I was browsing through some old photos recently when I came across an album from when I visited Brighton beach with my friend a few years ago. My friend was an alcoholic and sadly has passed away now, but I had fond memories of her and our trip. We spent a weekend together hanging around the Brighton boardwalk and soaking in the local culture. It was our last good time together.
I moved to London from Sydney back in 2009 with nothing but a suitcase and a vision of Big Ben. I didn’t know anyone in London and Yulia befriended me in a local pub during my first week. I was waiting for a real estate agent to show me a couple of flats in the area and the agent was running late, so I decided to grab a drink whilst I waited. I sat in the beer garden nursing a glass of wine and a cigarette when Yulia invited me to sit with her. She asked me where I was from and what I knew about the London lifestyle. I found her questions very forward but we quickly developed a rapport and exchanged phone numbers. Yulia promised to show me around and teach me all about London.
Yulia and I soon became inseparable. We visited all the famous London attractions together such as Greenwich, St James Park, Piccadilly Circus and Mayfair. Almost every time we met we would definitely go for a glass of wine but it didn’t occur to me she had a drinking problem. Yulia was unemployed and studying photography at a community college, and over wine I would help her with her assignments and we would dream of becoming London artists one day.
I first realised Yulia was unlike other friends when she started to include me in some of her schemes. Yulia was active on a number of dating websites and would arrange to meet a guy at a bar or restaurant and also invite me, unbeknownst to all parties. There would then be the awkward expectation that the date should shout us drinks and sometimes even a meal for the rest of the evening. I sympathised with Yulia’s position, as she didn’t have any income, but I preferred to pay for myself and didn’t appreciate hanging around with some random John I had nothing in common with. More often than not, such occasions ended badly. One time, we met a guy at an upmarket bar near Harrod’s. On arrival he appeared surprised and asked Yulia why she didn’t look like her profile photo. He then excused himself to go to the toilet and never returned. On several other occasions, Yulia became drunk very quickly and started to abuse her date, saying nasty things about their job, appearance or even nationality, before demanding money to pay for her taxi ride home.
It started to dawn on me slowly that Yulia was an alcoholic. Every time we met, even if it was early in the morning, Yulia wanted a drink and she rarely ate. Within a few hours she would become intoxicated and when Yulia was drunk she could be either really nice or really mean. When she was in a bad mood, it was very bad. She would criticise everyone around her and swear and shout. She could even become violent and physically aggressive. Numerous times we were forcibly removed from restaurants and bars because of this. When she slept over at my house, in the morning she would drink all the dregs out of the cups or finish off any bottle of wine or spirit that was left over.
As I learned more about Yulia’s life I came to know she had been a functioning alcoholic for many years. She would stick with one type of alcohol and drink slowly throughout the day to maintain a constant tipsiness until evening, when she would then overdo it. She developed methods of hiding her alcohol consumption, such as hiding bottles in her bag and drinking in the toilet. Because she did not have much money, cheap wine and beer were her beverages of choice and she would spend little money on food. Her dependence on alcohol cost her many relationships. Her partners would leave eventually leave after tiring of the constant alcoholic abuse and requests for money. Her drinking also cost her the opportunity to have a career. In the time I knew her, she held a few decent jobs but she would always end up getting fired when she was caught drinking on the job or when she disappeared for hours at a time to go to the pub.
As time went on, Yulia became sickly. Her face looked swollen, her stomach was bloated and her legs were very skinny. She would frequently need to spit and vomit and would do so in public. I remember one time we took a bus ride together, and were were sitting on the top deck of an iconic London red bus. The entire trip she coughing and spitting and it drew the attention of many other passengers.
Yulia’s friends and family were very concerned for her and we made numerous attempts to help her by offering advice, encouraging her to go to the doctor and even extreme measures like taking her to the hospital for special treatment. We thought if she hit rock bottom she might eventually accept help. However, it seemed that Yulia was a troubled soul determined to maintain her destructive and alcoholic lifestyle, even though it cost her so much. They say that alcoholism is worse in females than males, because the physical dependency is stronger. In the end, Yulia had pushed away everyone that was close to her and lived out her last days bed bound in an old North London flat, drinking daily.
It is a terribly painful way for an alcoholic to die. Yulia had cirrhosis, extreme scarring of the liver due to excessive alcohol consumption, which had created portal hypertension. Blood built up in nearby blood vessels in the oesophagus, and the swollen veins caused her oesophagus to rupture and bleed. As she bled, she went into cardiac arrest before passing away in the hospital.
We had a great time together in Brighton and it is with fond memories as well as regret I recall that trip. Yulia would often joke that having a baby would be the only real motivation for her to give up drinking. Sadly we will never know.
Good bye Yulia my troubled friend, we will miss you.