they had seen the warning signs and taken steps to change their habits before their substance abuse became a full-blown addiction.
Life is not a party. A pity, but true. We may want it to be that way, especially when young, but the reality is that life is difficult. Some of us will learn the hard way, but we all eventually have to agree with lugubrious philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said, “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.”
Sooner or later, in other words, the music has to stop before things get out of hand. Party time ends, and the serious stuff of life begins. But at what time exactly do you stop? A lot of people leave it much too late and find themselves battling addiction. Perhaps they were having too good a time, or perhaps they were wealthy enough to buy themselves out of trouble. Because trouble always builds and doggedly tracks ‘La Vida Loca. And in truth, in the early years, it can sometimes feel as if we are immortal. But regrettably, that is an illusion because we will all have to pay the bill some time:
There may be trouble ahead
But while there’s moonlight and music
And love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance (Irving Berlin).
Failing to stop the music in time has meant, for some people, a life of addiction, chaos, and loneliness. Judy Garland, unforgettable as little Dorothy from Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, knew a thing or two about that. Her alcohol and drug-fuelled partygoing life and her many lovers did not bring her happiness.
By dancing much faster
You’re chancing disaster,
Time alone will show… (Poor Little Rich Girl. Noel Coward)
The girl who sang the song ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ so movingly on stage might have been expected to understand that the music has to stop eventually before it’s too late, but apparently not.
Though you’re a child, dear,
Your life’s a wild typhoon! (Ibid)
Judy died alone in a London hotel of a barbiturates overdose, aged just 47. The day she died, there was a tornado in Kansas. There’s probably a tornado every day in Kansas somewhere, just as there’s always someone dying from a drug overdose.
A miss-spent youth is one thing. A miss-spent middle age, which eventually becomes a disastrous later life, is quite another.
Cocktails and laughter,
But what comes after?
Nobody knows! (Ibid)
Stopping the music at the right moment could be the most vital and grown-up decision you ever make. Upon that decision may rest your future happiness and that of your family and friends. If you don’t stop in good time, the downward spiral to disaster simply speeds up.
It seems to be one of the expected rites of passage in the growing up process these days for many people, that they should have a wild, irresponsible youth – late teens and twenties – where much substance abuse takes place. This will certainly include alcohol and might well include cocaine, marijuana, and perhaps some speed or ecstasy too. It is part of the zeitgeist these days to assume that you can’t have a really good time unless you’re under the influence of something that’s mood-altering.
Added to this, they seem to feel that they are entitled to expect a ‘good time’ on a pretty regular basis – say at least once a week.
In lives of leisure,
The craze for pleasure
Steadily grows… (Ibid)
‘So why not?’ – I hear you ask. ‘You only live once. Maybe it’ll end in tears, maybe I’ll even need a couple of weeks in rehab some time down the line but what the hell, might as well burn the candle at both ends. I’ll quit one day when I’m good and ready.’
That’s what party boy Tommy thought. In his late teens, he was The One for Fun, in his twenties, everyone wanted Tommy at their parties – he was such a laugh. But on his thirtieth birthday bash (what a night that was, they told him afterward – he couldn’t remember), he ended up in police custody for drunk driving. It didn’t stop him from partying, but his behavior soon become embarrassing. Now, nobody wanted him at their parties. By age forty, he was ready to quit substance abuse but somehow just couldn’t. He still had money to buy the stuff. Sadly, he died too young. Another statistic, another good time guy, too bewitched by the music to make a grown-up decision.
You’re a bewitched guy
Better take care… (Ibid)
Sometimes, disaster happens less dramatically. People’s lives can change course in ways they do not foresee. Without realizing it, they find themselves suddenly in thrall to self-defeating habits that they originally thought were harmless. Angela is a good example.
Angela met Jack at a party, which wasn’t surprising because they both loved a good time and went to parties as much as they could. Soon they were married, and later two small kids came along. They were loving and responsible parents and always put the children’s needs first, even when parties had to be turned down. A glass of wine at home made them feel just as good. Jack had an excellent but demanding job, and Angela handled the home front.
The years went by, the children thrived and too quickly, it seemed, went off to university. Suddenly the house was empty. Jack’s work was now even more demanding and he was often home late, but Angela had little to do. Little that is, except to lunch with a select group of girlfriends who met regularly in each other’s houses or the local wine bar. Angela really enjoyed these events and liked things to go with a swing. Often, they would drink through the afternoon and would be in quite a state when Jack got home from work. Without realizing it, Angela was back in party mode and using it as a way to fill the emptiness in her life. What’s more, she couldn’t or didn’t want to stop. Soon she was drinking more than a bottle of wine a day, with or without friends around. She simply hadn’t seen what was happening and therefore was not inclined to take any action. She did go to rehab eventually and got into recovery. She had learned the hard way but, stopping the music earlier would have saved her heartache over several damaged relationships.
Thousands of people find themselves in the same position as Angela. They get accustomed to a habit that becomes a coping strategy to make themselves feel better, at any rate, in the short term. They confuse this fleeting pleasure with true happiness. They find themselves trapped in a repeating behavior pattern, and they can’t escape. They failed to see when the music had to stop.
Laughing at danger,
Virtue a stranger,
Better beware! (Ibid)
Don’t think that it’s just people likely, through nature or nurture, to get addicted who need to decide that it’s time to stop. Realistically, anyone who likes an ‘eat well, drink well’ lifestyle will reach this moment, perhaps as early as their mid-thirties, when they look in the mirror one morning after a heavy night out and tell themselves, “I need to stop doing this because soon the consequences are going to show – in my looks, my health, my lifestyle, my job, my relationships.” It can be a hard decision for many, but wise people see the necessity and act accordingly. in other words, for them, the price of doing what they’re doing is getting too high and they are mature enough to take personal responsibility for change, something that alcoholics and addicts do not find easy.
But whether you are riding high or feeling really low, immersing yourself in the pursuit of pleasure is risky. When we are young, good times are easily mingled with substance abuse and the pursuit of short-term pleasure. But therein lies the danger.
You’re only a baby,
lonely, and maybe
you’ll know… (Ibid)
With growing up should come the understanding that happiness only comes when our long-term needs are met. Understanding this and making difficult decisions for our future good, such as knowing when to stop the music, is a sign of true maturity. And once you have taken the decision and made those changes, life really does get better. Physical fitness, a clear mind, and high self-esteem are a heady mix that would put a smile on most faces (except perhaps, Wittgenstein’s).
Sadly, since Judy Garland’s death, the demise of many high-profile people due to ‘burning the candle at both ends’ has become as much a cliché as the words themselves. Amy Winehouse’s tragic death in 2011, from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, is just one example.
Amy had already been weakened by her drug use and persistent eating disorder and was home alone, apart from a security guard, at the time. She had tried rehab but still struggled – somehow, she had been unable to face up to stop the music in time.
Do I need to stop? That is a question we should all ask ourselves before it is too late. And if the honest answer is ‘yes, I need to stop now’ then we must take action, because failure to do so can lead to disaster.
If you are worried that your lifestyle habits are starting to cause you problems, it’s would be a sensible idea to get some advice. Your GP would be a good person to ask first. Here are some questions you could ask yourself honestly as well – they are focused on drinking, but apply equally to drug use if that is your concern:
- When you want to relax and enjoy yourself, do you think about drinking?
- Do you have a drink of alcohol most days?
- Do you think and plan ahead about drinking?
- Do you feel sick, depressed, or shaky after an evening of drinking?
- Do you try to hide your drinking from loved ones or colleagues?
- Have people expressed concern about your drinking?
- Has drinking got you into trouble, such as drink-driving?
- Do you prioritize spending on alcohol?
- Do you choose your friends and leisure activities with drinking in mind?
If you answer ‘yes’ to several of these, then you may be in that danger zone where your habits are about to affect your life negatively. You are already showing early signs of addictive behavior leading to dependence and it is time to take stock of the situation. You can keep on partying of course, but eventually, there may be no one else there. It’s probably time to stop the music, or at least, to change the record.
At Smarmore Castle we are always ready to give support and advice on your next steps, in complete confidence.