Billy’s Reality

Billy and I caught up for lunch before Christmas in a shopping mall food court. The day was heavy and humid, and lazy, spare rain fell slowly to the asphalt, exploding on impact.



We talked cricket and ate our sandwiches. The Ashes had started in Brisbane and at this early stage England looked strong and composed, with bowling plans for each of the Australian batsmen. This Test would be in the balance until Englishman Moeen Ali was judged by the video umpire to be stumped. It was a close call, his foot was on the line, but as we know sport can be about inches, millimetres even.



Billy looked well. His face was fleshy and a healthy tan had replaced a sallow grey. His larrikin grin that reminds me of a character from Louis Stone’s classic Australian novel, Jonah, a tale about street gangs that ruled Sydney’s Rocks area over a century ago, flashed easily, provocatively from under his baseball cap.



Billy had a bit of a swagger. Cap pulled down like a hip-hop artist, slouched in his seat, shrug of the shoulders. Landscaping was going well, he enjoyed the sweat and toil of working outside. Muscles he forgot he had were being used again. He was driving again and enjoying living with mum. She put a portion of his wage away each week so he couldn’t spend it.



He was looking forward to Christmas. His sisters and their families were coming over. Everyone would be together for the first time in years. He’d be ok with others drinking. He didn’t need it anymore, he was in control of the addiction, not the other way around.



Billy had been clean for over a year. He knew how long to the month, week and day.



He felt strong enough to not need to attend regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He had got stuck on about Step 8 of 12, but wasn’t fazed. He’ll get back onto it soon.



Gone were the rehearsed, drilled lines about admitting your failings, discipline, devotion to a higher being that had been such a part of Billy’s belief system since embracing the Program.



Life’s good mate, he said before turning and disappearing into the swirling Christmas shopping crowd.



I walked to the car uncertain what to make of Billy’s new confidence. I’m no expert on addiction, but I do know it’s a life-long battle, a journey that never ends.



But I trusted Billy. He knew himself and his illness better than anyone.



He phoned a few months later on the back edge of summer. I had him on loud speaker as I crept along in peak hour traffic.



He had won the battle over Christmas. Kept his focus, controlled his anxieties.



But a few days before New Year, he relaxed, dropped his guard, and relapsed.



It was just a few drinks. But that’s all the addiction needed. The monster broke down the door and barged in.



But his confidence remained. Billy was disappointed, not defeated. He had put his finger over the flame to see how long he could keep it there. It was the kick up the arse he needed, he said. It had refocused him.



It’s all right, mate, Billy assured.



Other parts of life were going well. He had a new job in a logistics company. He liked the set hours, the wages were higher and he was getting more shifts.



We spoke again a few weeks ago. Billy had relapsed again. This time it was big. He had hooked up with an old mate, another user, who talked him into it.



The lightness had gone from his voice. He was flat, ashamed. He had let himself and all those who believed in him down. His guilt had punched opened his chest and laid him bare.



Thought I was in control, mate.  I’m not, he said. The addiction is. Thought I could have a few. I can’t. It’s just not my reality.



He wanted to catch up and talk more. I love that about Billy. When he used heavily in the past, like most addicts, he lied and deceived, did everything he could to cover it up, to avoid facing the truth. His eyes darted everywhere except at you. His ready laugh was a nervous, staccato jolt.



It was gut wrenching to witness. The lies made it worse. Change can’t come until you hit rock bottom, when you admit to yourself you need help.



These days you can’t shut him up. He looks you in the eye and honesty pours out like a fountain, as if from a belief the more he talks the stronger he will become. Or perhaps he fears the moment he stops talking, he will fall back into the abyss.



The following Saturday, at local footy, we sheltered in front of the social club as dark clouds rolled over.



This time around Billy is staring the monster down. He has quit his job and got back on Newstart, deductions from which are paying for three months rehab in Sydney, scheduled to start a few days later.



He shook his head as he spoke of his shame. Addiction is his reality. He will never have it beaten, but he’ll never stop fighting.



Rather than a furnace in his stomach, Billy has a quiet determination, born of fear. Isn’t that what motivates us all?



Billy needs an engaged mentor, one who will talk straight to him. And the accountability, structure and routine brought by daily meetings and the 12 Step Program.



He is a man who needs to be told what to do. Not to be left to the preyed upon by his demons.



Later, he dropped me home and I gave him A Wink from the Universe, Martin Flanagan’s account of the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 Premiership, football’s greatest against the odds victory. Billy reckons he can relate to it.




Lifeline is a free and confidential support service which can be reached on 13 11 14.

Beyond Blue can be reached on 1300 22 46 36.





  1. Thanks for this, Starkers.
    Addiction is a harrowing journey.

    “He will never have it beaten, but he’ll never stop fighting.” Just beautiful. And I sincerely hope that is the case.
    Go well, Billy.

  2. Onya Billy. I haven’t had a punt for 6 years. Haven’t had a bad relapse for 10. But I still go to 12 Step meetings every week. Good people. Honesty. About life and not just the punt or the grog or the shit. Reminds me of where I was and where I don’t want to be any more. I’d be fine without the meetings – for a month; a year? But not a lifetime. I’d tell myself I’m smarter than I am.
    We say it doesn’t go away it just sits in the corner doing pushups and waiting for you to weaken. Recovery is never a straight line. Fall like a stone; rise like a feather.
    Keep working at it Billy. Your honesty and persistence will get you there.
    Only you can do it, but you can’t do it on your own.
    Thanks Starks.

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Hey Starkers.
    Good to see you back on these pages with an update on Billy.
    2 years and 8 month since my last drink. The importance of having supportive friends and family around you is critical.
    Over the last couple of years I have found out who my true friends and family are. I no longer get invited to “have a drink and watch the footy” or “have a drink” in most other contexts by those who I thought were friends and family. It took me a long time to understand that it is NOT my loss.
    A day at a time and easy does it Billy. And thank you, Andrew.

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