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17 November 2022 9 views No Comment
AUSTRALIAN BOOKS

MY LAST DRINK

Reviewed by Rocco Loiacono

Ross Fitzgerald and Neal Price (eds)

My Last Drink: 32 stories of recovering alcoholics

Connor Court, 2022, 190 pages, $29.95

In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, Dr Jordan Peterson remarked: “It’s really something to see, constantly, how many people are dying for lack of an encouraging word. And how easy it is to provide that if you’re careful.” My Last Drink –an anthology of highly personal and inspiring stories, edited by Ross Fitzgerald and Neal Price – demonstrates how important an encouraging word can be in someone’s life, indeed, how it can be literally a matter of life and death.

This fine book presents 32 stories of recovering alcoholics telling how they managed to stop drinking, and to stay stopped. Contributors include builders, novelists, journalists, artists, lawyers, musicians, therapists, nurses, bus drivers, accountants, police officers, web designers, and army personnel, demonstrating how alcoholism affects people from all walks of life and any social standing. Each contributor took that important first step, encouraged by someone who cared, to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and has remained sober. When AA started in America in 1935, members used only first names to identify themselves. While some contributors to My Last Drinkidentify themselves by their full names, others use their first name and first initial of their surname. As the editors note, this is a personal choice enabling contributors to have control over their own story and how it is presented.

Ross Fitzgerald tells of how it was a barman who, instead of pouring another drink, gave Ross a piece of paper and said: “Get your arse out of here and ring this number.” It turned out to be the number of AA in Cleveland, Ohio. That was 1969, and, after being sent back to Australia following two suicide attempts, Ross tells of how, once back in this country, he eventually came to realise that what his AA sponsor Antique Harry had, was faith in him being able to recover, and do so for good. That faith was critical for Ross who since Australia Day, 1970 he writes, “[has] nothing in my blood but blood.” He states that if he hadn’t stopped drinking at the age of twenty-five, he wouldn’t have made twenty-six.Incredibly, it was some years later that Ross was instrumental in another contributor, Richard Whitaker’s journey, in getting out of his drunken stupor to go to an AA meeting.Whitaker notes that it would have been impossible for him to stop of his own accord. That encouraging word, which he writes is the “combined wisdom of so many who have achieved sobriety” proved that it is possible to stop drinking.

Di Young, who stopped drinking at 18, wouldn’t have been able to say sober if not for the encouragement of her employer, who, after two weeks, realised that something was amiss. After pouring out her story to him, Di’s employers, Mr Perkins and Mr Thomson kept her on, teaching her how to do her job as a shorthand typist. Prior to this, Di had been involved in criminal activity and, after two years of working hard and turning her life around, was due to be sentenced. Mr Thomson guaranteed to a judge that Di had never had a day off in two years and would continue to be a valuable employee. This meant that Di was spared a gaol term. As Di writes, the generosity and kindness of Mr Perkins and Mr Thomson helped save her life

A police officer, Steve T, recounts how, on his last day of drinking, replete with blackouts, the only thing he remembers is seeing a friend who was a member of AA. For quite some time this friend, having identified Steve as an alcoholic, would say things like “Your name’s on a chair” and ask Steve about his drinking. Steve writes that this friend obviously said enough since it was this friend he sought out when he wanted to stop drinking. Steve believes it was fate that he ran into this friend on that day. That was 20 years ago. Steve has since married “to a beautiful woman who is supportive in many ways and helps him live a sober life” and has five beautiful children who he describes as “his world”.

Michael B tells of how he used alcohol as a distraction from a life that was unravelling. A marriage that was unfulfilling, a business that was struggling, bad investments made. The issues were getting bigger so more alcohol was needed to find relief until blackout. Going to AA meetings helped Michael experience a sense of hope that he would “get better if he stuck to these people”. Their encouragement and support helped him stay sober so that he could acknowledge the issues in his life and, where he was responsible, take action to fix them.

Gail writes of drinking to oblivion, until she ended up in rehab. In the three weeks she was there, AA had sent people to speak, but Gail hadn’t really connected with any of them. On her second last day, an elderly gentleman came to speak to her, and Gail thought “This is an hour of my life I’ll never get back!” Instead, this peaceful, calm and serene AA member, was the one who gave Gail her life back.

The above are a mere sample of the inspiring and moving stories in this book. What is also clear from all 32 personal accounts is that alcoholism is a disease of denial and resistance. Often one’s own willpower simply isn’t enough, because alcoholics are powerless over alcohol. The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit just that, but often to do so, what is needed is that encouraging word to nudge someone into the realisation that “they are better than this.”

This collection of inspiring stories is very moving. Hopefully, it will serve as encouragement for two reasons: first, to all those who are on the journey to recovery from their addictions to stay the course with this highly successful recovery program, and secondly, to all those who need to take that first step. This book could well serve as that encouraging word to alcoholics of all types and ages who need to turn their lives around.

Dr Rocco Loiacono is a legal academic, writer and translator.

The Spectator Australia, 19 November 2022, p xii.

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