Two years ago, September past, my father killed himself. He quite literally drank himself to death. Today, on #worldmentalhealthday, I’m reflecting on what this means for a drinks-trade professional.
We’d been estranged for over a decade, a fact which makes that phone call one Sunday afternoon feel like fiction. Multiple organ failure may not reflect the drama and immediacy of silt wrists, pills, a flying leap – but, to me, this is no less a suicide.
Set aside the emotional toll of these events – the greatest ramification of my father’s death has been this question: where does that leave me in my relationship, both personal and professional, with booze?
I’ve worked in the alcohol industry in one form or other since I was 19. Wine, whisky – these are my bread and butter. It’s jarring to me that the substance which pays the bills has also been the crutch and cause of much personal trauma.
I’m keenly aware that in times of emotional despondency, I still turn to alcohol to help me through it. At university, deep in the throes of what I now recognise to have been my first significant bout of depression, I took the moniker ‘party girl’ to a whole new level. There are many episodes I once blocked out – and now look back on with the clarity and generosity of someone who has spent hours and days in therapy.
And I’m hyper-aware that still, when all other coping mechanisms fail and I feel unable to cope, I often reach for the corkscrew.
I found it helped to unpick the science behind the way alcohol effects both body and mind to help me understand this love hate relationship. Not only does alcohol inhibit serotonin production (the happy hormone), it also causes staggering peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels – basically, it makes you feel like crap. Alcohol also puts your nervous system into a state of hyperactivity to counteract the sedative effects of alcohol while inhibiting the production of glutamine (a natural stimulant designed to keep you awake). Thus, when you stop drinking your body floods with the hormone disrupting your sleep.
In light of all this, when I left my office job I seriously considered leaving the drinks business altogether. It seemed like the sensible option, given my family background. I constantly research and question the potential of genetic predisposition, always aware of the destructive potential of this particular crutch. Routinely, I trial bouts of voluntary sobriety, and worry the loose thread of “if I stopped drinking entirely could I still do the job which I love?”.
But then, weeding the reading material in our bathroom, I reread these lines from Rowley Leigh, hidden in the closing pages of Issue 15 of Noble Rot:
“If you like a wine, if you want to get to know a wine and to love a wine, you want a bottle. You want to taste it when the cork is first pulled, you want to sip it as it reveals itself, glug it when it has opened out like a rose in bloom and sip it again as the petals begin to fall.”
It’s a gorgeous articulation of my deepest instinct. It’s time to cut myself a break. I am not my father – and if I gave up one of my great loves, wine and all that comes with it, I would be doing it for the wrong reasons.
Because I really love wine. To me, it is a deeply romantic, evocative and enjoyable product; the tangible convergence of art, science, nature and man’s creative potential. What luck I have, to be marrying a man who shares my love of well-made wine – and my desire to manage my consumption with considered restrictions and measures.
A whole bottle every night? Certainly not. Rarely, really. But on those occasions when it’s called for, I shall relish every sip.