What we need to be able to do then is to try to change our society in the way that it looks at addiction. I’m a doctor to a school in Central London and in that capacity I would ask families if there’s any history of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and so on and they’d expect that.” Any history in the family of addiction? “What? What?” They’d be infuriated that I should dare to ask such a questions it was their family.
Well, I don’t think that’s right. I think that it is so common. It’s a perfectly reasonable question and it doesn’t have any perturbative overtones. I don’t see being an addict as being something disgraceful or shameful or evidence of weak will. I’m very strong willed. In fact, that’s what we find that most addicts are too strong willed. We go on trying to fight a battle that we cannot win. We go on and on doing that.
I was forty-seven when I got into recovery that’s a lot of vain and not just for me but mostly for my wife. I am still less than half time. I’ve been married forty-five years and I’ve only been in recovery for twenty-one. So Meg has had twenty-four years of me as an active addict and only twenty-one as a recovering addict. That’s a lot of time that she’s served with a using addict.
Now in three of four years time, when we’re even, ha, ha, then… but still now I need to acknowledge that I’m very much in Meg’s debt. I behaved appallingly to her. Now, wouldn’t it be fantastic if I got myself into recovery before I was even married? You could have diagnosed my addiction when I was at school.
I was born just before the war, the Second World War. We had rationing. We had sweet coupons. I was the worst dressed boy in the school. Why? because we also had clothing coupons. I swapped my clothing coupons for everybody else’s sweet coupons. I was an addict then at the aged of seven. I was to look forward to the porridge being burnt because if the porridge was burnt nobody else would eat it. Therefore, they wouldn’t eat their sugar ration, so I would grab out to their porridge. I don’t mind if it’s burnt I just wanted the sugar. That’s me aged seven, eight, nine, ten and it could have been diagnosed then.
But it wasn’t because we really didn’t have the understanding of it and still addiction was a shame, a depravity, a weakness. I was saying it’s not but we still got a long way to go culturally before we get to that level where society at large accepts addiction as just another illness. It’s like diabetes, or heart disease or whatever.
It’s not the fault of the sufferer; it’s just the way we are. Now hear what I said, I said the illness is not the fault of the sufferer. Hear what I did not say, was that therefore I’m not responsible for my behaviour as it affects other people. I am totally responsible for my behaviour. If I’m unpleasant to Meg I can’t say, “Oh it’s alright I’m an addict, that’s the way addicts behave.” That is not true. I was responsible for that. It has nothing to do with my addiction. I was stupid arrogant idiot and I have to take responsibility for that. I cannot say it’s because I’m an addict. It wasn’t. I was an idiot anyway, arrogant anyway, unpleasant anyway.
So you can’t allow addicts, you can’t [blanche 0:04:06.7 unclear] to behave as they like simply because they’re addicts. So I want to make that point quite clear.
So the early diagnosis, I think is absolutely vital if we can help our children towards that and help our society towards that acceptance and understanding. Then I think it would be exactly the same as the other major transitions in history.
Let me give you some quick examples. First of all short-sight. Here I am prehistoric and they say, “Look after the fire cause there might be a saber-toothed tiger along.” And I say, “I what?” and they say, “Are you crazy or something? Look after the fire. Protect the children cause there might be a saber-toothed tiger.” And I say, “A who?” and they say, “You are useless. You’re no value to the tribe. We better stick you on the stake. We’ll have you for lunch.”
See I’m short sighted. I can’t see. Nowadays, we understand that. Would you let me marry your daughter because I’m short-sighted? Would you say, “Who?”a bit tricky? I think you would, by in fact that I’ve got a wife already. I don’t think you’d think of short-sight as being a disgrace, a shame, a depravity, a weakness, it’s just short -sight. We understand that.
Okay let’s move on a couple of thousand years. Here we are in the middle ages, and I’ve just had an epileptic fit. Okay? So how are we in the Middle Ages do you interpret that? It’s one of them isn’t it? It’s the devil that’s come into in and the devil has to be exorcised. You exorcise the devil by sticking me on a pyre and burning me to death.
Well now, if I had epilepsy would you let me marry your daughter? Yeah, I think so. But would you like me work in the typing pool? Well you know that. That might be a little upsetting for the other girls. You see we still haven’t really come to terms of epilepsy.
Still in the soap operas, the chap who’s been a sex molester or whatever, it’s all been explained when it turns up that he’s got epilepsy. “Oh now we understand.” Well that is grossly unfair to people who got epilepsy. Epilepsy is… the major part of epilepsy is idiopathic. We just don’t know what it caused. Some people have epilepsy as a result of injuries, some people as a result of infections and all sorts of things. Epilepsy nowadays, is a fully understood condition but it’s not totally socially accepted. You know, “Would you like your daughter married?” “My darling, do you think that this is the best you can do?” There still is a stigma to epilepsy and that is wrong.
Diabetes, if somebody has a diabetic coma, the police pick him up from the street. He is smelling of grapes, you stick him in the cell and he dies because they thought he was drunk but he wasn’t. He had a diabetic coma. He was pouring out ketones and he smelled as if he was drunk, and he was behaving as if he was drunk but he wasn’t. He was diabetic. And that does happen every year; you get people dying in police custody from diabetes. Well they’re aware of it now and they do take much more trouble.
But in society, you had an actor that’s got to play a part of an alcoholic, easy. Three steps and it’s an alcoholic. Diabetes much more difficult to play on stage because people don’t ‘have a concept of what diabetes is but a diabetic coma coming on it’s exactly the same as the alcoholic. That’s why they get misdiagnosed in the street. Let your daughter marry one? “Oh, yeah get him to take his insulin. He’ll be fine.” We’re not too bothered about epilepsy.
All I’m showing you is historically; the attitudes towards various technical conditions have changed in time. Now here we are with alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and all the rest of it. Within fifty years, it’d be totally acceptable just as diabetes or epilepsy or short- sight nowadays. It’s just where we happen to be at history at this particular time.
I think one of the major ways we’re going to get that historical transition is by early diagnosis. If we can do that, then we save society a lot of damage and help alcoholics, addicts, eating disorders, helpers and other in a way that would be absolutely fabulous and Promis will close and I’ll be happy to close it.