All his life he’s been a shy, retiring man, he says — avoiding the spotlight, staying away from crowds although secretly longing to be a part of the fun. He’d tried it on one or two occasions as a teenager — forcing himself into social gatherings, late evening parties. He’d only get as far as holding out his hand and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Daniel.’
After that, the world would spin dizzyingly, he would miss the other person’s name and this would compound his anxiety. He’d look around helplessly, sizing up the best possible escape route. He soldiered on through his later teens and midway through the twenties, making himself aloof, shutting himself in his room, telling his parents he was working on projects. It didn’t help that his dad kept trying to match him up with friends, secretly inviting peers over to invite him out — to a game of footy, a day at the beach, or a drive around.
It was on one of those ‘enforced’ drives with another young man named Graham that he — Daniel — sensed that he’d found a way to subdue his overwhelming shyness. Graham provided ‘the key’ and it mysteriously unlocked doors in his mind where another totally unmet side to him lay chained and imprisoned.
He talks to local communal gatherings and tells them his story, his plunge down a dark valley and his success in the struggle to climb back to the top.
The ‘key’ came in the form of a plastic cup and the cup contained that so-called elixir, which — taken in excess — has led many down a path they wished they’d never ventured upon; a path that, often, led to another door years later, with two letters stencilled large upon it: AA.
But for Daniel, in his twenty-fourth year, ‘the brew’ was as potent as the potion Asterix consumed, because it took him from shy to thoroughly liberated in a matter of minutes. And so began a conditional love affair: you stay true to me, sip me in liberal doses every day, and I’ll stay with you for life and ensure you’re never ever shy again.The
Forty-six years it lasted, this so-called ‘romance’. The brew gave liberally, and the brew-taker — at first tentative, sipping tiny quantities — grew bolder, more outgoing, a beam of sunshine at all parties (up until the time the brew got the better of him, addled his words and slurred his speech).
One marriage came but it also went quickly, dissolved in a haze of fumes. He was lucky to survive that financially. But the blow and the loss forced him to pick up and tip ‘the glass’ more often — what in his day was referred to as ‘bending the elbow’.
A second attempt at marriage lasted one year longer than the first but he knew he was actually being used — to get the spouse’s two sons from an earlier marriage into the country on permanent visas.
Single and lonely in his forties, fifties and sixties, he threw caution to the wind and drank in a manner that would have made the pirates of yore proud. Then the troubles began: muscular dystrophy, an infected liver … six months in hospital, unable to walk unaided, finally admitted into a nursing home and it was here that he — Daniel — beheld the flash of a second light. Some call it insight.
Today, in his seventy-first year, he travels around, in his motorised wheelchair, totally rehabilitated, as distant from ‘the brew’ as he ever will be. He talks to local communal gatherings and tells them his story, his plunge down a dark valley and his success in the struggle to climb back to the top.
Through it all, he says, he never once experiences the restricting shyness. Sometimes, he says, you’ve got to get to the brink and see the chasm below and know for sure that you’ll never go there again.
But it’s a course he will never recommend.
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.