What I hear you cry? Am I on the wrong site? No, you aren’t, and I’ll tell you why. I have actually been listening to the Archers since I was in my late twenties. Drink isn’t my only form of escapism, I love any form and the Archers has always been a good way of escaping my world for a while. Yes, it’s twee and yes, it’s very middle class but it also tackles some tough subjects.
What I like about it is that it often tackles subjects in real time, they can take years to develop. This was done famously with the Rob Titchener gaslighting/coercive control of Helen, this gathered loads of press attention and the writers were commended. But the storyline that interests me at the moment is that of Alice and her alcoholism.
Presently, (I am a few behind so this may not be the case) Alice is in rehab, having burned her bridges with practically everyone she knows. She has caused rifts within her family; she has spilt up with her husband and lost her baby. She has hit rock bottom and is hopefully starting to climb back up.
The clever thing about Alice’s story is that the writers have been developing this over years. We have always known Alice to be the beautiful, clever and successful daughter of Brian and Jennifer. The party girl, the girl who works hard and plays hard and for years this was celebrated. We started to see cracks when she was so drunk at a funeral, she wanted to know why the attention wasn’t on her! We’ve also had times when she and her husband have tried to abstain from alcohol to give them a break and it hasn’t worked. It was never suggested that she had an issue, and no one said that she did. Yes, people would be annoyed about her behaviour, but they didn’t for one second think she had a real issue.
It was only really introduced as an actual issue during the lockdown recordings when we could hear her thoughts. We found out that she was hiding alcohol from friends and family and it was obvious she had lost her job due to her drinking. We heard her being very manipulative about drinking alcohol and eventually she was found collapsed at the side of the road in a drunken stupor. This is also when she found out she was pregnant. But people still didn’t think she had a problem until she admitted it. She and her husband paid for her to go to detox, which worked while she was pregnant, but once the baby was born, she stopped breastfeeding and was off again.
And isn’t this real life? Quite often in soaps the alcoholic character is fine one week, rolling around the street drunk the next, shipped off to rehab the next and then fixed! If only eh? Alcoholism creeps up on people. Alcoholism is secretive and shameful. Alcohol affects many many people, not just the alcoholic but the alcoholics families and friends.
Most of all, talking about alcoholism is uncomfortable, I remember when I was still drinking feeling a sense of panic, a feeling of being left behind when I heard others had stopped. Did this mean I should? Are they thinking I should? I am pretty sure that is why we meet resistance when we tell people we have stopped. People don’t like admitting that alcohol isn’t for all. It’s a nasty addictive substance, we are sold the lies that it will make us happy and attractive. We are boring without it. I can tell you now, I was very boring with it. I was lazy, slurry, sometimes a bit nasty and always unhappy.
Back to Alice, I have seen people moaning on groups on Facebook about the storyline. Complaining that it has gone on too long. Alcoholism does go on for a long time, that is the nature of the beast. If only we could all be fixed in a week like the other soap characters are! It takes work and it takes time and I want to thank the writers of the Archers for being brave enough to show us this.