Alice’s addiction

One of the story lines present day followers of “The Archers” will be well aware off – is one to do with Alice’s alcohol addiction (check out here for background).

Please note: given this article has now taken on the nature of a reflective diary, due to the sensitively important subject of alcohol addiction being covered, I am now adding to it from time to time as the story develops, as it surely will, with my latest entries being added at the end – so scroll down if you just want the latest!

While these days, “the Archers” is the only soap I follow, I note a recent tendency in many TV/Radio soaps to introduce topical subjects that raises emotions, presumably to boost viewing or, in this case, listening numbers. A few years ago, the Archers scriptwriters managed to keep a storyline to do with domestic violence going for over two years and the general view they did so superbly well. It is a matter of wait and see of course, but I think they are going to have similar success when it comes to Alice’s alcohol addiction, and as before, listeners are kept on tenterhooks.

There are many factors involved in this intriguing story as one might imagine, and like all good stories it has taken time for the plot to develop this far. As a synopsis: Alice is the youngest daughter of Brian and Jennifer Aldridge and is married to Chris Carter, a farrier. The signs of a developing addiction problem have been around for over a year. It has caused many disruptions. Recently, her giving birth to a premature baby: Martha Jasmine has added a new dimension. She has tried to fight her addiction and even gone to detox – but unsuccessfully. She has hidden it from her family, except for Chris, and few others know about it. She lacks confidence and self-esteem. As for what triggered her addiction in the first place, it is difficult to say, given it seemed she had much going for her although one senses a degree of entitlement and she was spoiled.

I mention this story, not just because I am an Archers fan and enjoy sharing my thoughts with fellow fans, but because this is one of its more plausible as well as fascinating story lines, and one with an important message, and resonating with my own experience and perspectives. For the characters in the story, who do know about Alice’s addiction, there is broad recognition it is an illness. As for her behaviour, it distresses those around her as well as herself. For those who are unaware of her alcoholism, but who see signs of unusual behaviour and that something is not quite right, there is a degree of bemusement. For those kindlier disposed, there is often a desire to be supportive, especially now that little Martha is on the scene.  

Alcoholism is perhaps the most obvious examples of addictive behaviour, but there are others: drugs (including legal highs), gambling (made easily available) and sexual (notably online pornography). More people have an addiction problem than we care to think and affects all sections of society, including people of faith, and untowardly affects those close to the “addict”. My own father has been dead many years now. He was a kind man who cared for his family. But he had a problem with alcohol for much of his adult life. In some ways, he died unfulfilled, and like Alice had issues around low self-confidence and self-esteem, and as I look back this has affected me more than I could have imagined.

As for triggers, these were no doubt present but here is not the place to psycho-analyse. As for affects, these were a lot more significant and wider ranging than was generally realised at the time, and the pain and scars experienced by those close to him continued for years to come. And while we reflect on why addicts get and remain addicted, while there can be many reasons, one that often emerges is pain. Indulging in one’s addiction may bring temporary respite but at the price the addict becomes even more deeply hooked and wretched, while adversely affecting others, and in a perverse way accentuates the cry for help and justifies the self loathing (as seen in Alice’s behaviour) often linked to the addiction.

The other significant personal experience of addiction – mainly alcohol but also drugs, concerns the homeless and is often linked to mental ill health. As for the chicken and egg question, the best I can say is that addiction and mental ill health are closely linked and, in my experience, half of the homeless people I come across are affected by one or other or both issues. Sometimes, if not present when someone becomes homeless, they develop after they become homeless and, without over analysing or making rash judgments, these often remain not dealt with. The tragedy associated with many with an addiction issue is great, including an inability to make progress in life, unsocial behaviour, unwanted cravings, the effects on relationships, and all too many premature deaths. And yet in many cases, the “addicts” (at least when sober etc.) are some of the nicest and most perceptive people you could ever wish to meet.

Back to the Archers, we wait with interest to find out how the Alice story is going to develop. Realistically, based on analysing similar cases, the outcome could turn out to be tragic. Just as I hope my homeless “addict” friends will turn a corner and recover, I know that may take time and sometimes never. Obviously, I hope it will turn out well for Alice and her family – and in that case it is up to the script writers. And while my front line homeless activism is less these days, I will continue to support folk who are addicts, including “tough love” and I will take my hat off to those who help addicts on their road to recovery, often having been “there” themselves.

Update 20/04/21:

As I say, there are many facets to the Alice story and without going over the plot, which Archers fans will be well aware off, tonight’s twist is her friend Fallon has got on her high horse and told Alice she no longer wishes to be god parent to Martha – and this over her latest relapse and being made aware for the first time of her addiction. The rights and wrongs of her response and decision is up for debate but the interesting factor as far as I am concerned is the different ways we can respond to someone else’s addiction and to throw down the gauntlet that it be the right one!

Update 25/04/21:

Following Thursdays (22/04/21) episode, this is what I posted on The Archers Anonymous Facebook page:

I am really pleased this post has given rise to some perceptive comments. Thank you. I have no doubt there will be further developments none of us can foresee, thoughts concerning which I will post on jrbpublicationsdotcom (I am not allowed to post links on this FB page – ed), along with this latest developments, which no doubt will happen. Interestingly, after posting this, the next evening we had an Alice and Chris exchange, interleaved with other Archers happenings. The synopsis of which is: Alice is feeling bad (sorry for herself?) and decides to leave (self hate can be added to lack of self esteem and confidence methinks) – to who knows where – for the good of Chris and Martha – ostensibly. Chris tries to stop her and it all gets emotional. Then Alice comes clean about making a pass at Chris’ best friend Harrison and now hurt as well as confused Chris says go and that is where we leave it – until the plot thickens on Monday. An all too human response and not divorced from real life, and one that no doubt will divide opinions on this page. In fairness to the TA scriptwriters – they are doing a good job (so guys if you read this – don’t let us down PLEASE). Can they reach the dizzy heights of the Rob and Helen domestic violence story, I wonder? They almost got there with their Philip and slavery story, but ihmo the story weakened at the end (as often happens). P.S. yes, I agree with Kate’s previous comment – pain and past trauma are key factors – but what is Alice’s pain and is there an antidote? We await an answer that may or may not materialise!

Update 08/05/2021:

This is added following Thursday’s cliff hanger episode on the day of Martha’s christening.

I wince when I see the words “not trying” as applied to Alice drinking on the day little Martha was meant to be christened. This is partly because in my experience of working with addicts, many of who do try and fail, over and over again. Of course, we are all responsible for our own actions but, unless one can find a way of breaking that cycle of addiction, it is one step forward and one step back (and sometimes more than a step) – and it is heart rendering to see. As painful as the “christening episode” was, anyone dealing with addicts might have guessed that it will all end in tears.

While some will sympathise with Chris and Emma’s response, in what was after all a difficult situation and one that would have challenged the best of us, it may not have been the best one in the circumstances. Tough love is needed to be sure, but high-handed, sanctimonious bashing by Emma and it is “my child” control freakery by Chris, humiliating Alice in front of Emma and covering up his own failures in doing so, is not the way to go about it.

Congratulations to the script writers and actors for helping to identify the conundrums addictive behaviour presents. I think at last TA have found a story line to match that of Rob’s coercive control of Helen. Of course, it is fiction and they haven’t got it all right, but they have raised an important issue with sensitivity and candour. I like the characterization of the people involved in the plot with more no doubt to come as people become aware of what is going on, which if nothing else is a good cross section of the way people do respond to alcoholics (and as we have seen so far – it has been with mixed effectiveness). And it has got people thinking – a good thing!

As a community worker, these days as a volunteer in the field of homelessness, dealing with substance misuse (and other addictions sometimes) and mental health issues (often related) is a regular occurrence. My own experience, just as with Alice, is I tend not to share with others concerning my own struggles, but having been “there” so to speak helps when I engage with such folk. At least I can begin to empathise and hopefully respond appropriately. I doubt there is a silver bullet that solves all the issues and sometimes, when we can see we have helped to make a difference, that is enough to make it worthwhile. I hope something along those lines crosses Alice’s path but, until she faces up to her responsibilities, she may have to sink even lower and will have to face the consequences, e.g. a temporary loss of Martha and what comes with hitting rock bottom.

It can seem a minefield out there sometimes and in my experience those with addictions are great manipulators. We are often caught between the pull yourself together brigade and the softly gently one. Do we let rip like Emma or go for non judgmental like Alan? Personally, I find straight talking, tough love and respectful engagement is the best approach and sometimes we not only have to set boundaries but we also have to act on them, even when it seems harsh. I for one, am intrigued as to how all this will play out. Again, well done TA script writers and actors. And remember, while Alice’s story may resonate with other “addicts”, it is still only fiction.

Update 22/05/21

Two weeks have passed since the Christening watershed moment and the plot has taken unexpected twists and turns, some of which may seem incredulous (but bear in mind the TA is these days only 4 12 minute episodes a week and under Covid restrictions, and always script writers are keen to accelerate the story more than what happens in real life to a yet to be revealed finale) but for those of us who have had to deal with the fall out of addictive behavior (I once had to deal with a similar brick in the window incident), a lot of what we are seeing is not so far off the mark. Like many, I hoped the christening episode would be a wake-up call to those who care for Alice, but for Brian and Jennifer denial continued. But things do move on: with Jennifer staying with Alice and Brian being told a few “home truths” by Emma, and then the brick episode. Things look like they are about to change, but in what way we can only guess, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst – knowing full well that more often than not nice resolutions rarely happen overnight and sometimes never. The biggest obstacle is Alice is in denial and well adept in the art of manipulation. Whoever plays Alice is to be commended for her acting and, as for champagne moments, I thought about Jazzer who saw through the manipulation and what was needed and gentlemen Jim deciding whether or not to sell Alice that bottle of vodka. Even Susan and Emma have had their moments as well as hapless husband Chris, figuring out what to do for the best. But it has to go to Neil, who if things had turned out differently would have made a fine career diplomat. As we eagerly await Monday’s resumption, many conundrums in the “what next” category are yet to be resolved, especially now that social services are involved. And, not to forget, the overriding factor in what happens next, is going to be the well-being of baby Martha.  

Update 12/06/21

Three weeks have past and Alice and her addiction, and many of the things linked to this, continue, unsurprisingly, to occupy centre stage. But life goes on even without the Alice factor. We are spoilt for choice regarding champagne moments to do with the Alice saga, but on careful reflection and despite notable “Alice” moments that I will get to, it has to go to Ruairi. First, for his gentlemanly response to Mia and in letting her down gently, upon her declaration of love, and surprisingly then on turning the tables on his gay step brother and his husband when they tried to pass on their own experience on what to do when it comes to coming out. But back to Alice who evidently has not yet hit rock bottom (for all hope she does and thereafter the only way is up). Shock to the system for mum and dad, Brian and Jennifer, still yet to fully wake up about Alice’s addiction, was her showing herself to be a nasty bit of works (what drink does, as I have had cause to witness) when bringing home a chap she picked up in a pub on one of her binges and upon being confronted by mum then launches into the vilest of rants. Then there is Ed, who paid tribute to decent Oliver for trusting him when he had his bottom with his drug addiction – something distraught Jennifer will have cause to be thankful for when she fully wakes up. But clearly not yet, as she has a go at her sanctimonious old bat of a mum, Peggy, who laid down the facts of life based on her own painful experience and, for once, was absolutely spot on. But then there was Fallon, by way of a counterbalance. Not only does she see how the land lies when it comes to taking sides but recalls her own experience living with her dad who was an alcoholic, but unlike Jack (Peggy’s husband) he managed to turn it around.   

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