The Irish Times, November 13th 2015.
Don’t wash your dirty linen in public. This has been a mantra that has kept Ireland buried in shame for too long. It has caused untold hurt and allowed a culture of silent suffering to prevail. Why the collusion? Why do we not want to talk about the national secrets that call out to us from the mirror?
Natasha Eddery Dunsdon, daughter of celebrated jockey Pat Eddery, helped change this when she posted an emotional tribute on social media following her father’s recent death. She lifted a veil on what many knew but few were prepared to mention, that her father, the national hero, had been consumed by years of alcoholism.
“The last time I saw him face to face was when I brought him home from rehab and he drank straight away. I turned to him and said “dad if you choose to drink over health and family, I can’t be part of that life for you.” Sadly his addiction was too strong and he couldn’t overcome it. My sibling and his close friends did all we could to help him battle his illness, but we lost in the end.” she wrote.
“It has been so sad to witness his decline and my siblings and I knew that we would lose him to his demon drink. But that said, I loved him so much and I had probably the best childhood anyone could ask for. I was so proud and still am so proud to be his daughter, he was an amazing jockey, father and husband, but in the end he was taken over by a terrible disease. I don’t think of that man, the alcoholic, he wasn’t my dad. My dad was kind, sweet, emotional and, while he never said much, I know he loved us all very much.” she concluded in the moving post which has gone viral.
In her courageous sharing Natasha has opened up a conversation about the challenges of what it means to be human and the suffering that this brings with it. It is no surprise that her tribute has struck a chord and shattered the silence surrounding her father’s struggles. This is a silence that permeates the country’s consciousness. It pretends silence is the same as respect, while pushing the pain deeper into the crevices of the national soul.
Alcohol abuse plagues this land and affects every family. Right now there are men and women in villages, towns, cities, and sitting rooms all over Ireland who are numbing the pains of life that they find too much to bare.
Every night our over stretched ambulance staff deliver hordes of half conscious, battered and intoxicated bodies to nurses who are already at breaking point. At weekends, fifteen year olds gather in dark parks, downing cider and vodka as a corrupted rites of passage into adulthood. Elsewhere masses of underage boys and girls down shots in pubs and clubs while parents, publicans and Gardai look the other way. Meanwhile, phone lines ring late into the night at Childline and at Rape Crisis Centres, while Garda stations and refuges deal with the fall-out from alcohol fueled domestic violence.
Be ‘drink aware’ say the soft alcohol industry campaigns while continuing to pump out advertising targeted at young people at concerts and sporting events. Booze culture is everywhere. Visiting dignitaries are forced to hold a pint of Diageo’s finest for the obligatory photo call and national legislators down a few scoops before voting on late night legislation. “Lighten up” we’re told. “Shure it’s all only a bit of craic”. Except it isn’t.
Alcohol isn’t the problem here. Addiction is, more so the denial of it. Ireland is an addict and alcohol is just the tip of the iceberg. We have one of the highest rates of heroin addiction in the world, a growing epidemic of gambling addiction, a problem with food, sugar and obesity, not to mention tobacco, pain killers, internet addiction and pornography.
Addiction is complex. It has many origins and forms, none helped by the prevalence of loneliness and isolation in a world that is supposed to be more connected. Commercial interests and policy makers play a role, as do the market driven evangelists who are stripping back services and destroying the social fabric. Take away our dignity, demonise dissent, and sell us pills and poisons to take away the pain. In a nation ravaged by sexual abuse, and where wounds go unacknowledged and untreated, it’s no wonder so many need to self-medicate.
Ireland’s national recovery has to be about more than short term economics. It must explore the underlying cultural, psychological, and spiritual dysfunction that is costing us billions in health care, and much more in lost potential and shattered lives. For this we need courage, to have uncomfortable conversations and to smash the shame, stigma and silence that are holding Ireland back.
Ruairí McKiernan is a social campaigner, founder of SpunOut.ie and member of the Council of State. His website is www.ruairimckiernan.com