The Week in Radio: When it's best not to bottle up your feelings

 

"What did you buy?" asked Victoria Derbyshire.

"A bottle of gin," replied Rachel.

"And where did you drink it?"

"The first mouthful would have been in the toilet at Tesco... Then I went to a hotel."

"And drank the rest of the bottle?"

"I presume so, yes. I blacked out."

And so the cycle began again.

The story of "Rachel", as she has consented to be called on air, has been one of the most remarkable and affecting listening experiences of recent times. Her interviews with Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 Live have done what most phone-in programmes have the capacity to achieve but rarely do: they have shone a light on a common but crippling area of human experience – alcoholism – and given us the whole, horrifying picture. They have shown alcoholics as pathologically stubborn, destructive, self-loathing people who rain hurt and chaos down on all those around them. They have equally demonstrated how they are damaged and deeply ill and worthy of compassion and care.

It doesn't always work out this way. Compassion can be scarce on these shows. These are the moments where members of the public are encouraged to spout moral outrage down the blower and where the "hanging's-too-good-for-'em" brigade are given full vent. For much of the time, they are for people whose lives are so very comfortable that all that's left to do is get on their high horse about other people's.

Derbyshire's programme is a cut above the rest, though, not least because of its clear vetting of callers and obvious raison d'être: to investigate complex issues as respectfully and intelligently as possible. It has, in the past, broadcast from an abortion clinic and an animal research laboratory. Derbyshire's excellence as a presenter lies in her ability to remain cool in the face of chaos and insanity.

Rachel first rang the programme two years ago. She said she was a consultant anaesthetist and talked, haltingly and slurrily, about how, after 10 years of heavy drinking, she was about to enter rehab. She described how alcohol had superseded everything else in her life, including her job, partner and child. Then, live on air, she cracked open a fresh tin of Guinness.

This time around, Derbyshire went to Halifax to see Rachel. Currently, she's not drinking. In fact, she's doing rather well. She visited her house, went with her to drop her daughter at school and accompanied her to a support group meeting where a fellow alcoholic stated: "This is an illness that will take you over. It will drive you to the edge of madness. It is evil and it is cunning."

They talked about Rachel's last relapse – brought on by stress and a lack of self-belief – that started with the trip to Tesco and finished in a blur of gin two weeks later. "It was very much like being an automaton," observed Rachel. "There wasn't an awful lot of conscious thought."

They talked about her recent driving ban and subsequent community service, prompted by an early-morning trip to the supermarket where she had necked the vodka in the car park and then tried to drive home. It was Rachel's partner, John, who called the police.

Rachel is in a good place for now. Her voice was clear, her manner determined though the shame at what she had done, and how she had behaved, was never far away. Since she was last on the programme, she said, three friends had died. One had been on the way to residential detox and had fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. "There but for the grace of God," Rachel said, articulating what the rest of us were thinking. "It could easily have been me."

twitter.com/FionaSturges

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices