On Sunday I read a story by a Brisbane woman, Elspeth Muir, about the death of her brother.
And, sitting in my quiet living room on an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon, I began to cry.
Reading the article – an excerpt from her book, ‘Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief, and Death in Brisbane’ – it’s not hard to understand why it’s upsetting. It follows the death of her brother Alex, who was in his early twenties when he died five years ago, jumping off a bridge after a big night drinking with his mates. It’s awful.
Elspeth writes beautifully and honestly, documenting the shocking loss of an older brother, in such heartbreaking circumstances.
But this wasn’t what was what upset me.
What upset me was the familiarity – this could literally, without any stretch of the imagination, be ANY young Australian.
We are a nation of ‘bad drinkers’; and the more I read from Elspeth, the more I begun to wonder if I was one of them.
I too hail from Brisbane, and her opening lines took me back to the place of my childhood. She describes the muggy summer heat, the sound of cicadas, the smell of rotting mangoes. Almost immediately I was reminded of those unbearable summers, where there was little to do but sit around and drink.
Eskies and eskies of beers, rum and cokes, bottles of wine, shots of tequila. The sickly sweet smell of a half-empty bottle of Bundy as flies perched along its sticky rim. The frothy crack as a can of beer was opened, another can, another can, another can.
From my early teenhood, our social lives revolved around drinking. Whether it was by a backyard pool, or in the hot breeze of a pub’s veranda; everything was marked with booze. Fridays, birthdays, Christmas, Saturdays, Easter, deaths, births, marriages, Thursday nights, getting a job, losing a job. Hot weather. Cold weather. Football wins. Football losses. Football in general.
Literally everything came with a clink of a glass and a wink, as another pint was thrown down your gullet.
Accompanying the excerpt was an old photo of Elspeth and her brother, Alex. He could have been any of the young guys I grew up with – the messy hair, scrappy beard, sunburnt nose and lopsided grin. He was just another lad, a larrikin who enjoyed a drink.
But as Elspeth points out, it is exactly this attitude that led him to die.
For the years following his death, Alex’s family has grappled with their understanding of drinking and faced their own demons at the bottom of the beer glass. His brother, Patrick, describes the difficulty of doing so, when everyone around you are drinkers.
“When we talk about it, I think: I do have a problem.
But I’ve never really looked at it like that, because if I have a problem then every single person who I hang out with has the same problem.
I guess that’s just the lifestyle that we live.” – Patrick Muir.
In the eyes of his family, his friends, even complete strangers looking at his life, Alex Muir was not an alcoholic. He was 21, for God’s sake. And yet, with an alcohol reading of 0.238 – five times the legal limit for driving, and 0.11 points below the bracket for overdose or death – Alex was more than just a bit drunk.