How my first girlfriend lost her way, and her life

Amanda was my first serious girlfriend. She was funny, smart, sporty and cute. We met when I was just starting year 12 and she was a year below me. We were both 16.

A talented hockey player, Amanda was selected in state under-age teams. After the game and after hours she was always the life of the party; laughing and making others laugh.

Amanda came from a stable, loving, middle-class family with self-employed parents and a younger sister and younger brother.

Like most young love our relationship didn’t last much beyond school. She relocated to the north of the state then dropped out of university and headed to Darwin for a change of pace. After I finished my degree in Hobart I took the backpacker option and lived in London for the best part of two years. Over the next thirty years our worlds never collided. I occasionally heard snippets of what Amanda was up to. Ultimately she joined her father in the family business and life seemed to be going fine.

Four years ago I picked up a message on my voicemail. It was my best friend, whose sister was close friends with Amanda’s sister; had I heard the news? Amanda had died.

What?

This couldn’t be possible – she was only 47.

I didn’t, couldn’t, believe it until I read the death notice with my own eyes.

When I read Amanda’s death notice I felt a wave of shock. How could this happen. It really did feel like a little part of me died that day. Devastated, I wrote to Amanda’s parents, Graham and Barbara, to express my grief and share a little of what their daughter had meant to me all those years ago.

A year later, when I was back in Hobart, I visited Graham and Barbara.

As I sat at the same kitchen table I remembered from 30 years ago, Graham and Barbara told me the sad reality of what had defined Amanda’s life since I had last seen her; alcohol. The disease of alcoholism had taken hold of her and had been a significant contributing factor in her death.

The teenage life of the party had never been able to control her addiction and she became another victim to the disease.

Since Amanda’s death three other acquaintances, all in their late 40s or early 50s, have died of alcohol-related diseases.

These deaths have caused me to pay attention to the impact alcohol has on people, generally and on the recruitment industry, specifically.

Earlier last year respected recruitment industry identity Paul Lyons wrote a blog How You See Life Clearer When You Stop Drinking . It was a short but brutally honest account of Paul’s life pre and post drinking. I contacted Paul and asked him a few questions about the response he had received to the blog. He replied:

“Firstly I was amazed by the response to the article -I thought it was too introspective and personal when I wrote it but it seemed to strike a massive chord amongst all sorts of people including of course recruiters.

Secondly there was a large number of people that had also given up drinking in the recent past and had, like me, felt a whole lot better for it in terms of improved sleep , feeling energised and lucid in the morning. I had also expected that people would think I was a wowser but in contrast many people congratulated me on my resolve and discipline.

Finally, since that post I have been surprised by the number of subsequent references either via email or through meeting recruitment people who said that I somehow inspired them to give up drinking and/or become healthier in some way.”

A couple of months ago Franklin Smith Auckland Recruitment Manager (Construction), Michael Donaghy posted a video on LinkedIn titled My Drinking Problem and What I am Doing About It. The response was phenomenal; 75,000 views and 170 comments.

When I asked Michael the same questions that I had asked Paul, he responded:

“I was surprised by the sheer volume of response from those within the recruitment industry with similar thoughts/feelings on the issue of casual alcohol consumption. Even more surprising (and slightly worrying) are those affected by the issue from junior level consultants (with less than 12 months experience) though to Managing Directors of large multinationals. 

One particular message from a recruitment consultant in the UK was particularly alarming when she noted that for her it started with alcohol and has morphed into something more serious. This was never an issue for her prior to her entering the recruitment industry.”

Last week Hannah Rodger, Sales Director at industry vendor cube19, posted a blog What a difference a year makes… musings on breaking up with alcohol recounting her one year anniversary of giving up drinking. The comments (currently 183) were overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

I had known about Hannah’s decision since I caught up with her at the RCSA Conference in early last month. I asked her about the response she has received to her decision.

Most commonly people justify their own drinking habits to me when I tell them I’m drinking water. I’m not judging anybody, and I don’t care whether you drink or not, I just decided for my own health and wellbeing that drinking alcohol wasn’t serving me, so I stopped doing it.

It’s a highly addictive poison marketed to us to make us feel like we need it to be successful, sexy and to have a good time, and is the only drug that gets a negative reaction when you’ve given it up, which I find bizarre. Had I stopped taking heroin, I doubt I would ever hear ‘oh go on, just one hit won’t hurt’ or ‘ just have one, you were never that bad’. Equally, people in recovery from drugs are generally treated with compassion, whereas those in recovery from alcohol addiction are seen as weak-willed and morally reprehensible for not being able to ‘drink responsibly.’

Paul, Michael and Hannah were each very clear as to the benefits they have each gained from taking control over their drinking:

Paul: “The main benefit of giving up drinking is quality sleep. I now enjoy a good night of unbroken sleep, 7 to 8 hours’ worth, which sets me up for a positive day ahead. Since I’m an early riser –at 5 ish – I can get into my regular morning routine feeling fresh and alert.”

Michael: “Since I made the decision and posted the video I feel that a light has switched on personally and my productivity has went through the roof. Friday night drinking sessions have been swopped for Friday night sprints and I feel so much better for it. For the first time in a while, I am pumped for life and looking forward to each day because I am back in control and not allowing client lunches or candidate drinks dictate the direction of my life. I know this is the right decision and I will let my activity do the talking.” 

Hannah: “Ultimately, I have only seen benefits since putting down the wine glass; I remember every conversation I have (not always welcomed haha!), I have deeper and more meaningful relationships with friends and loved ones and from a career perspective I’m on track to reach goals that I didn’t believe I could achieve 12 months ago. Waking up full of energy every morning will never get old and I plan on continuing to fill every day with as much life as I can.”

The recruitment industry tends to present itself as a work-hard, play-hard industry and you only have to look at a random selection of employer branding videos across the industry to see how normalised alcohol consumption is in the portrayal of a successful and attractive company culture.

What Paul, Michael and Hannah have shared from their own respective experiences is that even greater success is possible when alcohol is not a central part of the decisions you make each day and each week.

I drink alcohol so I’m not pretending to come from the moral high ground here.

What I do know, having experienced that heartbreaking kitchen conversation with Amanda’s parents, is that when alcohol is in charge of you, rather than you being in charge of alcohol, there’s bound to be people in your life who are hurting, even if they are silent.

As an industry we need to encourage people to be honest about any unhealthy choices they continually make, and alcohol is a very obvious starting area.

Heathy, thriving people make for a healthy, thriving industry.

If any of what Paul, Michael and Hannah have said resonates in any way then I encourage you to start a conversation with somebody you can trust.

Amanda lost her way with alcohol and it cost her another forty years of living.

And now Graham and Barbara live with their eldest daughter’s painful and unnecessary loss each day of their remaining years.

 

Note: Drinkwise resources can be accessed here

9 Comments

  1. Paul Hallam on 29/10/2018 at 1:50 pm

    Great insights Ross and really good insights Paul, Hannah and Michael. I don’t want to give up alcohol, however I am a strong believer in abstaining, for at least a month, twice a year to ‘self check’ and break any habits that you might be falling into, and when you do, you certainly see and feel the benefits that you have outlined.

    • Ross Clennett on 07/11/2018 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks, Paul. Your role as a senior leader in our industry is an important one and I commend your thoughtful position on this topic.

  2. Edwina Gatt on 06/11/2018 at 7:46 am

    Fantastic article Ross; relatable and raw in its reality.

  3. Maree on 06/11/2018 at 11:57 am

    Love this article Ross

    • Ross Clennett on 07/11/2018 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks, Maree. I know you do your part too.

  4. Sally Paris on 06/11/2018 at 12:32 pm

    Another superlative and real article not just about making placements.

    • Ross Clennett on 07/11/2018 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks Sally, I’m glad you appreciated it.

  5. Jeremy McLeod on 08/11/2018 at 11:37 am

    Thanks Ross, some powerful words here. I am trying my first month with no drinking this November – it has been hard already but I finished reading this feeling very inspired.

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