Garth George: Masters of sport can be slaves to a bottle

By Garth George

Cricketer Jesse Ryder and All Black Zac Guildford are not the first - and won't be the last - immensely-talented national sportsmen to fall victims to habitual overindulgence in booze.

And, as with others, they continue to be subjected to a merciless media spotlight, which doesn't help their situation one little bit.

In fact, it interferes with their chances of getting their lives in order to a marked degree.

Let me tell you a story.

I got the message in a bottle in my mid-teens. It told me, subconsciously, that if one drink of alcohol could make me feel good, then a few more could only make me feel even better.

It was a life-changing experience for me. From my earliest recollection I had never really felt part of the human race. There was always me and them.

Alcohol changed all that. When I had a drink or two, everybody else changed.

I could be one of the lads, chat up the girls, play sports, and comfortably do all the things that most boys did sober.

Nobody told me alcohol was a mind-altering chemical, a drug of addiction and a brain poison.

All I knew was that it came in bottles, tasted okay and made me feel great.

Alcohol became my servant.

At just what point I crossed the invisible line between heavy drinking and alcohol addiction I don't know, but it was probably in my early 20s because by the time I was 24 it was causing such problems, financial mostly, that I quit drinking for six months.

And when everything came right at home, at work and financially, I started again, but carefully. I promised myself that if it ever caused trouble again I'd stop.

But as the years went by that promise was broken time after time as we moved from place to place and job to job until my wife had finally had enough, left me and took the children.

Looking back, it amazes me she put up with it for so long.

By this stage I was a chronic alcoholic. The addiction had crept up on me subtly and remorselessly day in and day out until alcohol was no longer my servant but my master.

Eventually, a dead man walking and staring into a grave I had dug for myself, unemployed and unemployable, with nothing in this world but a suitcase full of tatty clothes, I ended up in a Salvation Army drunk tank - and it was there that the miracle happened for me.

Faced with the reality of my chronic alcoholism, I was able at last to ask for help - from God and man - and received it willingly from both.

And after 37 years of a whole new life provided by a commitment to total abstinence - a life I certainly did nothing to deserve - my gratitude to God and those whom he has put in my path along the way is boundless.

I am one of a chosen few. Most alcoholics, and a large number of heavy drinkers, never survive.

They die of overconsumption that stops all vital functions, organ failure, violence, drowning, road accidents, fires, suicide, malnutrition, to name a few.

Yet alcohol is still the safest and most readily available tranquilliser known to man, a traditional social lubricant, the cup that cheers, the measure of wine for the stomach's sake.

It just pays to remember that it is a mind-altering chemical, an addictive drug and a brain poison; that anyone who drinks too much of it too often and for too long will become addicted.

I can only pray that Ryder and Guildford - and any other New Zealander for whom alcohol has become a life-threatening problem - find the answer much earlier than I did.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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