I’ve just learned a bit about Michael Elphick, an actor I’ve always liked and admired. He famously played a part called Shultz, and had a variety of different acting roles on TV, stage and films over the years, his biggest part being a TV series called ‘Boon’, where he played a charismatic ex fireman turned private detective, alongside Neil Morrissey, another fine actor.
What I also learned, to my sorrow, was that he died in 2002. And what I didn’t know about him was that he was an alcoholic, and his alcoholism undoubtedly led to his death at only 55.
I mentioned it to a friend who is an ex-actor, and it turned out that he’d met him professionally having acted in a Boon episode with Michael Elphick and assured me that yes, he was every bit as nice and charming as he seemed onscreen, but he mentioned in passing how sad it was that alcoholics so often give up the booze, then ‘fall off the wagon’ repeatedly until the wagon well and truly crushes the life out of them.
Terry Tyler’s interesting recent blog (http://bit.ly/18lruDN ) gave some riveting insights into alcoholism, and it made for some shocking reading – do take a look. Several of her friends succumbed to drink and a few have actually died, in their prime of life.
My grandfather and great grandfather were both alcoholics, and both of them abandoned their wives and families because of it – not as dreadful as it sounds since I’m sure they sent money back home, and in the case of my great grandfather, he actually went to America to start a new life, no doubt intending to send for his family when he’d found his feet. But it’s fair to say that alcohol wrecked both their lives, and to some extent the lives of their families. Although my great grandfather lived to be over 80, my grandfather died at around 50 of lung cancer, no doubt exacerbated by alcoholism.
Of course, alcohol isn’t the only thing you can be addicted to. I once worked at an old people’s centre run by a Christian organisation, where the principle, himself an ex alcoholic, preached about Christianity with incredible zeal. A girl who attended there once said to me ‘Well we’re all looking for something in life, aren’t we?’ That was when I realised there was such a thing as an ‘addictive personality’, and people afflicted with this might just as easily fall into drug or alcohol addiction as fervent, pathological obsession about religion, computer gaming, rabid political actions or indeed almost anything. The difference between a healthy hobby and an addiction is that the latter takes over your life.
Gambling addiction always seems a mystery to me, but it’s obviously no less potently awful than other types of addiction. What about food? There are some people who go to the lengths of having their stomach stapled, because they cannot resist overeating. And the cycle appears to be that they eat because they have low self esteem, to cheer themselves up, they gain weight, so have even less self esteem. Food addiction is doubly hard to conquer, because, as someone once said to me, ‘you can’t go cold turkey, as you can with drink, because you have to eat to live.’
Possibly the latest and most pernicious addiction, or perhaps a better way of putting it is ‘habit’ is fuelled by the proliferation of these terrible ‘log book loan’ and ‘payday loan’ companies. I’m sure some of them are perfectly acceptable and offer reasonable terms but there are plenty that charge interest at fantastic, horrible, unimaginably high rates, and once you’re in the clutches of these evil leeches it can be enough to drive anyone to suicide. And again the vicious circle: the more money and assets you have, the better terms you can get if you need a loan. But If you’re at rock bottom you’re screwed right down so that you have even less.
Addicted to love? Not such a rarity. Does anyone remember the play ‘The Deep Blue sea’ by Terence Rattigan? The crux of the story is the obsessive love of the woman protagonist for the entirely unsuitable man she was living with. She knew that he was incapable of returning her passion, but her addiction was so complete that the play starts with her trying to gas herself because he forgot her birthday. Not, of course, purely because he forgot her birthday, but because of the reason why he forgot: she knew that he simply didn’t care about her as much as she cared about him.
Addictions aren’t always such a bad thing. Brilliant scientists no doubt are addicted to solving the problems associated with their work, and contribute to the sum of human knowledge as a result. Single minded hard working types accrue money and prestige for themselves and their families. Dedicated sportsmen hit the heights because of their dogged determined obsession to push themselves to the limit to the exclusion of everything else.
So are you addicted to anything, or to put it another way, do you have an all consuming passion about something, even if it’s not causing you trouble in life? Shoes? A football team? Driving fast? Loud rock music or even opera? Are you addicted to anything? I’d really like to know.