Does Charles Kennedy’s Death Expose a Nation of Alcoholics?

Posted on June 9, 2015

The sad death of Charles Kennedy last week has continually been linked to his battle with alcoholism, which ultimately paid some sort of part in his passing, during what only five months in, was already a year to forget after the loss of his father and his seat in parliament in a matter of a month.

It is quite bizarre that when you hear people in public saying he (Kennedy) was a hopeless drunk, they are often doing it to justify there own relation with alcohol, relieved by the fact that Kennedy was in their eyes, a real alcoholic, whereas they are just social drinkers who enjoy the odd pint…or two, or three or more.

There is a perception with alcohol that being an alcoholic is where you reach a point in life where you are curled up in a corner of a darkened room with a bottle of whisky in one hand and a shattered picture frame of a former partner in the other as Coldplay plays in the background, and I guess that is the case in some instances.

Having been involved with or around alcohol virtually all my adult life, I have kind of got bored of it in recent years, because it never really brings me a lot of pleasure in the long-term, with the temporary thrill of quashing all life’s troubles quickly being replaced with fear, anxiety and flu like symptoms for a couple of days.

It is perhaps easier to drink if you have an employer and fellow employees you can rely on to nurse you through a weekend binge, but when you are running your own show, where workers and the tax man need paying and debtors need chasing, there is no time for muddy minds and financial misjudgement. Maybe some people can manage it but I can’t, I am useless with a hangover.

I also used to find that heavy boozing, when the hangover set in, would make my perception of everything seem multiple times worse and logic would always be crushed by irrationality. I would imagine all my clients going bust and my asset’s getting stripped by the VAT man in a world that was caving in around me. That’s why people rarely see me drunk nowadays, I have a voluntary cut-off point that tells me when it is time to bail-out.

However, I still look forward to a beer and I still, to an extent, depend on it on social occasions, especially in a male environment, so that makes me an alcoholic, at least to an extent, doesn’t it? Even though I bail-out early, I still enjoy the tipsy stage as I know the morning after will just be slightly off key, rather than the full-blown hangover, or worse still, the pre-hangover state of euphoria that comes with a 5:00 am finish.

Charles Kennedy’s very public death is being repeated up and down the country, day after day, but such is our relationship with alcohol and its legality, deaths, injury, domestic violence and sexual misdemeanour’s are largely ignored, unless they involve someone in the public eye. Those in the public eye, as with the case of Charles Kennedy, are ridiculed on satirical TV shows and are ousted by their embarrassed employers, making their plight a whole lot worse.


Kennedy: A very public alcoholic demise

If the levels of death, crime and violence associated with alcohol were instead, associated with drugs such as pot, cocaine, ecstasy or speed, there would be a national outcry, yet with booze it is okay and we only show temporary alarm towards the effects it has on people. I know people, lots of people, who deplore Class C drugs, yet see nothing wrong with drinking themselves to embarrassing oblivion at parties, weddings, birthdays, or simply any day that has a Y in it.

It all comes down to legality, yet in my twenties, a booze dependant period which is pretty much standard in the proletarian British male, every brush with trouble I was involved in, was related to alcohol and not an occasional dalliance I had with cocaine or pot. I am not saying it is a good idea to get involved in socially addictive drugs, as I have seen what that can do as well but they are not in the same league as alcohol abuse when it comes down to relationship break-downs, street violence, the loss of employment and an early death.

I am eternally grateful to my body for giving me an internal switch to keep control of alcohol, because, to get to a point where the cure for a hangover is to indulge in more booze must be a miserable existence. To be at a point where every domestic or professional crisis is solved by staring at the bottom of a whiskey jar, must be the worst kind of private hell imaginable and the spiral to inevitable death must have been awful to witness for Charles Kennedy’s closest friends.

That situation is getting repeated up and down the country, day in day out. Just a couple of years ago, I went to a funeral of a woman who was the long-term partner of a good friend of mine years ago and it was pitiful standing there in the crematorium knowing that I had periodically witnessed someone’s demise from occasional, to social, to dependent, to death from alcohol as it finally controlled all her bodily functions.

Once booze takes hold and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, it is a hideous ride to get off, because any of you who have been involved in heavy drinking will know the feeling of depression and anxiety that comes with a hangover. For people who get to their lowest ebb, the fear of that anxiety means they just keep sinking into oblivion and if the death of Charles Kennedy has enhanced my knowledge of something I already knew, it is that alcohol is has no respect for status and cures nothing.

About a year ago I was thrown into turmoil by some unsavoury events and temporarily at least, I felt things were out of my control. Of course it wasn’t a patch on living in third world hell or a life threatening situation, but as someone who has meandered happily through life in reasonably peaceful harmony that I took for granted, it was crisis like no other I have had to deal with.

For a fleeting few weeks, booze did seem the answer, then, because I operate within a strong peer group, my trusted internal switch allowed me to get control of it and instead, focus on a new relationship, community projects and keeping my business on track as I moved forward.

In hindsight it was actually an interesting and educational challenge healing the mental scars and though it might seem bizarre, the avoidance of a spiral in to the self-pitying life of booze has been remarkably fulfilling. My girlfriend, a brutal realist, helped me understand that no-one else put me in the situation I was in and whether I deserved it or not was irrelevant, which immediately made it clear she didn’t have the time to waste her days with a black hole for sympathy, which is the best thing that could have happened really.

Had I chosen booze as medicine for my self-indulgent woes, I don’t know where I would be now, but it wouldn’t be a good place…possibly a darkened room with a bottle of whiskey and a Coldplay album, who knows? I don’t want to sound like some sort of evangelist but there are a thousand and one reasons to stay clear of the stuff when you have personal issues that need dealing with in a clear headed way.

The death of Charles Kennedy, a man of charm, wit and a strong social conscience, should be a chilling reminder to everyone where the spiral into alcohol can end up. It should also be a chilling reminder that alcohol has no respect for class or creed.

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