My name is Melissa Jones and I used to use alcohol to deal with stress, emotional pain and my interactions with friends and family. In other words, I was pretty much like a majority of Australians over the legal drinking age of 18…and also some who are under it.
For the past ten months I’ve been reflecting, not only my life and my place within society, but also how I almost took the easy option out one night after having consumed more than I usually would. Needless to say, I was in a rather dark pit that I dug for myself and slipped into; it just seemed like an easier place to be.
Yes, I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and have made an active effort to get back to a point where I feel confident with who I am, and also to be healthy – whatever that is. I mean, for some it’s able to run 15km, for others its eating plenty of greens and lean protein. For me I suppose it’s finding a way to deal with life’s challenges without resorting to liquid courage.
I know this blog post could be all about “how I’ve found myself” et cetera, but that is not where I want to take it. What I want to talk about is how Australia has an unhealthy and dependent relationship with alcohol.
To prove my point I’m not going to bang on about statistics of lives lost, or rates of injuries and chronic disease, although it is important. Instead, I’m going to give you a few examples from my family history, and the role of alcohol in their lives.
Let’s begin with the beginning, a very good place to start as Julie Andrews sang in “Do Rai Me”. While the surname Jones is a somewhat a common one, the particular Jones clan that I hail from were among those that were sent out to Van Deman’s Land as punishment for stealing a hammer and some other building supplies in an attempt to earn a living. Now Thomas Jones, met Anne Agnew while they were still working as convicts, and when they had met their conditions of transportation they were both given their freedom to do as they wished.
Thomas was somewhat of a dreamer and believed that he would be able to find gold among the hullabaloo that was occurring in the Victorian Goldfields at the time. So off they went together. Thomas struggled to make ends meet, and life looked bleak for the newly married couple with a growing family to feed. So as a last resort, Thomas turned to bootlegging. That’s right. The former convict dabbled in some illegal grog production and distribution to make money. Ultimately it was this love of the grog that led to his untimely death when his cart overturned on the way to drop off an order. Luckily his son wasn’t killed in the accident, because if he was, I wouldn’t be here sharing this story with you. At a coroner’s hearing Anne provided testimony that Thomas had added some whiskey to his morning coffee and had probably been drinking heavily the night prior.
Now fast forward about 90 years to shine the spot light on my Grandfather, Ivan “Snowy” Jones. Being the youngest of a family of eight (not uncommon in the Depression Years), Snowy grew up eager to be a part of his older brother’s adventures. So when World War II began, Snowy, who was nineteen years old at the time joined his older brothers and signed up to fulfil his Australian duty.
As a young man, Snowy saw some of the worst human atrocities during those years of service. I know the memories haunted my Grandfather for the rest of his life, although he remained largely silent on the matter, as did most men and women of that era. That was, until one afternoon he was reading a news report about the finding of a mass grave site in New Guinea, and it stirred old memories which were passed down to my older cousin.
Now I won’t go into detail, but my Grandfather was part of a task force that moved into villages after the Japanese infantry had left, in order to “clear out” any snipers that remained. One particular time they came across a massacre that was so gruesome, it’s hard to fathom.
So you can kind of understand that while he was on shore leave, he might have drunk a little too much to deal with the atrocities he had seen or had occasional fisty-cuffs with the Marines that were based in Melbourne at the time. Once the war was over, none of the returning service men and women, like my Grandfather were provided with the mental health assistance that many of them needed. That really wasn’t the done practice at the time…you just dealt with it by not talking about it.
A lifetime of alcohol consumption at extremely harmful levels took its toll on my Grandfather, who I always saw as somewhat of an enigma. A gentle soul was there behind his eyes, but you could tell there was a world of pain there too. In his later years he was a shell of a man and I could tell that his alcohol use had affected his brain function.
So what about me? Well, after seeing what a great man had been reduced to because of alcohol misuse, I vowed to never let alcohol affect me in that way. Late last year I broke that promise. Mainly because it was the easiest way of dealing with the pain of a rather tough relationship break up, not being 100% sure on what I wanted to do with my hard earned double degree, and also not feeling sure of who I was as a person.
I ended up drinking two standard drinks or more a night to help myself ‘unwind’. I didn’t think much of it as I wasn’t driving drunk, I wasn’t binge drinking and, well, I just seemed like a better person to be around after I’d had a couple of drinks. I wasn’t so serious or a negative nelly. The two drinks a night escalated to me consuming too much alcohol on a couple occasions over the summer break. I finally realised I had issues and needed help early in the morning on Australia Day this year.
I guess the common thread between me and my family members is the need for a “quick fix” or for some magical potion to fix our problems and pain. Ultimately, every decision is individually made, as is in our human nature. I personally believe that alcohol is one of those vices that is so cheap, so easy to access, and seems like the natural option to fill a void, that it’s a hard option to walk away from.
Australians need to recognise that they have a dependent relationship with alcohol, and slowly develop healthy habits by putting up barriers and safety nets to prevent it from damaging their own lives, and the lives of those around them.
To be able to change this unhealthy co-dependent relationship between alcohol and Australia, both need to take some time apart, not cold turkey, but slowly and surely, spend less and less time together. While it might not make the alcohol industry happy, Australians may still be able to learn to live happy and healthy lives of moderation.