Robb Sheppard

Jul 7, 2017

Robb takes us through the impact that alcohol had on his life,

Once again, for this week’s Geeks Vs Loneliness, we’re eschewing our usual introduction, that you can find on the 100+ other posts in this series (some links can be found further down the page). Instead, we’re handing over to Robb, who asked us if he could write a piece entitled ‘alchohol, depression and movies: the trilogy of my 20s’). With a fair smattering of film quotes – just in case the context isn’t clear – here it is. Huge thanks to you, Robb…

It’s 5pm and to the untrained eye, I’m itching. Jonesing. Crawling up the walls.

My life is fantastic. I hate my job, obvs, but I adore my wife and newborn baby boy and a fledgling career has me literally too busy for words. But I’m only on a third of my usual dose of Sertraline due to missing my repeat prescription and I’m wondering how I’m going get through the evening.

“Just one more fuckin’ hit!”

Do I need anything else from the shop? I could get a four pack of Stella Grandes while I’m there. That would do the trick, just to take the edge off.

“White man’s burden, Lloyd, my man. White man’s burden.”

I sit in the car park, motor running, fingers tapping, looking for a sign.

“I don’t know if I started drinking because my wife left me, or my wife left me because I started drinking.”

It’s not a sign, but it’s close enough for me. I trundle home, drink half a litre of Diet Coke and enjoy my evening. Miraculously, I manage to stay awake until the end of Zodiac and then I sleep like a baby, guilt free and clear of conscience. But it wasn’t always like this.

The twenty-something me wouldn’t have hesitated in the car park. I wouldn’t say I was actually an alcoholic but how many alcoholics actually do? For me, a night that was undrinkable was a night that was unthinkable. My depression was undiagnosed at that point as I didn’t want to face the attached stigma (how many with depression do?) but a self-prescribed 35-70cl per day seemed to be working just fine.

For the twenty-something me, it would have been a beat-the-clock race around 24 hour Asda to get to the checkout before 23.00hrs and the end of licensing hours. 22.57? Too close to call? Forget the Coke and go back for it afterwards. Just get the vodka.

“As your attorney, I advise you to take a hit out of the little brown bottle in my shaving kit.”

But it wasn’t just the mixer that I went back for. It was the crossover period between VHS being phased out and DVD becoming more popular and both were going cheap. This was a thrill that was reminiscent of perusing the shelves of your local video store: forgotten gems were rediscovered and unseen treasures were finally uncovered. I self-prescribed a movie per night. 

My love for cinema remained throughout, although trips would have to be scheduled alone and early so I could get back in and get back on it. Through retconned reminiscences, I longed for the days when my local ABC cinema served piss-warm Chango beer and there were ashtrays in the arm rests.

“Careful man, there’s a beverage here!”

Humour was as much of a defence mechanism then as it is now. “Pissed last night, mate?” came the daily round-the-water-cooler-convo. Even when I was off it, I still said yes. “Yeah, I slept like Renton last night!” was one well-rehearsed response.

As my enjoyment of social drinking fermented into anti-social drinking, film itself never cancelled any plans we made, never argued that Godfather III was better than II and never judged my questionable behaviour. Trouble was, film never held me accountable either. “Hey, you nodded out during the movie? Forget about it, we’ll try again tonight.” Yep, in my mind, films talk like a mid-50s Mafiosi.

As a result I had a shelf of films, the conclusions of which had never been seen, or in some cases, never truly appreciated. Conversations with the few friends that I had often ended with “Yeah…I can’t really remember the ending…but the beginning was ace!” City of God? Irreversible? Mystic River? I know I loved them, but I couldn’t tell you why.

I’d lost the ability to connect with people. Film had always been a social experience during my childhood and that’s when I first fell in love with it; I remember wildly embellishing upon the ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to a school friend, only for him to pull me up on it when he finally saw it; I remember going to see Hook with my cousin and being in awe at the size of the screen and I remember eight of us losing our collective shit at Cassius’ (David Hemmings) wig in Gladiator.

I missed that connection with people. I wasn’t Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. I wasn’t Hunter S Thompson and thankfully I wasn’t Jack Torrance in the Overlook Hotel bar. I was my own isolated character of my own creation. I was me, sitting and drinking alone in my one bedroom flat. My story, my narrative and my film was going to have an unhappy ending: one that no one else would watch.

I wanted to write that film helped me through my issues with alcohol, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. Film was and still is a drinking buddy who is as capable of relapse as I am. Actually, that’s not accurate either. My will is my own. Film is simply film and it is a constant in my life.

I’ve since met some of my closest friends through a common love of film. My first date with my wife was at the cinema and even though she talked throughout (Hot Fuzz) whilst her feet were on the seats, I knew even then that she was the one. And one day I’ll pass on the wonder of Star Wars to my son (machete order, standard).

Film quotes that reference addiction always ring in my ears whenever I’m considering drinking again: sometimes they’re life affirming and sometimes they’re enabling. But then I remember that my narrative hasn’t finished being told yet and as much as anyone can expect to be, I’m in control of my second and third act.

If you’re struggling with alcohol, and/or alchohol addiction, then do please check out the following link, that gives far better advice than we ever could. You all stay awesome.