torstai 22. maaliskuuta 2012

A story of an alcoholic

Most people tend to say that a tiger can never leap out of the stripes in its fur. That’s why I decided to give up my usual habits and exceptionally write something in English. This proverb also fits for the following fictional story: I chose the English language to express a silenced plague of the Finnish society.

Another proverb says that a typical Finnish man neither talks nor gives kisses to a woman. That’s true in the sense that Finns usually are quite shy and therefore not very talkative in most of the social situations. The other side is that they don’t know how to express their feelings, or at least are afraid of it due to their shyness. It’s easier not to talk, only hide and then fade away.

But then, where to hide? Unfortunately the answer is too often alcohol. We all know that it amplifies the emotions roughly tenfold when drunk enough and it creates an illusion that the situation can be handled that way. However, alcohol doesn’t solve the problems but delays them further and further, usually creating a bunch of more on the way to that unreachable point. People say that the path of alcoholism usually lasts for about ten years in maximum, before the final breakdown which usually is either giving it up permanently or death.

This fictional story looks behind the scenes of too many Finnish families silently struggling against the Devil inside of a bright glass bottle. This is a story of Mr. Smith – not John Smith, but Mark Smith.

Mark was born in the remote countryside into a poor family with many children. Being the youngest he always got overrun by older siblings and definitely was the last one to share any of the little luxury they could afford. As he moved out to his own he had practically nothing but a second-hand car and an approval letter to a vocational college in the city, hundreds of miles away from home. Having no possession with him as he moved to his own there was only one way: upwards. The studies proceeded well while the auxiliary work as a clerk of a petrol station kept him in cash. By the end of his studies Mark had made an awful lot of work: combining work with studies is never easy because doing it makes leisure a nonexistent luxury. The hard work had granted him with a position of local executive in commerce and besides he had found some time for the social life as well, in terms of a relationship.

Starting from simply nothing, Mark had reached everything any young guy dreams about in fifteen years after his graduation party. The position of an area unit manager in an international commercial company, happy marriage, a three-storey house in the suburbia, two children, a luxury saloon car on the driveway and so on. Everything was perfect, but was it bound to last forever?

Some people say that when you work hard, you party hard to uphold the balance. That’s true. Another truth is that alcohol is sometimes needed to ensure the best deals in the commerce due to which the business meetings were never short of beverages. If there were any surplus the organizer (manager) naturally had the allowance to take them with. And this is the point where the Devil sneaks on the stage and eventually, the harsh masquerade begins.

Although the Devil had sneaked in a long time ago it took half a dozen years before letting anyone know about its presence. During these no one could point out the slowly uprising problem of Director Smith, who worked as many as two men to keep the business running. The little time off was precious and a few drinks were often needed to relieve pressure. First there were few, then a few, them some and so on.

Everything kept looking perfect from the outsider’s point of view. In fact, everything kept looking fine from anyone’s point of view except Mark himself. The masquerade was playing with the mask hiding everything that lay behind the eyes of a popular businessman. However, there was a bad moon rising.

Although he enjoyed working and burning midnight oil when necessary, he felt that things were collapsing. A great position as an area unit manager brings a great responsibility, and losses bring the financial director to claim for assuring explanations. Mark never said a word about getting verbally beaten by the big boss to anyone but to liquor. Vodka didn’t judge him for failing at work and made him forget it – at least until the next morning.

At this point the vicious circle was closing, creating a sinister system that feeds itself. Business was going bad which resulted in tense atmosphere at work, which resulted in the manager drinking more and more, which resulted again in more problems and so on. Thanks to alcoholic’s phenomenal ability of veiling the problem, Mark’s family hadn’t got their first warning about the situation until now.

Few signs of first warning to the family had been floating around for a year or two although no response was echoed. The children could nothing but wonder why the head of the family suddenly quit transporting them to the hobbies and back by his luxury saloon car, but besides sometimes talked and behaved strangely. The real warning was sounded when one day Director Smith was found lying on the floor on his back, forming a shape of X.

In addition of bringing wealth, premises and everything good something still lacked: the welfare. Twenty-five years of hard working had burned Mark Smith out and he couldn’t spend an evening without having a few shots of vodka. At this time a few shots equalled at least half a bottle, usually the whole thing. Painkillers were needed in the morning to help getting every day started and the prize of a long day was to turn the cap of a bottle counter-clockwise and relax a bit.

Then came the day of the first breaking point. Mark was caught falsifying the accounts and thus making business look better as it really was. There are two possible reasons for this. First, it can be a mistake caused by filling those papers under influence. However, alcoholism causes people to lie everything better and this was more obvious after four out of ten years on the path. If the business ran badly and the director would have been the first to blame, Mr. Smith probably took the easy way of avoiding responsibility. Due to this scandal over forged book-keeping, Mark was forced to resign.
The illusion of everything being better wasn’t limited only in the book-keeping but it extended to the personal life as well. Month after month, more and more of the income were spent on vodka and that money was naturally off from other things the family needed. Here again the easy way was adopted: credit cards. It was really easy to keep up the façade of a wealthy family by accepting a credit card, drink it to the limit and then simply take another one. When the title was area unit manager no bank asked too many questions when granting a nice credit limit.

Some light was seen in the form of a new job which he adopted well, having tons of motivation and plenty of fresh new ideas. This was the chance of getting away from the old pattern, the crooked commercial world where own benefit was the only thing to strive into. Now there were no long working hours, no big boss watching every move, no talking behind the back. Everything was perfect, but the spooks in the attic were too much for one man to handle.

And the spooks were credit card debt and lost driver license during the crazy years. As more and more of income had been wasted for liquors and façade was still to be preserved, Mark had compensated the gap using credit cards. Now the debt was nearly unbearable for one man to handle, and besides Mark had lost his driver license due to DUI, caught during the morning commute. No one, not even his wife nor children, knew about these horrible secrets the drinking habit had caused. Inside his mind Mark must have thought everything was still the way he wanted things to be, and he kept business as usual.

Some people say that the old friends will never leave you alone, and during the past quarter of century vodka had become one in Mark’s life. The commercial business simply does not allow people to become too good friends with each other so vodka replaced this deprivation in his life. Even if the heat of commerce had become past drinking hadn’t: therefore instead of talking and admitting the wrong choices, he cured his anxiety again by grabbing the bottle.

The downward spiral had begun again and it tightened proportional to increasing alcohol consumption. The personal life was ruined after using the offspring as scapegoats of one’s own problems and being caught again from DUI. The breaking point was approaching.

And it was reached at the time Mark got fired from his new job due to being drunk at work, leaving assignments undone and falsifying the results better as they really were. At this point he had lost everything. The children had moved on their own a long time ago, his health was collapsing and all the fixed points giving him a reason to live had vanished. Ten years had passed after the time his family got the first warning of bad moon rising, and now there was only one thing to choose: either giving up alcohol or death.

Here again, as usual for an alcoholic, he chose the easy way. Not only he wanted everything look as he wanted it to look the responsibility simply was too heavy to bear. This was the point of no return so one day he waited for his wife to be absent, went to his luxury saloon on the driveway, put a hose from the exhaust pipe into the cabin and sat on the driver’s seat letting the engine run idle. We will never know what was his last thought before falling asleep for eternity, probably he thought that he had done everything he could for his children to achieve something prominent in their lives. So there passed away a good man who never wanted anything bad for his loved ones, but Devil inside a bright glass bottle would never had left left him another choice.

Just as Warner Bros would say: And that's all, Folks.!

As a post scriptum there's one thing the author wishes to add: even if entirely fictional, this story must represent the life of unfortunate many families who are living behind the scenes of alcoholism. The fact that alcoholism is a well-silenced plague even among the high class of society here in Finland is not fictional at all, it happens in thousands of families at the very same time of writing this short-story. The ironical part of the story is that alcohol helped Mark Smith to withstand the pressure exerted by commercial business and even helped him to proceed in his career; however, it was the thing that also eventually became the thing that took away his family, his work, his driving license and in the end, the reason to live.