By AMELIA OBERHARDT
I lost my mum nearly a year ago to the day but in actual fact, I lost her nearly ten years ago to the bottle.
She was a ‘social drinker’ for the best part of my childhood. Rarely does a memory occur that doesn’t include her sitting with a chardy in one hand, a cocktail onion on cracker in the other (that’s a reasonable meal for a five-year-old, isn’t it?).
It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I started to realize the extent of her drinking. She worked at a newspaper and slowly moved on from her old crowd of loyal drinking companions. She discovered a whole new world of like-minded drinking buddies at work. Unlike her, their children were grown and all that was left was endless days of long, liquid lunches. Don’t get me wrong, they worked in the morning but from midday they were at the pub looking for a scoop or reviewing the lovely cocktail list for the next day’s edition.
In those days in the world of journalism, you were never short of a drinking buddy and they didn’t look anything like Don Draper in Mad Men. Most of them as I remember were red-faced men, usually overweight, drinking until dawn and falling asleep in their breakfast.
Most of them are now dead. Alcohol is the most accepted form of drug abuse there is. What’s an Aussie barbeque without a pallet of golds? What’s round of golf without a round of draught? Who goes skiing sober?
I don’t think my mum ever really stood a chance to get sober, even if she’d wanted to. Everyone wanted to be with her while she was drinking and having fun but nobody wanted to know her the next day. Keeping up appearances was her saving grace. She was fabulous. She knew everyone, was hated by few and loved by many. If you had a cracking story she could top it tenfold. ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’, was her motto. She was fun, vibrant and very adept at hiding her illness, so well that even her doctors were fooled.
Telling someone they have six months to live usually brings out the will and determination to fight and to live. In others it brings out despair and depression. My mum fought to drink up until her very last moment. Even while in hospital she’d fill water bottles with vodka, just as she did at home. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw her sober because if she wasn’t drinking she was in hospital on whatever drugs were strong enough to numb the pain and fill the void that alcohol had left in her. She never believed in her illness, she thought she had a lung infection or poor bone density due to bad genes. She could tell you a red pen was blue and you would truly start to believe her or maybe you just really wanted to believe her.