When Boris announced the lockdown to limit the spread of infection, protect the NHS and save lives, I immediately thought about my grandma.
My heart sank. As a vulnerable person over 80 she would be shielding for the foreseeable. Her GP even went as far as to tell her if she catches coronavirus, she will certainly die.
I knew, as a family, we would have to step up to meet her everyday needs and wants, and for most people (I imagine), doing this for someone you love is a pleasure.
However, my grandma recently admitted to drinking approximately 120 units of alcohol per week. That equates to three litres of vodka or brandy.
So her everyday needs and wants are a little different to those of most of her peers.
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As a family, we have decided to use this time as an opportunity to force her to stop, if only on a temporary basis.
As gatekeepers with power over what enters her home, we are ensuring that she is receiving essential food and medication to her doorstep regularly.
We are slipping magazines, DVDs and puzzles into the bags to help keep her occupied. We are all calling two to three times a day each for a chat.
And so far, to our knowledge, she hasn’t had a drink since 17 March. Unfortunately, this sobriety is coming at the expense of our relationship with her.
My grandma’s drinking escalated when my grandad died. With her best friend and voice of reason gone, a few brandies over the weekend became a few more at night to help her sleep.
Then it became even more throughout the day to help her feel normal. Whatever her normal is.
As a child, I remember my grandmother as a proud woman. She placed value in being one of the first female drivers she knew, something she can no longer do. She delighted in her family, but very few of us consistently keep in touch nowadays.
She was proud of her grace and dignity, but after falling drunkenly at 2am and opening her front door to the retirement village night shift support worker who came to check on her in nothing but mismatched socks, that pride has gone too.
Despite what alcohol has robbed from her, my grandma has no desire to stop drinking.
With our emergency services and hospitals battling the virus, another blackout drunk fall could put the NHS under unnecessary pressure
The magazines we have brought go unread, the puzzles stay in their boxes and the DVDs go unwatched.
Most painfully, the phone calls quickly turn hostile as she begins to plead and demand we buy her alcohol. She’s called us selfish. She’s told us we don’t love her and that, in turn, she doesn’t love us. When this is all over she doesn’t want to hear from us again, apparently.
I feel grimly confident that, should she be able to go out independently again, the first place she’ll go is the local off licence, not to see her daughters or grandchildren.
I worry she won’t trust again. I worry that we will always remember her this way, hissing and berating us down the phone during a time when we should have been more united as a family than ever.
I feel guilty at times – she is an adult, after all. I ask myself, if my grandma wants a drink on her own in her own home during a pandemic, who am I to intervene? Are we depriving her of her liberty?
I reassure myself that we are doing the right thing, however uncomfortable it feels.
Fortunately my grandma’s GP is very happy that we are doing this. We all see the same family doctor and she has previously spoken to my grandma about her alcohol dependency.
She’s offered mental health talking therapies and tailored support in the past, which my grandma flatly refused
With our emergency services and hospitals battling the virus, another blackout drunk fall could put the NHS under unnecessary pressure. Her already compromised immune system needs a break from the battering of alcohol abuse if it is to stand any chance against Covid-19, should she contract it.
But it is catching a glimpse of her when delivering her groceries that lets me know I am acting in her best interest. She looks so much better after these seven weeks of forced sobriety.
I can see the redness in her cheeks has subsided, she’s lost some weight around her midriff and conversations with her, though they can and do regularly turn nasty, are at least comprehensible.
I know that alcohol has played a large role in many people’s experience of lockdown and a few will no doubt find themselves reflecting on their relationship with it in the coming months.
I would love my grandma also came to an understanding of why, as a family, we have blocked her access to alcohol.
I hope she can get to a position where she’s actually thankful for the actions we have taken and would consider choosing to continue with sobriety.
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