Just a social drinker

We were both ageing duffers with time on our hands, and sunlight on our faces. We had met, as commuters do, at the bus stop, sighing almost simultaneously after just missing the bus into town.

Apart from staring hopefully into the distance every now for the next one, we had to content ourselves with waiting and so we sat apart on the Auckland Transport shelter, him with earplugs in, me with bag open ready to pull out a novel I was reading. He fumbled with his ear pieces – they kept falling out. Anybody could tell that these little nodules which so alienate us from each other weren’t for him or his generation. So when I brought out my book, he asked for a look and after a skim over the reviews, nodded his head approvingly.

“Sounds good” he said. Then he reached into his shoulder bag, his hand emerging with what looked like a prayer book.

“I’m with AA” he said. “I’m an alcoholic.” He could just as well have said he was a vegan, or  Catholic, but I knew from friends that this is the standard  confession AA members make at meetings. 

“Only one thing about that” I told him, “bit of a label isn’t it? Doesn’t allow much room to say you might be a recovering alcoholic.”

The bus interrupted our chat with a showy swish of doors beckoning us in. Before I got on he asked if he could sit and talk to me, because he thought I’d raised an important point. So we sat and…

“I know what you mean about the label but they make room for all types. It’s not just black and white. You wanna see some of the really hard drinkers, what it does to them. Yeah, so admitting you’re an alcoholic is a first step eh”

“You know, I was never a heavy drinker. Nah. More like just a social one. For me it was the nerves, being anxious and all, so I’d drink a lot to smother it. The really hard drinkers, you could see what it’s done to their faces. Look much older than they are. And it’s not all men. I reckon maybe 25% are women and there’s some in there who use drugs.”

“But me I was never a heavy drinker, just social eh? When I’d go out I used get anxious and then I’d drink lots more. My marriage broke up, had to deal with that. Not easy but AA really helped – I’m on the fourth stage of recuperation, only another two stages to go.”

“I’m an artist – went to art school. There’s a fair few of us with AA now. Our lot, you know we drink a fair bit. Spend too much time on our own. But there’s some really good artists there. Not like me. I’m a failure. But I was never a heavy drinker. Just social drinking. AA’s helped heaps – really looking forward to finishing this stage I’m on  – Whoops!  It’s my stop! See yer…”

He walked down the city street purposefully, earplugs in; new hope and old demons walking with him.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.