40 Years Of Sobering-Up

Clare Galloway reflects on her personal – and our national relationship with alcohol.

People who drink too much, by definition, can’t appreciate the damage they are doing a) to themselves, and b) to those around them. They lack feeling.

Alcohol, like any addiction or addictive behaviour, takes away feeling. It blurs and disconnects the intimate synchrony between the body, the mind and the emotions – and consequently, of course, with the world. Individually the person atrophies, and collectively we all become less connected. Alcohol clogs the organs to the point that they’re no longer able to operate magically, as a part of the harmonious and whole human being.

When I say ‘magical’ I’m referring to the epic complexity of any average person, who holds a veritable internal planet; a beating, running, dancing universe even – of myriad layers and scales, rivers and oceans, weathers and climates – all held together mysteriously by this potent alchemist that we call a ‘will’.

I grew up with alcoholic parents, in a tiny wee village, on an island, in Scotland, in the 1970s. Even if they wouldn’t have classified themselves as continually-alcohol-dependent, this was a world absolutely saturated with booze, reeking of it, days and nights measured in pints. All emotions were related to drinking; either full of it, the angry hangover from it, or the pent-up lack of it, and the tense striving for money to fund more of it.

It was sanctioned, because that’s what everyone else was doing in the village, on the island, in the country, as that time. It was normal, and folks even got highly agitated with a person who didn’t drink (a lot of) alcohol – non-drinkers were a tiny percentage of religious, ill, uptight weirdos… or in the least, super-boring. Drinking was seen as an escape, as a means of becoming a more exciting, loosened-up version of the self, a way of becoming more connected.

But the reality of a community or a life fuzzying between party and hangover is quite the opposite of being connected: it’s a subtle destroyer of soul, of energy, of love, and of consciousness. It eats away over time at our ability to know ourself, to express ourselves clearly, to pursue goals, to get on in the world. It closes down the very internal dialogue that should be at the core of any healthy human being, and thus is changes beyond recognition the conversation that we have with the rest of the world. We become like toxic wee islands of senselessness.

What are the knock-on effects of having been raised in an alcoholic atmosphere – a place where it is normal to be numb, and to blame the world for all your hidden pain, which you have genius-elaborate means of avoiding? How easy is it to rise from the ashes and truly transform into the fullness of what we can and should be?

It’s well beyond time that we started understanding a much deeper, more integrated model of alcoholism – rather than our common reference to alcoholics as people who take drunkenness to the point of severe addiction, leaving an irredeemable soul. Whilst simultaneously condoning what we term as ‘casual’ use of alcohol, and downgrading it to good old harmless fun.  Perhaps we could look at how the very character of alcohol affects the depths our culture and mentality, and our individual and collective well-being and spirituality.

***

I’ll explain a little about my own first four decades of healing from alcohol:

My 42nd birthday had just passed, and there was something weird going on in my body: clouds of pain manifesting here-there-everywhere, jumping somewhere else as soon as I looked at them. It was a fairly intense fall-out from some deep massage work by a talented practitioner, and I wasn’t able to get to grips with it. I knew that there was something very wrong with my internal (detoxification) organs, that my body was trying to clean itself profoundly, and it couldn’t quite do it – I was helpless to support the healing.

After several days of being barely able to raise my head in the morning, and aching with the kind of pain that happens when one has fallen from a height… Having tried gallons of water, electrolytes and multi-vitamins, napping, and the like… I began just plain old letting go, accepting it, because there was no other option available to me. Not judging or trying to understand what was happening. Just listening.

Sitting in meditation some days later, and allowing thoughts to align, to synchronise with my body, I got a strong clear story rising up into my surface consciousness: I saw a clearly-defined map of all the trails I’d taken, the challenges I’d struggling with…. versus this beautiful near-future which seemed tantalisingly close, but barred. At the core of this map was a primal urge to give everything up – it was pressing on me from behind, pushing me as if towards the edge of everything, and I had knew that this sensation related to this repeating story of how things could never just coast along quietly for me.

I recognised this as a profound final stage of my co-dependent relationship with alcohol.

Much of my younger years were spent surrounded by heavy drinkers, from parents to pub culture, to parties at home to drinking sessions on beaches up glens behind village halls… There might have been many quiet, beautiful moments, but the ones which really stick out are the dramatic ones. The worst ones are completely blocked-out like the darkest night. The rare parental comfort that I do recall was drenched in booze, and the familiarity of that morning reek of spirits being sweated out, the dark funk of parents and visitors dragging themselves into the day, groaning… The continuous atmosphere of distance; of everyone being totally fucking out of it. They were just young adults, letting loose the tensions of their age and time. BUT we were profoundly sentient and intelligent human children, being formed and educated by every inebriated nuance and misstep.

So, a seamless shift into teenage years using drink because that’s just what we did: that’s what the language of youth was – it was as natural as learning how to use pounds sterling. At least it gave us a sense of collective belonging, of semi-catharsis, or at least some movement and sense of shared experience. It kept us outside in nature! Well, initially, connecting with the land – yeh… or not, as we were pretty sozzled. Despite the fact that my access to alcohol was erratic (under-aged and no income) my use of drinking was relatively intense in my teenage years, and this culminated in a violent drunken row with my dad at age 16, in which I dramatically left the family home.

And, though I was a student who excelled in many subjects, I became more and more unruly at high school, desperate to gain any kind of attention, and happy to go way beyond all the boundaries where everyone else stayed inline. I sneaked wine into school, put it in a juice carton and drank it in class, having confounded the teacher the week before by passing round juice in a wine bottle, letting him check it and taunting him for not trusting me. I played with teachers’ minds, pushed them to anger, acting out the archetypal kid wanting to be taken care of. Really just needing the simplest of kind words, someone to see me hear me, to know me, encouragement and positive patterns. Getting ineffective harsh discipline and attempts to shame me into submission. I was un-shame-able, as numb people can be, and pushed on to more raucous boundary crashing.

Being drunk was never a particular goal. But being around others who drank, the act of joining in, of sharing sips and smiles and laughter and stupidity; of daring and pushing and shoving, of the glorious chaos of it, of the drama the next day, the stories and exaggerations… One gained notoriety, and this was infinitely more familiarly-uncomfortable to achieve, than the impossibly neat ladder of being a good student. I didn’t particularly want to rebel, but I definitely didn’t want to conform: why the fuck should I? What could possibly be in that for me? Respect from a bunch of folks who were toeing the line, and thus putting even more of a muffler on my nervous energy?!

There were several core patterns that came out of having being influenced so much by booze in my formative years: all of them took literally decades to understand the scale of:

  • A deep lack of self-worth; not trusting myself, my perceptions, my feelings – nor able to express them.
  • A tendency to neglect the self – physically, emotionally, spiritually – even when I had intense needs wanting to be met.
  • Being attracted to chaotic situations and people – in particular, to people who drained me terribly, or who were horribly mean or manipulative.
  • Feeling the need to expose myself in some way: it just felt right, like I should be being hurt, always. Every time I got an ounce of energy or happiness, I’d go and blow it on someone who needed it more than me or who was skilled at sucking it out of me.
  • The strongest urge to periodically abandon everything; to literally up and leave it all behind: I moved home up to three times a year, or at the least every couple of years, for at least two decades.
  • The inability to finish things: a business for which I couldn’t get a taproot down, a sense of what I wanted impossible to get a grip of, it all swilled around like a muddy soup – with my grabbing at strands and desperately trying to make them stay still.

A million-billion daily habitual repetitions, echoes of formative years, accumulated and wore down my vital force. For year after year after year, there was this unfolding of all the bad habits, and the evolving of a deeper cynicism and more extensive neuroses, to support the paradigm – to make the world make sense.

***

There really isn’t a short cut for permanent healing – it has to follow a natural course, and it can be a life-time dynamic. Patterns set deep in the primal and early periods of our lives, in our impressionable young-adulthood, they need more than a few therapy sessions, more than one season of discussions, more than a series of workshops or counselling with friends. Some shit needs literally a lifetime of unwinding tangles and re-stitching the fabric of our reality.

Throughout my life, I’ve set myself healing challenges: put myself out into the wilderness, made myself take a journey which exhilarates me but scares me shitless, randomly moved abroad. It always felt like I needed something to jolt myself into being – to ‘sober me up’ – to move myself forward, and help me wade out of the quagmire. Sitting still meant ants-in-my-pants, itchy feet, cabin fever.

This discontentedness led to my prioritising freedom over stability at every turn. Freedom over stability: it sounds kind of fun, eh? The happy, carefree nomad: never holding onto anything too long, brave enough to just stride out anywhere new spontaneously, not being stuck among the shackles and minutiae of a conventional lifestyle. People saw me as ‘lucky’, my CV looked bloody colourful, and I created a massive international network of contacts and friends from all the communities I lived in. I spent my 20s lurching from place to place, only latterly feeling that something wasn’t quite right, when I began to want to stabilise, but the roller-coaster kept running. It was an adventure for sure, but was it mine?!

My sense of self was growing but also drooping, my income was periodically sufficient but regularly non-existent, my housing situation was manageable but dangerous at times. My heart was just keeping the faith but felt empty a lot – I tried not to look at that too closely. My friends were many but far away. Constancy was like a scene from a sci-fi movie – not of this time or place. There was a conspicuous lack of long-term calm visible ahead of me. And all of this was wearing away at my core strength; I had very little sense of wholeness, presence or validity, qualities often found lacking in children of addicts.

In my mid-30s – particularly when my mum passed away, and I began to remap my reality. The draining of my vital force reached a crisis point, and I realised that I was going to have to improvise. I’d have to learn both how to find a safe house, and how to construct some sort of self-love ability, because these simply weren’t there in my life. They’d have to be made from scratch, with possibly no resources and it’d all have to be done by myself – as I couldn’t trust anyone or anything around me with such delicate work.

I began looking for purpose and meaning outside of myself, as it seemed more logical than trying to reconstruct my inner world. My work that decade involved transforming community, land, energy: building abundance – and sharing it with everyone. Especially those with very little. I threw myself into project after project, won awards and created positive vibes, became an activist of sorts, and developed a passion for the new politics growing in Scotland’s grassroots for independence. I tried so hard, prayed and dreamed and vision-boarded and painted, to create a happy long-term, to put down roots, find deeper purpose, build a business and professional identity. I dared to stay in one place long enough to build up clients and income, even. I gave and gave and gave and gave and gave.

But crisis after crisis met everything that I did: from tetchy landlords blocking my art events, to self-sabotage by ignoring important stuff like eating and sleeping, from stalker-posing-as-confidante, to poisonous nut-cases who set out to undermine my character and business. Never mind the disastrous relationships with narcissistic men who subtly or excessively pulled me apart thread by thread – or never quite got violent, but all the lead-up to it was there… Individually, these dramas were not life-threatening, and yet they each took me further away from what I truly wanted, which was just a healthy sense of self, an ability to nourish myself, a feeing of being safe in the world – and to feel like I belong here. But this safe place was feeling more and more like a holy grail, and I felt like a Monty Python chump louping about in search of it.

My use of alcohol and drunkenness popped up again – and I saw it as a harmless party hat to wear, just a way to meet folk. We communed, it was fun, I felt part of the community. I now see that this was a point where I was no longer even coping; that I was using drink just to connect with anyone, and the people with whom I was connecting were always more addicted than me: I was the companion, the less drunk one, the counsellor, the support. And that this had, in some form or another, been running as a parallel world alongside my everyday. I just had thought it was okay, I wasn’t any way near as alchy as the rest of them!

I did began to understand the self-fulfilling-prophecy though, at this time: I slowly began to see how, when we have a lack of worth or confidence driving us, this radiates out into our relationships with all things.

If I had trusted in my own perceptions, I’d have asked my stalker a long time before to back-the-fuck-off. In fact, I did that, but then felt sorry for him and invited him in again. I perpetually thought ‘but I shouldn’t feel bad’ as if my very gut instinct were wrong. I welcomed needy, neurotic, demanding people into my inner circle and my home. Though I am a brilliantly intuitive being, I wheedled out my healthy sense of things not being right – even a gut-wrenching sickness in my stomach and heart about the stalker-masquerading-as-biggest-fan (when I finally told him to stay aware forever – he left me a large knife in a black bag).

The knock-on effect of this numbing out of my feelings bound me to others: that state of being always around folk who were sucking the life out of me, and of leaning into them… it was a kind of attention and connection, which I couldn’t differentiate from positive influence. It seemed enough that someone was über-enthusiastic about my work and ideas; even if that interest was superficial and missing the point – even when it made me feel physically ill.

It’s not that I wasn’t also cultivating real friendships and real successes, but I was navigating by the more sinister aspects, like following a dark star on a beautiful sunny day. It wasn’t like I was ever in an abusive relationship , but it was like I sought out things which would drag me down, because it was so fucking impossibly alien, the concept of thriving upwards. I told the wild stories to more trustworthy, stable friends – punctuating them with ‘a strong woman like me would obviously never tolerate that kind of shit from a man…’

I started noticing phenomena like, I was fanning the flames under all my frenemies by passionately reasoning with them, blindly determined that open-mindedness and kindness could get anyone to work together for the good of all… In the end, a literal witch hunt drove me into hiding, and my coping world was finally crushed.

I was now my 40s, and the whole dynamic began to shift. The physical reach of alcohol into my life abated. The roots I’d put down actually began to take hold. A series of courses popped up online, which helped me take this inwards route: to focus and organise my energies, my ideas; to plan ahead and build towards a goal, rather than consistently fiddling about in a mess. I bought a house for under £10K! I discovered energetic body work, which I’d actually been doing all along, with my art practise, and I enhanced and super-enhanced this by going deeper and deeper – into the organs and the feminine core, awakening-transforming-healing the cervix, womb, pelvic bowl. I learned how to harvest energy – something I’d always thought about and believed in, but hadn’t had the tools to explore, nor the trust in my own intuitive knowing to follow. I started attracting the right teachers, and an incredible worldwide network of gloriously real women who were also doing work like I was.

As I stayed in one place for another year, and another (now in my eighth!), my relationships developed too; the chaotic superficial ones fell away completely (both my stalker and the nut-case suddenly left town, a super-aggressive neighbour moved out) while my close friends and colleagues became closer and dearer to me. My work became aligned more and more with the sacred in my life, and my relationships with clients became meaningful and beautifully harmonious for us all. I found my worth and value in the world, and it became easier and more fulfilling to earn money. My home in Italy acted like an alchemical cauldron: into this semi-abandoned building in an semi-abandoned town, I drew in great floods of colour and culture, love and authenticity, people and events, dialogue and cultural exchange. The house slowly became the safe container I needed, for me to accumulate serious creative energy – and to finally get over my attachment to pain. My previous life ebbed out gently like a stagnant old tide. My business finally got over the invisible wall I’d been throwing myself against, and methodically expanded into more significant success.

Like tiny wee ghosts, an occasional self-destruct mantra floats about me: I build up resentments about all the small things which folk might be doing to harm me – they’re just other humans’ daily foibles, but I gather evidence like for a court case – to give me the right to abandon everything yet again. The baby-ghost shadows who crave fear-full chaos, nipping at me and waking me up in the night shaking. But now I have a mind clear of murk, as I already put reins on the wild horse of my broken spirit, and I already started gently riding with her through a new, raw, beautiful inner landscape: my very own queendom.

***

 

There’s a phenomenon in spiritual healing called a healing crisis: a moment when everything seems a lot lot worse, just before it suddenly heals – a period of more severe symptoms, just before a clean dawn rips open the night. For me, this manifested in my pain body, which called loudly for me to sit and listen. It’s a great good gift to know one’s own body and symptoms like this, to have created the space around myself that I can actually hear and act on them.

Healing crises don’t always lead naturally to transformation: they need our conscious involvement, our humility and acceptance of where we are – old wounds need to be integrated, before we can step across a threshold into a new self. Life will throw up specific challenges to check you on this: particularly for the feminine with her cyclical nature – the Universe checking consistently if we’re going to just carry on with that non-energising pattern, or if we’re going to move forward. I can’t always catch myself, but I adore the satisfying click of something making sense, an old skin falling away behind me, and a new habit falling synchronised into place ahead.

I’m now walking gently and confidently into new waves of pure creativity, which lap perpetually in me: my writing and painting flow in a way I never imagined possible. I feel like a great wide channel for deep creative inspiration. I have opportunities to travel and to love, to grow friendships and make connections, every day. People write to me having been inspired to make, grow, change their lives into their dreams. I know I am useful, and I am loved and I am happy. I feel sunshine on my limbs, and hear birds chattering and a waterfall shushing down nearby. I live in a town where I know practically everyone, and am met wherever I go by smiles and loving greetings. My relationship with my soul mate is something so incredibly imperfectly perfect, it makes me weep with gratitude. My branding and business, my interactions and relationships come easily to me, and are deeply, excitingly fulfilling. I speak yet another foreign language, and this time I even am even using it in my art and books. I feel settled fully in my self, I feel anchored and I feel free: in my heart, my mind, my emotions, my energy and my every day.

What would my country and culture become, if we all felt like this?

Comments (57)

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  1. David says:

    Aw thanks, Clare. That was some sharing. Made me really think.
    Keep well!

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Thanks for your good wishes, David 🙂 Thank you for reading, and be well you too 🙂 Clare

  2. Ritchie Feenie says:

    Wonderfully honest and inspiring writing, Clare. A journey and a half offering loads of food for thought.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Thank you sincerely, Ritchie – it means a great deal to me, to be able to inspire minds to engage with such issues. Very good wishes to you 🙂 Clare

  3. Derek says:

    A phenomenal and important piece of writing Clare… thanks for sharing.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      You’re so welcome, Derek – I am really glad it is having such a positive response 🙂 Loads of good wishes to you, Clare 🙂

  4. Craig says:

    Last long paragraph, unless it’s intended as a parody, looks like a slightly updated and secularised version of a Band of Hope tract about the joys to be attained by renouncing the Demon Drink. We could follow that blissful imagery with a few verses of “Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine”.

    http://jclvtxt.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/poem-lips-that-touch-liquor-shall-never.html

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Hi Craig 🙂
      No, the last para was not intended as a parody of anything – it’s my life and my living experience – I appreciate that not everyone loves my uber optimism 🙂

      I don’t know about ‘Band of Hope’, and also I don’t mention anything about demonising drink – the artile is talking about the real, tangible consequences of having grown up around excessive drinking.

      I’ve found my own spiritual path, and don’t follow any dogma or discipline in particular: I believe passionately in our potential to be happy and fulfilled human beings – each to their own <3

      Just that, good wishes to you, Clare

      1. Craig B says:

        I was mainly commenting on “What would my country and culture become, if we all felt like this?” You have had bad experiences with excessive drinking, and are reacting euphorically to curing yourself of these misfortunes. But it is illusory to believe that the majority of people suffer the same degree of problems, or would experience the same euphoria.

        It is inappropriate, and even dangerous, to make public policy prescriptions on the basis of subjective emotional experiences. That is what the “Band of Hope”, a former temperance movement, used to do.

        Thank you for your good wishes.

        1. Clare Galloway says:

          Yes, Craig, but “What would my country and culture become, if we all felt like this?” was preceded by a lengthy explanation of how I have improved my life, stability, sense of self and situation, and how I’ve managed to find happiness, yes. That is a positive outcome, as many agree.

          I am not talking as one who has simply ‘had bad experiences with excessive drinking’ but whose precarious standing in life was greatly INFLUENCED by it: this is the point I make throughout the article.
          I don’t understand what ‘reacting euphorically to curing yourself of these misfortunes’ can mean: I am not in a constant state of euphoria, nor reacting, BUT have managed to achieve a great deal of happiness and well-being (and stability) despite having struggled to get over various hurdles of insecurity and sense of self which were a direct result of the chaos, violence and abuse which was all around me when I was very young.
          I don’t see my experience growing up as terribly unique, that is the thing, and this is why I speak at length and so openly about my own experience: I see how the depth of binding into negative cycles filters up into the collective, and prevents us from evolving as a very culture and country.

          The self-fulfilling prophecy of not achieving our potential CAN be improved by positive attitude, and CAN certainly be made a lot lot worse by using drink as a means of avoiding one’s inner chaos. Those are facts too, and not just one person’s experience, obviously: if you read the other responses posted above, that gives some hint towards others who share my view.

          Nobody is making ‘public policy prescriptions on the basis of subjective emotional experiences’ – but your way of diminishing what I am expressing is a great example of how important it is to give space and voice to the emotional – how dark thoughts, habits and negative thinking are radiated out into the world – and equally the health and positive and constructive and creative can also be radiated out. There is space for both to exist, and existance of one does not mean that the other cannot be.

          The idea that I am talking about temperance is not accurate: I haven’t mentioned anything to do with stopping folks drinking. Again; I am talking about what happens to children when they are brought up and exposed to alcohol, and how our culture condones and makes fun of heavy drinking, as if it were something that isn’t eating away at our very souls.

          Again, very good wishes, and thank you for contributing to the debate – it is valuable to have the full spectrum of this discourse.

          1. Craig B says:

            Clare, you reply to me that

            “I don’t mention anything about demonising drink – the artile is talking about the real, tangible consequences of having grown up around excessive drinking.
            I’ve found my own spiritual path … each to their own”

            If that was entirely true, I would have nothing to object to in your personal account about your own experience, but in reality you go far beyond that in your comments. See your response to Craig P:

            “I have a strong sense of our collective identity in Scotland being deeply interwoven with the wounding aspect of alcohol – that this ripples down to our inability to claim our own resources and make our own decisions politically. Our self-fulfilling prophecy of being too small, too weak, too stupid. I feel that these characteristics are very literally exacerbated by – not just extreme use of – alcohol … how CENTRAL it is to our cultural identity …
            And collectively we are still relating to it profoundly – it is BOTH personal tragedy (on an epic scale) and a social issue – … the more it’s condoned and made superficial or even made into entertainment, the less we are able to deal with the root causes and weed out the disease.”

            Weeding out a disease of not just extreme use which is central to our cultural identity looks like a public policy comment to me.

            You very unfairly refer to my alleged “way of diminishing” what you are expressing. I’m merely disagreeing with one aspect of it. That is not a diminution of your expression in any way, but a recognition that it is worthy of discussion, and therefore significant.

          2. Clare Galloway says:

            Thank you for your further clarification, Craig B – it felt like diminishing language when you wrote before, but I do see how you see it as debate. 🙂

            My comment about ‘Weeding out a disease’ that you reply is ‘extreme’, is a strong valid personal opinion, but nothing to do with ‘public policy’. I did mention that I would love to contribute to dialogue or advise government – but not in dictating policy or restrictions, rather in INFORMING a MUCH bigger picture, a much wider view of the issue of alcoholism in Scotland, which I believe very much is a disease, yes.

            I see – and am trying to contribute to – this wider view as not based on statistics or symptoms, but on a heart-felt awareness of what we (individually and collectively) are capable of making of our lives. And how we’re not even considering what we’re capable of, when we’re on a downwards spiral of addiction and self-destruction (which I know to be intimately interwoven with our ‘normalised’ relationship with alcohol).

            This is what I do as an artist: offer a deeper view of any particular issue – a view more *felt*, and more interconnected, perhaps. The perspective I give is from having a relatively radical creative path, rather than a conventional working life, and so it is logical for me to express myself fully and to have strong opinions. It feels great that they are given space to, and that they are responded to. And if I react in the self-defensive, that’s my thing, and a part of my vulnerability, which I am always looking into improving <3

            I say all this, to clarify again that I am not suggesting anything to do with blocking alcohol or punishing heavy drinkers or anything policy related. BUT I AM suggesting that we can and should look at the emotional-psychological-spiritual aspects of our *normalisation* of alcohol: we could look at how the less positive aspects of our intimate relationship with booze can be lessened, and how we can accordingly find a healthier sense of individual and collective identity, and purpose. I don't believe in these things being particularly affected by policy ALTHOUGH there can definitely be subtle knock-on effects created by policies (talking in general, NOT specifically in relation to policy about drink law).

            I believe more in the shifting of consciousness through understanding the interconnectedness of our personal and collective identity and behaviour: in how we create or destroy, collectively, by seeing our own lives as microcosm of the bigger macrocosm of culture. I have strong experience of having taken my own life out of its downwards spiral and into an upwards one, by methodical attention to cause and effect, and to my own responsibility/ ability to affect positive change – inside and around me.
            This feels like an important aspect within the discourse of our national conversation on creating a Scotland that better fulfils 'her' potential.

            Thank you again for the dialogue 🙂

  5. Eileen Harris says:

    Thank you for this incredibly brave account of your journey. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. My life has been alcohol-free for 20 years now and the healing process continues. Even though there are many challenges to living in a society that is still centred around alcohol, every day is a gift and a new opportunity.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      That’s so beautiful to read, Eileen – I am really glad for you… Like many people, I honestly never thought that alcohol had been an issue for me, but as life deepens, the healing comes, and then we start to feel where we were numb, eh… What huge catharsis Scotland needs <3 Much love to you, Clare

  6. Colin Campbell says:

    I was fortunate enough to not have experienced the early formative years steeped in alcohol that you so well describe. Looking back I guess it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that alcohol began to become a big and in hindsight destructive part of my life. That is when the cracks of isolation and distance from others started to form.
    Your journey resonates on so many levels and I am grateful to you for putting into words the feelings that have churned in my head and behaviours for many years, without me being able to make complete sense of them.
    In fact I only in the last 8 months totally quit alcohol. In that time I haven’t experienced the ‘epiphany’ that many describe on their journey out of alcohol. However, I have found a boring stability that the new me is recognising that I actually need to embrace rather than drop like hot stone.
    I have also become used to being addressed as ‘boring’. Initially this hurt but now I have a quiet confidence that can smile at the comments and see the insecurities that create such comments from folks who would rather have the spotlight on me than themselves.
    It most definitely is a journey. I am going to be 60 at the end of this year (it’s actually a Biggie for my Peter Pan alter ego to acknowledge that:), and yet my journey is just beginning in the way that you so well describe.
    The realisation that the people who matter are the ones who care is so important. Those superficial relationships with contacts and drinking buddies do not sustain and ultimately do immeasurable damage to your self worth and sense of self.
    It is difficult to acknowledge that your life’s journey has left you with a very small core of truly supportive family and friends. In my case it is also tempting to throw myself into lots of diverse activities to create new friends and purpose – but recognising that one has to make friends with oneself first.
    You so well describe the landscape you have travelled through and that is what inspired me to reflect on my own situation.
    So I wanted to thank you for that and to wish you every success and happiness in your personal and professional onward journey.
    All the very best
    Colin

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Colin, your words are really moving – you also write very well and are eloquent in your expression – thank you to you too 🙂 I am seriously moved that people are reacting so full of feeling to this article – and it feels wonderful that you are inspired. That is as much as I can hope to do in my life 🙂 I felt for a long time like I churning things up in my wake, but slowly, slowly, as I’ve had less and less unconscious attachment to addictions (e.g. cleared alcohol almost entirely out of my life), I can feel the expansive positive effect in EVERY area of my life. I still struggle with relationships, but am making huge progress every day, and ever-so-gently claiming my self back. And yes, deepening friendships as we get older, it’s one of the greatest gifts of life, eh 🙂 Loads of good wishes to you, and thank you again for your support – it means a LOT 🙂 Clare

      1. Colin Campbell says:

        Hi Clare
        Thank you for responding and for your kind words.
        Didn’t mention that I took a look at your blog on discovering your €10k house and turning it into your home. That also was a curious coincidence as my project is renovating a croft on Skye – the aim being to bring it back to life and share it with those that love the Isles.
        You would be very welcome to visit:) I also have a connection to Italy and will possibly be helping to renovate an old house near Cassino.
        Life is full of connections and serendipity.
        Take care
        Colin

        1. Clare Galloway says:

          Hi again Colin – that’s interesting to hear about your house renovations – it’s an incredibly satisfying thing to do, eh! Especially, bringing new life into a community – it has been a beautiful adventure here doing that…
          I always thought I’d settle on an island again in Scotland: good luck with Skye indeed … but Italy is a very easy place to put roots down in, and though making a living as an artist isn’t easy here, I still manage to scrape by what would essential be a luxurious lifestyle if I were back in Scotland! 🙂

          Thank you so much for the invite – let me know if you’re in Cassino – it’s not far from my town – just look up ‘clare artista’ on Google 🙂
          Very good wishes, Clare

  7. Alina Badia says:

    Thank you Clare, your writing is inspiring. So very happy for you.
    Alina

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      I am so glad you like it, dear Alina – your encouragement is always a wonderful support to me too 🙂 Loads of love, Clare xx

  8. Carol says:

    Hi Clare, thanks for your story, which I, like many problem drinkers, relate to 100%. Dwellling on the recovery was a big help to me, as after two months without alcohol, I feel those wonderful opportunities for creating a better life for myself and, by default, my loved ones. Joining AA international here in Brussels where I’ve lived for years has given me the tools to live this new life. I wish you and all reading this, happiness and peace. Yours in friendship, Carol

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Aw, Carol, that is just wonderful to hear – I am so glad for your healing path too 🙂 A lot of my life has been spent in solitude, because of my sensitivities and wounds, but writing like this, and having such amazing and moving feedback to my story, it is really affirming… We can do so much to heal our cultural wounds, by sharing story and feelings, eh. What brilliant times we live in. Much good wishes to you too, and thank you for your lovely words, Clare 🙂

  9. Willie says:

    The comments being made to this insightful piece reflect just how many people are impacted by our ever so ubiquitous drug that is alcohol.

    Clearly it is the human condition that drives so many of us to inculcate what at first is a fondness, and later, a life destroying addiction. But the ubiquity, the relentless promotion of drink, together with a culture that sees alcohol as harmless which it is not, is something that needs to be counteracted.

    As a youngster I well recall the closed pubs on a Sunday, the restricted drinking hours of 11.00am to 2.30 pm and then from 5.00pm to 10.00 pm, together with Limited off licence sales.

    But the liberation, the modernisation, the continentalisation has not worked. Big Booze Plc sells more now than it ever did in what can only be described as industrial quantities. And they are quite happy to sell it in supermarket aisles and corner shops stacked high.

    But now at least, and after a big legal battle from Big Booze Plc, the Scottish Government has got its measure through to require at least the cut price super strong booze to be subject to a minimum price.

    Let us hope that it helps make a bit of a difference. No one is saying that booze should be banned. Millions like a drink, a beer, a wine or whatever. But as this piece brings out that there is another dark side to alcohol that costs society dearly, and there but for the grace of God, go many of us

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Hi Willie – thank you so much for this response – it is really powerful and so true… I am so very glad that we’re having this conversation, and to be contributing to it with my story. It is so potent to hear others’ experiences and feelings, and we can do such a lot to heal our collective well-being, psyche and spirituality… We live in incredible times.
      Very good wishes to you, and thank you again for sharing 🙂 Clare

    2. Legerwood says:

      Like you I grew up during a time when licensing hours were restricted and when visitors came to the house they were offered tea not Teachers.

      You did though forget to include the bona fides traveller in your list of restrictions. The bona fides traveller restriction applied on a Sunday. While pubs were closed on a Sunday hotels were open but only bona fides travellers could get a drink in the hotel bar, or guests staying in the hotel. In order to qualify as such a traveller you had to have travelled a minimum distance and to show proof of this you showed your bus ticket at the bar.

      1. Clare Galloway says:

        That’s really interesting, Legerwood! 🙂 Thank you for responding 🙂 Lots of good wishes to you

  10. Redgauntlet says:

    Good to see somebody tackling the issue of alcoholism, Clare, well done.

    However, as ever in Scotland, the approach to understanding alcoholism or drink dependency in your article is excessively psychological / moral / ethical, which is basically the way AA think about what specialists these days classify as a disease, a socio / genetic / psychological disease, comparable in some ways with something like diabetes in terms of the interplay between genetics, psychology and lifestyle choices.

    This is not a criticism of your piece – which I applaud – so much as another example of the way alcoholism has always been thought about in Scotland – as a kind of failing – and it is far too narrow a way of thinking about what is a highly complex disease.

    Anything that works for individual people is good, period, but with the huge leap in scientific knowledge made over the last 20 years regarding the human brain, there are certain things we now know which would cast doubt on the psychological / moral / ethical approach advocated by AA, the notion that alcoholism is a kind of “failing” or, as per the title of the recent biography on the late Charles Kennedy “a tragic flaw”.

    We know some facts about alcoholism which we didn’t know 20 years ago. One fact is that some people are pre-disposed genetically to alcohol addiction, which doesn’t mean they will necessarily become alcoholics, but increases that likelihood.

    Another scientific fact we know is that the earlier people start drinking, the more likely they are to become alcoholics or develop some kind of alcohol dependency.

    I, personally, like so many other Scots, started drinking aged 13 or 14. How this could be the case is a mystery to me but, like you say, it was just something everybody around me took for granted (my peer group I mean, not my parents)

    Ideally, people should not drink alcohol until their brain has fully grown, around aged 21. Alcohol rewires your brain. The brain is plastic, highly malleable, so that fortunately the rewiring is largely reversible with sobriety, but if you are curious, I urge people to google “brain of an alcoholic” and compare the images of what the brain of an alcoholic looks like – how it differs, physically – from the brain of a non- drinker.

    A third thing we know is that people with de-structured lives are more likely to become alcoholics. People married with a regular 9-5 job and children etc, and meaningful family relationships are less vulnerable to alcoholism than those who live on their own, or work alone or opt for unconventional lifestyles. Which possibly explains why so many artists, writers and musicians are alcoholics… of course, being an alcoholic only compounds the tendency to live a destructured life…

    As for me, I have had years of sobriety and years of dependency. I have had “the epiphany” of body and mind and soul which you identify so well. I have also found myself swept away by life events, leading me right back to where I started, causing a lot of problems for me and those around me.

    It’s a terrible disease. But there are new medicines available on the market to tackle it. And our knowledge of the brain has increased vastly in the last 20 years.

    What we need above all is education in schools for our young people about the effects of alcohol on their brain development and their social lives.

    And we need a more scientific approach to the issue. When you look at the history of mental or psychological diseases in western culture, you will see that all of them were initially understood as some kind of moral or ethical failing, or, going right back, possession by the devil for example in diseases like epilepsy and schizophrenia.

    Science has debunked all of that. It’s about brain chemicals. Alcohol abuse is, at least to some extent, about brain chemicals too and people who don’t see a solution in groups like AA, or going to (yet another) psychologist should know that there are drugs on the market which offer alternative approaches…

    No doubt, seen from the outside, alcoholism is a “failing” or a “tragic flaw”, but seen from the inside from people who suffer from it, it is a disease. A socio / psycho / genetic disease… which affects above all, the brain…

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Thank you so much for this detailed response, Redgauntlet – it is fantastic to hear your perspective.

      At the same time: it’s not either-or, but both-and; we have to look at both the scientific, perhaps more masculine logic, as well as at the more subtle and *felt* experience – which is often more the female perspective.

      A great part of the problem with alcohol culturally, is that there has been no voice for the negative effects on the intuitive, sentient aspects of our human being.
      E.g. re: the concept of ‘failing’ – yes, I can see that it could be said – if we conceptualise and distance ourselves, that my parents, e.g. didn’t ‘fail’ particularly – like, I survived, and I even am flourishing now (at the age of 44), BUT and it’s a fricking EPIC but, there were most certainly elements of failure to protect and nourish us, to love us and bring us up to feel safe in the world. This has has devastating effects on our health and wellbeing. Those are real, tangible facts. SO much unnecessary pain and chaos, which goes on to reverberate into the world, that no amount of scientific analysis can resolve.

      I made a conscious choice to work with my relationship with alcohol, all my life. I am certain that I am genetically wired to be an addict, but I’ve always worked to antidote this, to transform it. I hope that my personal transformation radiates out into the family, and onwards into the lives of my children, should I be blessed with them. My parents chose to use alcohol, rather than to, say, work on their spiritual or inner landscape. It was an issue of their time – and something for them to resolve. It can be put down to genetic predisposition, selfishness, and/ or any other reason, but the point is – what are the knock-on consequences, and how can we change them, if we can change them.

      Really good wishes to you, and many thanks again for your input – it is positive to have a wide range of views on this potent subject 🙂
      Clare

      1. Redguantlet says:

        Hi Clare

        Well I agree it’s not either or. Your piece is a personal story, I am making a more general point about alcohol abuse which costs the Scottish economy billions, and accounts for a huge percentage of crimes, violence, broken lives, missed days at work and unfulfilled potential.

        I am surprised you would identify a scientific approach with masculinity. It seems to me that women are every bit as scientific as men, when they want to be. Most likely their contribution to science has been erased from history, or at least obscured.

        Alcohol is a multi billion pound industry. There is a vested interest in creating alcoholic dependency in a significant cohort of the population. Witness the rabid determination of the Scottish whisky industry to fight minimum pricing.

        The least you can ask of an education system is that it makes information about things like alcohol available to young adults who are growing up. And I mean strictly that: not telling them how to behave or what to do, but just making the facts available to them.

        Yet there was no such information when I was at school about the booze, though I do recall a hysterical campaign against the use of illegal drugs, particularly heroin, which is a tiny problem compared to alcohol abuse. It reeks of hypocrisy and vested interests.

        Again on a more general level, I think that some of the cliches and nostrums around alcohol dependency need challenged. Take, for example, this fable that it’s all about willpower.

        Well, if you look at the lives of famous alcoholics, there is no question they had great willpower. You don’t write “Tender Is The Night” and the “Great Gatsby” without great willpower, and yet F Scott Fitzgerald was dead at 44 from the booze.

        George Best, one of the greatest football players of all time, obviously had huge amounts of willpower to become the player he was. What he was incapable of doing was abstaining from drinking.

        It seems to me that only the more brutish and obtuse observer would refuse to acknowledge that Best and Fitzgerald, like millions of alcoholics, had a serious brain disease, like say depression or bi-polar disorder or whatever. They drank so much it eventually killed them.

        To describe that as a “tragic flaw” is ludicrous. Nobody would describe cancer as tragic flaw, or depression…

        1. Clare Galloway says:

          That’s fascinating and many thanks again for your response – it feels like an important exchange. I don’t disagree with you 🙂
          The point I was making in my article was also about the will being affected: the ability of a human being to be sentient and to care about those around them. Drink has a really direct effect on one’s presence, and especially in parenting, this is *does* have a profoundly tragic effect on the child’s sense of self, of security in the world, and of ability to create. Again, it’s not about either-or: all of our views are as valid as the others’ and equally real.

          There IS the element of choice in every sip, every visit to the pub, every time one leaves one’s child at home – it’s not about just genetic predisposition, and the human as a will-less automaton, reacting to chemical pre-programming in their body. There is an element of each, but ultimately we have power (or not, if we choose not to) over our reality, and the effects that our actions have on the world around us – to suggest that we don’t is fairly simplistic.

          HOWEVER, it is equally true, at the very same time, that where there is perceived helplessness, then there is very *real* ‘inability’ to affect positive change – in one’s own life, or in the lives of one’s children or community. THIS is where drink comes in, as it exacerbates and multiplies the negative effect: it lessens our ability to see clearly and to feel what is good, and to make life better. It is a specific interruptor of the will, and long-term use effectively removes the will entirely: a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can be seen as both genetically supported (perhaps – I wasn’t aware of other alcoholics in either of my parents’ families) AND a subtle-but-accumulatively-powerful choice at *every single stage* of the worsening of a life filled with alcohol.

          Thank you for the stimulating discussion 🙂

          1. Redgauntlet says:

            Hi Clare

            Well, there’s a spectrum, eh? A dependency spectrum.

            Most of us do have a choice, but for severe alcoholics like Best or Fitzgerald, they are way beyond that point. If they stop drinking, severe alcoholics can go into seizure and even die. They need doctors, they need medicine…

            …if the people at the most extreme end of the spectrum need medicine, there is probably a case for a good percentage of people on the spectrum to seek medical help too, medical help which barely exists in Scotland for alcoholism.

            Try talking to your GP about the booze, see how far you get….

            I think the alcohol lobby – which is mainly the whisky lobby – in Scotland is an utter disgrace and should be rigorously challenged by Scottish society to actually spend some of their vast profits on some kind of alcohol prevention programmes and treatment facilities for the people who cannot handle the drink which has been pushed on them relentlessly throughout their lives.

            There is such a thing called Corporate Social Responsibility, known as CRS, which is about big companies taking responsibility for the damage their pursuit of profit causes in society at large.

            It’s high time the Scottish whisky industry took responsibility for the ruined lives its otherwise legitimate profit seeking business activities causes for society at large, and at a vast expense to us all…

          2. Clare Galloway says:

            Thank you again Redgauntlet – and yes, absolutely, I understand better what you are saying now – I had little awareness about the lobbying situation – for some reason that always seemed a lot less sinister than the American version, but I can see the connections here, and your points are so right on.

            I hope that this kind of dialogue continues and that we can study all aspects of the drink problem, and create an effective vision which will affect change on multiple levels – it really needs that, I feel – the biodiversity of voices, which understand all the layers of the issue.

            🙂 Very good wishes, Clare

    2. Carol says:

      We are all sensitive and when we are witnesses of negativity we react according to our own personalities which are genetic. This cycle cannot be broken by taking medication so the only way up is to think about how to change the habits we pick up to cope, I.e. escapism. Being sober helps to clear out toxicity of mind and body, allowing us to feel a renewed sense of purpose for what we all naturally crave, self love. With self love comes everything else. No science can give us that.

      1. Clare Galloway says:

        That’s really nicely put, Carol <3

  11. Alf Baird says:

    “What would my country and culture become”

    An intriguing article, Clare. My sister has lived in Italy for some 40 years, and is as much if not more a Roman lady than an Edinburgher now; language is the key to integration of course. Far too many Scots do not realise anything close to their full potential. That is arguably due to socio-economic constraints imposed by this alleged ‘union’ and its endemic elitist class system which still prevails today, and keeps our institutions closed off to many. In Jimmy Reid’s words, our people are left “alienated”. When life is made more difficult than it should be, people despair. Turning to drink is often the easy option and for many the only option. Independence will be liberating in many ways. Scotland’s people will see hope, though not this time in the bottom of a glass, and they will enjoy opportunity as they should.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Yes, Alf – thank you so much for your response… and god, yes, there are so many constraints, and many of these could be shifted relatively easily.

      I do appreciate too, the desperation and alienation that people of my parents’ generation felt – even if they had a lot of opportunities too, which our generation didn’t have. It is all relevant – all of our voices and feelings and perspectives are relevant – it is really good to look at all of it, and to rethink what we want to be as a collective – I’m passionate about this. 🙂 The solutions are complex and deeply, profoundly interconnected.

      And yey, language is the key to integrating abroad, assolutamente – I speak relatively fluent Italian, and just published an art book with Italian text – so am feeling like I’m getting there! 😀 Hi to your sister in Rome!

      Very good wishes, Clare

  12. Fiona says:

    Hi Claire, I am also in early sobriety..maybe forever, maybe not.,.haven’t decided yet! You should listen to Home podcast & maybe read this.. you might like it. http://www.hipsobriety.com/home/2014/12/16/my-name-is-holly-and-im-not-an-alcoholic-because-no-one-is

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Hi Fiona – and thanks so much for the link – good luck and much love to you with your choice in moving forward <3 🙂

  13. Madge says:

    Claire you are pure inspiration… It has been such a privilege to have borne witness to even a tiny chapter of this odyssey and your earnest attempts to break free ! May you always fly free from entanglement on gossamer wings – and may your path of service on the journey home be ever deepening and enriching ! The harbour sends its love to you – new stirrings evolving here ! x

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Hi dear Madge!

      It’s lovely to hear from you – and yey to Burghead: my dearest friend just moved there and had her second child <3 I hope to be up to visit soooon…. Thank you for your beautiful words – and your Poppies On The Rubbish Heap book was instrumental in beginning my healing journey all those years ago – thank you for being a vital link in my creative expansion!

      Tons of love to you, Clare xx

  14. Kevin Williamson says:

    Hi Claire your story is an inspiring one on how someone can make positive changes in their life. Good luck to you in your journey.

    It would be good to see Scotland take a pragmatic approach to alcohol problems based on harm reduction, same as with any other drug. It’s the only way to get results. Harm reduction approaches begin with a recognition that alcohol is enjoyable, even the occasional binge, it brings people together, and that lifelong friendships can be born through a good night out on the sauce. For better or worse our leisure time is organised around drinking. That is not going to change anytime in the near future. Accepting that is where I’d maybe diverge from your last sentence.

    There are loads of ways we can take measures to reduce harm but we need to say honestly why some people are more predisposed to having alcohol problems, since the roots causes are almost all social in their nature.

    The Scottish Government has taken some limited measures but are still too afraid of the alcohol industry and supermarkets to take some of the big essential ones: none is more essential than limiting alcohol off-sales to specifically licensed alcohol shops. No more corner shop sales. No more supermarket sales.

    But like everything else it’s poverty, stress, abuse, and poor mental health that are the biggest contributors to alcoholism not the price or availability (although these are factors).

    Changing the booze culture needs to go hand-in-hand with progressive harm reduction legislation and creating a more equitable, more caring, and stress-free Scotland. These need long term planning.

    Kevin

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      These are such beautiful points, Kevin, and absolutely I agree with it all 100% – even the divergence from my last paragraphs 🙂

      I, like many talented and inspiring young people, left Scotland early on: despite moving back several times, I always came up against insurmountable challenges which I simply couldn’t overcome with the options available to me there.

      I knew that I’d have to put a significant distance between myself and my deep cultural, community and familial wounds, to be able to understand and even FEEL them… the use of booze in Scotland affects all levels of life and sentience (I am a high-sensory sentient, also), and means that there is disconnect throughout everything – and a huge collective wound around self-destruction, self-fulfilling prophecies and victimhood.

      Thus, it would have been impossible for me to make the transformation I’ve made, without having moved to a place with deepest spiritual and family values (and interconnectedness) and a rhythm of life and cost of living (especially, being able to buy my house) like there is in Italy. In Scotland, it’s not just hard to escape the boozing, but it’s very hard to exist in the heavily-energetically oppressive collective consciousness, which often snipes at those of us wanting to improve our lives, or live more harmoniously, peacefully, HEALTHily. <3

      I would love to advise the Scottish government on how they might encourage people like myself to create a better Scotland: I know that I'm in a good position now to do that. I hope one day even to return, if I knew that I could thrive there 🙂

      Loads of good wishes, and it is great to hear this expanding dialogue unfold, Clare

  15. SleepingDog says:

    I suppose that it is uncontroversial to say that consuming alcohol even in small quantities can impair judgement, memory, learning, sleep (which have further knock-on effects). The article describes a form of self-healing, yet although others were sometimes judged and summarily despatched with a pithy label, I could not discover a thread of self-criticism which addressed behaviours which may have harmed other people, which is possibly as common a factor in alcohol abuse as any I can think of. Indeed guilt over drunken behaviour may spiral into more drinking, or encourage self-justifying mindsets which minimise the importance of others’ feelings.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      These are wonderfully lucid points, and I am very glad you make them, SleepingDog: if I wasn’t clear about my own path of destruction, then yes, I could have been more so – but that is the point being made – that when we’re in the chaos of relationship with alcohol – and the with the subsequent fuckuppery that reverberates on and on and on – we CAN’T be aware of the damage we are doing – as I start the article stating.

      This relates to the point that I was also trying to make, about our victim shadow, which our culture carries, and which is intimately orchestrated by our own self-destruction via alcohol.

      I am genuinely not intending to put blame on others, but describing what MY experience was – I have been judgemental and pushed people away from me, projected my shadows and insisted that others were trying to hurt me… OCCASIONALLY, they actually were NOT trying to, but my perception of pain was as real. And I was highly skilled at both attracting others’ shadows and (as I mention above) fanning the flames under their issues, which ended up being projected onto me.

      As human beings, we are ALL bound into unnecessarily painful dynamics, and my life work has been first trying to understand what those patterns are, then elimanating them from my own life – or at least reducing their negative impact, and finally, sharing with others how we can heal our personal and collective dynamics.

      I always had a potent interest in our trying to transform our pain/ chaos, and was working on my own stuff to the very best of my ability, but that ability was not particularly healthy. As it hadn’t been with the responsible adults during my upbringing. This made me extremely succeptible to ‘taking care of others’ and trying to heal their stuff – force it outwards- rather than feeling my own anxiety or pain – I am still now working on my tendency to do this in close relationships: it is hard to recognise.

      There are infinite tools available to us, to bring our lives into a spiralling upwards (rather than the contrary) movement, and this is my absolute dedicated path: I’ve been working in fields relating to this for more than 25 years.

      <3 Not to be defensive, just to show that it is rarely so simple as 'ah, but you were mean aswell!'.

      Changing destructive dynamics that we are formed within is an epic task, and it needs a lifetime attending to every blind nuance and shadowy reaction – it's work that I lovingly attend to every single day of my life.

      Many thanks for responding – this conversation is valid and important, and it also helps me to keep the energy in the bigger dialogue. Much good wishes to you, Clare

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Clare, thanks for the explanation, I think you are saying that although an alcoholic can heal, they cannot recover a (sober) perspective on their life past that they never had at the time (or were unable to recall). I suppose this is true to some extent, if talking about first-person perspective. Although sometimes it may be an awareness of doing harm that filters through the haze that jolts an alcoholic towards sobriety?

        It seems that psychological research has identified a small percentage of alcoholics who have a fixed predisposition towards aggression and violent behaviour when drunk (possibly from a combination of genetic, developmental and social factors). From past experience, these people should be all too aware of their reaction to drink and the damage to others (which is, after all, somewhat intentional). So these “mean drunks” will presumably bear some (more) responsibility for the damage to others (and are held to account in places like local courts). Although that does not seem at all like your own experience, of course.

        Thanks for creating this discussion point on a vital issue for our society to grapple with.

        1. Clare Galloway says:

          Yes – I agree, SleepingDog… “they cannot recover a (sober) perspective on their life past that they never had at the time ” you express that so well…

          The inability of drunk folk to know the harm they are causing is related to mental scotoma – not just the damage to the brain that extreme alcohol causes (loss/ blurring of memory), but the psychosis of not being able to look at the pain one is causing (e.g. to one’s children), because it is simply too painful to accept – and if we DID look at it, it might even destroy us. We cause pain to others around us NOT because we consciously WANT to, but because it’s a sad alternative to us looking into our own – possibly even worse – pain.

          My own mother spent her life deeply in a martyr dynamic, for example, and kept with the story of “I have been hurt by so many people” and “it happened to me and I’m fine, so sexual abuse shouldn’t be a problem for you” – and to the end was in full victim mode. If she’d even had to contemplate one of the terrible aspects of unmothering that she was responsible for, it would have unraveled the whole sordid ‘house of cards’ – this simply wasn’t an option for her, in the time and place that she lived in, and with the accumulated life choices she had made.

          So much goes into supporting this paradigm – I could write for months about it… and will do, when the time comes.

          The most important thing, for me – in my own life and choices around self-improvement – is that I kept myself in isolation a lot of my years, so as not to cause pain to others; I avoided long-term relationships, or gravitated to folks even more fucked up than me, so that I could look after them – or pour attention onto them, rather than my having to deal with my own pain and lack of identity and stability.

          Ach, it is an emotional minefield, but it is also – talking like this – like doing the delicate work of removing mines from a field…. It is vital work, and it benefits everyone <3

          Many good wishes again, Clare 🙂

  16. Craig P says:

    Hi Clare

    A powerful testament and thanks for sharing. My experience was the opposite. Alcoholic and abusive grandparents (who I never met) led to militantly teetotal parents who provided their children with the physical basics of comfort they did not get, plus a strict grounding in morals, but they forgot to backstop that with love. My sister and I both turned to alcohol to help cope with life.

    I still take the occasional drink (miraculously, now happy to stop at one or two) but fortunately have found a level of boring contentment I never expected would be mine. My sister is still working on it.

    The question I suppose is how prevalent is this as an issue for Scotland as a whole? When I think of my classmates at school, a few had similar or worse childhoods but most didn’t. How much of this is a personal tragedy and how much a social issue?

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Thank you for your sharing too, Craig – it is a rich discourse indeed.

      And yes, I see the knock-on effects even missing a generation – and if the deeper wounds are not healed, the same pattern repeats in a different way. In my own life – I have held off from having children of my own until now in my mid 40s, because I’ve had such a deep sense of this wounding, that I don’t want to pass on.

      The radiating effects go on and on, in the same way that positive effects can go on and on, and I’ve been trying to increasingly navigate from the latter – the positive. It is not always easy: this essay was written 2 yrs ago, and it took until this month for the actual feeling behind it to surface; a deep sense of unsafeness in the world, and a mistrust of everthing – including the self.

      I have a strong sense of our collective identity in Scotland being deeply interwoven with the wounding aspect of alcohol – that this ripples down to our inability to claim our own resources and make our own decisions politically. Our self-fulfilling prophecy of being too small, too weak, too stupid. I feel that these characteristics are very literally exacerbated by – not just extreme use of – alcohol.

      It’s about how we, e.g. joke around being sozzled and being a parent, about how we let children be exposed to drunk people, and about how we laugh about extreme abuse of alcohol: how CENTRAL it is to our cultural identity. The ‘harmless’ mischief of the lengthy drunken rant by a Scot – and all that is hidden behind that. Extreme alcohol use almost always is a means of hiding deep pain or shame – of using drink to not feel, and as a result we simply push our pain deeper, make it more severe in the long term, and essentialy, pass it on to the next generation in some form or another.

      And collectively we are still relating to it profoundly – it is BOTH personal tragedy (on an epic scale) and a social issue – it soaks into all the layers of life and of human consciousness, and the more it’s condoned and made superficial or even made into entertainment, the less we are able to deal with the root causes and weed out the disease <3

      It's wonderful to have this conversation – thank you again for writing, very good wishes, Clare 🙂

  17. Crubag says:

    Good article, and interesting to hear one personal journey.

    It’s obviously dangerous to generalise from one example, and from personal experience alcohol does seem to cause insoluble problems for some people, plus collateral damage like accidents, and it ties into the wider issue of intoxicants and whether a liberal or a draconian approach is the right thing for government. Most countries have some intoxicant of choice. In fact there’s a good book, Richard Rudgley’s the Alchemy of Culture, which explores how different societies have used consciousness-altering substances throughout history (including coffee…).

    In Christian countries at least, wine (and therefore alcohol), has a sacramental status and so has been readily incorporated into social life. There was an article in the Atlantic examining how alcohol consumption fitted with other aspects of life. Their findings were that happier countries drank more than unhappy ones (and that higher alcohol consumption was paired with with wealth, education and creativity).

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/02/the-drunkenness-of-nations/71509/

  18. Milly says:

    I’ve come across this as I like to check out articles on Bellacaledonia.
    This is a strange article. Patronising towards anyone who enjoys a drink. And airy-fairy when it comes to the author’s opinion of herself as an artist and self-proclaimed spiritual healer. The author seems to think she needs more self-love. But it seems to me she has a bit much of that already, thinking she knows everything better than anyone else. Blaming alcohol and other people for everything that’s gone wrong in her life seems to be her solution to everything.
    I’m a bit surprised that Bellacaledonia would publish this piece. Then again, it’s meant to be personal reflection I suppose, so that’s always subjective. But not an enjoyable read.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Ah yes, Milly – I was expecting at least one response like yours to come up.

      Very good wishes to you

    2. Clare Galloway says:

      I couldn’t see a way of responding to your comment when I read it, Milly, but having reflecting further, I’d like to reply fully here:

      You are evidently expressing disdain, rather than seeing that the article is about the child’s perspective and the adult-who-grew-from-that-child’s view of the world, having struggled to get out of various negative cycles which were a direct result of being raised around excessive drinking. The point of the writing is NOT about shaming the drinker, nor *blaming* the drink for anything (it is however, making connection between e.g. drinking and absent parents and fucked-up children), nor is the tone intended as patronising – if you don’t see the interconnections that I describe – that is perfectly valid – but it absolutely does not mean that your perception is similar to *my reality*. <3

      Also, there is no reference (nor intention) to stopping people drinking: a couple of responses also remark on this, but this writing is about the HARM which is inflicted (particularly by the lack of responsibility of a parent under the influence) which CAN and DOES have massive reverberating negative effects on a CHILD.
      Taking an aggressive stance against the writer, in my personal opinion, shows that you are either not seeing the child's pain, nor the grown adult's efforts towards healing, and that you might even be seeking to diminish me, rather than wanting to look at the depths to which alcohol is negatively affecting our collective reality.

      The stark FACTS that I, my siblings, and many, many other children in Scotland SUFFERED and are suffering now, through home lives and communities and culture steeped in drink – it is neither necessary nor inevitable: THAT is why I am passionate about what I express above and here.
      There are a billion small acts that can change and improve every moment of our lives, and yes – that approach works very well for me, and for folks who follow what I do, and has led me to a happy, fulfilled, spiritually inspired life, which I am very glad to be honoured to share with others, to inspire their own creative transformation. <3

      I'm not a 'self-proclaimed spiritual healer', but I am someone who is using their own spiritual healing to inspire others (for exampleI run an online art school, run creative retreats, and have awards for my art and community transformation work).
      I am also NOT someone just mouthing off casually, in order to rile and offend folks who enjoy alcohol – though that would make this article easier to digest for some, I'm sure. This piece took me over 2 yrs to write, and has been extremely challenging to put out there in public – even more so, to get responses like yours to. I am overcoming the challenge of being vulnerable publically, because I know that being honest about my own wounding, failings and successes can greatly inspire others to better their lives, health, well-being.

      There is a terrible tendency in Scotland – one of the many reasons I left the country – to jump on a person and try to shame them (it can be called tall poppy syndrome), if they dare to a) show emotion, b) show their pain, c) dare to be positive and happy, or even d) to be succeeding. It is much, much easier to throw a stone at a person.

      I hope that this conversation is not seen as combative: it felt important to respond fully to your comments, as they assume some pretty harsh things about my character and intentions, which I absolutely know not to be true. <3

      Very good wishes to you again, and thank you for contributing to this debate.

      1. Milly says:

        I would use less capitals when writing a comment. It’s like shouting at people.

        1. Clare Galloway says:

          Your comment merits a strong response, Milly, as it was pretty darn derogatory about my article, my character, and my life work.

          But the capitalisation genuinely is simply for passionate emphasis – not to shout at you – I would not want you to feel shouted at: I don’t do shouting – not on the internet, nor in real life.

          This platform doesn’t allow italics, which is what I’d usually use for emphasis.

          Good wishes, Clare

  19. Fay Kennedy says:

    Reading this at a very late hour after a highly emotional day. The residue of the continuation of alcohol in a child’s life. My only brother a casualty like so many in my family and environment which was Glasgow.I was lucky to escape that destiny but all the brokenness am still working on at almost 74yrs. Here in Australia it’s destroying the Aboriginal peoples. I was a smart kid too and never accomplished much by way of career and still feel less than I should in many situations. The rage and hurt as strong as ever bu now there are some folk who care so am blessed. I have an Italian who looks after me as if I were porcelain and even that is difficult to accept. Thanks so much for sharing this and I will read it again am sure of that.. Keep on with your practice. We are supposed to share our gifts. And you are doing that so well.

    1. Clare Galloway says:

      Dear Fay, thank you so much for responding so … your story is very moving… I too have an Italian that looks after me, and who holds me in whatever needs to come up – it is a great, great gift, and gives me confidence that I am not entirely messed up, if I can be part of that <3
      Your words are beautiful, thank you again for being part of this dialogue – it is important that it continues.
      Much love to you in your ongoing journey, Clare

  20. Oliver says:

    Thanks for clearing that up brother

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