Kicking the Black Mamba: Life, alcohol and
Robert Anthony Welch
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code
ROBERT WELCH's son, Egan, died tragically. In a note to his
father Egan wrote: "If I die it is not alcohol that killed me. It's
something else." It is pursuing that "something else" that Welch
writes about, as he documents his son's alcoholism, asking that
most scary of parents' questions - how much of his son's confused
life was his fault?
Welch's startling honesty, alongside his intense love for his
son, is woven into this book of uncomfortable questions about life
and death, particularly the sense of meaninglessness with which so
many people struggle. It is a book of great depth, and into the mix
go Irish folklore and legends, poetry, depression, mania,
alcoholism, drugs clinics, mental hospitals, anorexia, Tarot cards,
Sardinian witches, and a startling level of violence.
Egan was clearly a bright, intuitive, and perceptive child; but
he became yet another victim of the awful 11-plus, failing the exam
and suffering the irreparable blow of low self-esteem which blights
the life of many children. He was bullied and beaten up at school -
perhaps the basis of an awful fear that blighted Egan's life. His
father observes that there is "little space for those who cannot
fit in", as he describes the chaos in Egan's life with schools,
doctors, friends, police, and mental- health workers.
There were too many people around Egan who saw alcoholism as
something that he could have overcome if only he had been more
strong-minded. This view of addiction, whether it is alcohol or
drugs, is very common - and hopelessly misguided and damaging.
Welch knew that addiction is an illness and that his son needed
help. Egan and his family were let down by all the "systems"
surrounding them, and the raw pain of a devoted family is
heartbreaking. But it isn't a sad or depressing read, because
powerful and uplifting love permeates each chapter.
This book is beautifully written, with fascinating reflections
on a range of literature and on modern culture, making it a book
that is likely to stay in the memory for ever. This is a "must" for
anyone who tries to help those struggling with addiction.
Sue Atkinson is the author of several books, including
Breaking the Chains of Abuse (Lion, 2006).