26 July 2020
My father had a short fuse and when it was fuelled by booze, bombs would occasionally go off in our small household.
On the few occasions he acknowledged his helplessness and sought support from fellow sufferers at Alcoholics Anonymous, his skin would glow again. His appetite would return and he’d devour James Hadley Chase books in between reading the Big Book.
The gentle, shy maths maestro would come alive, much to everyone’s delight. Peace would prevail and laughter reigned supreme at home. The sombre notes from John Coltrane’s horn would pierce the Sunday morning quiet as my father conversed with his maker. The hypnotic melodies of A Love Supreme would fill the tiny dining room that doubled up as my bedroom.
During these welcome dry spells my sister and I enjoyed watching the two adults in our midst play happy families. We’d go to Top Star drive-in to catch a movie. We’d sit at the Oppenheimer Park in front of the leaping impalas and devour a packet of fish and chips from Captain Dorego’s. Compliments would rain down, and mommy dearest would be in heaven.
But the alcohol demon would demolish the peace and the tiny walls of our four-roomed municipal home reverberated with the sounds of shouting and crying when dad had had one too many. He would become an unrecognisable man who used his fists to reason. The next day, confronted with the debris of his fury, he would be filled with shameful regret.
This took a toll on the mental and physical health of everyone. Decades later, little incidents that scratch the scabs of our wounds result in a bloody eruption.
I know this won’t endear me to my drinking pals, but I was ecstatic when President Cyril Ramaphosa banned booze at the start of the lockdown. Finally, some families regained their loved ones. It promised a return to sanity and a respite from the muffled cries on a wet pillow.
Some people enjoy their favourite tipple in peace. They do not terrorise their loved ones when they are caught up in the throes of drunkenness. I also know a lot of people who won’t admit they have a drinking problem. But it is amazing visiting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and hearing a person who has been sober for more than 40 years say: “Hi everyone, my name’s Joe and I’m an alcoholic.” Overcoming addiction is a life-long journey.
When Ramaphosa caught everyone napping with the second ban on booze three Sundays ago, I did cartwheels for those who have been at the receiving end of alcohol-fuelled rage. No child should be gifted an alcoholic parent. No one should be saddled with an alcoholic partner who has not admitted that they are powerless over the drink demon. It’s a sickness no one fully heals from.