Sunday 21 January 2018

Selfishness is catch of the day when reality bites for alcoholic

Dion Fanning

Hulk Hogan says Muhammad Ali's daughter saved his life. A couple of years ago, Hulk had reached the bottom. His life had unravelled, as lives will. His body ached, his woman had left him -- you've seen The Wrestler, you know the score.

Hulk was rescued as he toyed with a gun which he had placed in his mouth, chewed on some Xanax -- "not the little pills but those big horse-pill Xanax" -- and drank a bottle of rum. He stayed in that state of despair and paralysis for two days before the call came through.

Hulk has a book out and he wants to tell you about his rock bottom and how he was saved. We all want to be saved, baby!

Who will save Paul Gascoigne? There aren't many people putting up their hand for that right now. It was fashionable a while back when Gascoigne was going through one of his tougher times for people to ask if enough was being done to save him. Could football not lend a hand?

The world of the confessional celebrity memoir has helped persuade people that we can all indulge in this act of salvation. In Gascoigne's case, as in George Best's, there was the idea that football should have done more to help. Kevin Keegan was standing by the phone, ready to spring into action.

Last weekend, Gascoigne was charged with drink-driving. He had been arrested twice in the space of 24 hours while on a fishing trip with an old friend in February.

By his public standards of strange and destructive behaviour, a little bit of a disturbance at a hotel when they allegedly tried to steal some logs doesn't register. Not when you've been sectioned after melting down in another hotel room -- the rabbit-hole for the alcoholic -- and befriended a stuffed parrot. Not when you've been pictured wandering around Hertfordshire with a piggy bank and a bottle of gin.

By those measures, there may be something simply escapist in allegedly trying to steal a few logs from outside a hotel. Nobody condones drink-driving, not even the many people who have done it, but the moral compass of the alcoholic is a wayward and feeble thing.

Gascoigne wasn't sectioned this time, but charged with drink-driving and he is now left, in many ways, to his own devices, and that is the most frightening thing of all.

There is a world where a phone call from Muhammad Ali's daughter can save your life and then there is the boring, mundane, despairing real world of the alcoholic. Paul Gascoigne cannot save himself but there is nobody who can save him either.

There were many who thought they could pick up the phone and change Gascoigne's life. The unremitting darkness is that even when he picks up the phone there are no guarantees, just a slow and unglamorous road.

He is losing everything now, including the power to shock. You bore everyone in the end. Especially when everyone has a story to tell. Newspapers have become a depot for tales of redemption and loss. They add to the sense that all you have to do is tell your story, even if it is a story as old as 'my booze hell', and all will be well, you will be redeemed and found.

Well, we know Paul Gascoigne's story. We knew George Best's story and we are intimately familiar with Paul McGrath's story. But we also hear Hulk Hogan's story and the backstories of X-Factor contestants. We share the pain of Peter Andre.

We are all self-obsessed, we all feel we have a story to tell from which impulse came the idea that everybody has a book in them when, of course, they don't.

Now the impulse is even stronger. Paradoxically, this desire stems from a failure of the imagination, a failure to see beyond things or to be transfixed by something unless the words "based on a true story" precede it.

They form a long queue. Gascoigne was a great footballer and he is now proving his authenticity as a drinker. It's not a funny story and it's unlikely to end with one phone call, not in a good way at least.

After a while, it becomes meaningless without change. An alcoholic makes sense of his years of destroying the lives of everyone around him by changing. There is some purpose then to the selfishness and the misery.

There may already be a movie about Hulk Hogan's life, but that daytime special will be enhanced by his newly revealed story of redemption. He had his flash of despair and then things quickly returned to normal.

For many others, the despair won't lift. In March last year, Gascoigne gave an interview when he was four months sober and thanked those like Peter Beardsley who had helped him. Beardsley, he said, had invited him to training sessions and helped him stock the fridge with groceries and milk rather than booze. In the places where they talk a good deal of sense about these things, they might explain to him that he was powerless. He has definitely heard it. He is not, as he seems to think, helpless.

Those few months are behind him, perhaps they will be part of the redemptive tale, perhaps not.

His friend Michael Harvey, who was also charged with drink driving, provided a bulletin last week: "Paul's fine. He is doing all right and is not drinking at the minute."

It's hard not to recall Maradona as he left hospital after he had been treated for hepatitis brought on by excessive alcohol consumption. "I no longer drink alcohol," he said on the hospital steps.

It is good that Gascoigne is not drinking at the minute and it would be even better if he decided that right now he didn't have a story to tell.

Resisting that temptation may not be the trickiest but it will be close. Paul Gascoigne is another story looking for a meaning. He is just another contestant waiting for Kay Burley to show up and make him cry.

Sunday Independent

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