Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
I’ve just finished the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I finished it in about five days flat. It’s beautifully written and will haunt you days after you have finished. The book touches on two big themes — loneliness and trauma. The main character, Eleanor, is alone and isolated because of her childhood trauma. Her loneliness is crushing and she uses alcohol to escape from it. I have come to believe that loneliness is the disease of our times. It kills more people than anything else. Human connection is life-sustaining: we need it like we need the sun and air. Yet so many of us live in desperate isolation.
The book made me shudder at times, as there was a period of my life that was very close to hers. It was 1995. I had graduated from university and was living in North London — Wood Green to be exact. I was about 25, and I had succeeded in pushing everyone away. The only connections I had were with the people I interacted with at work.
I'd started a new job working for the Metropolitan Police in London, and my life was exactly like Eleanor Oliphant’s. I would go to work and be busy and deal with people. Then I would come home on a Friday night, stop at the off-license, and purchase two bottles of wine. I remember thinking that was okay because it was a Friday night and I would hope the person serving me assumed I was having a dinner party or something. Would assume I had a life and wasn’t some sad lonely person sitting at home getting wasted on their own. Which of course I was. I would drink those two bottles of wine, and I would spend the entire weekend on my own smoking cigarettes, watching re-runs of Friends and just drinking.
There was one weekend, in particular. It was a three-day weekend in August in London. I had been dumped after a brief three-week relationship and all of a sudden I had three whole days to fill and no plans and nothing to do and no one to be with.
I had a well-established pattern in relationships at this point. My neediness and desperation usually made them run a mile after about two weeks or so. To be clear, I use the word ‘relationship’ loosely, it was more of a hostage situation (me clinging on for dear life), so I didn't have to be alone. Anyway, with no buffer, the loneliness descended, and I had no idea how to escape. I remember getting my usual two bottles of wine on Friday night. Then when I woke up on Saturday morning, I just felt so absolutely desperate and alone that I knew I couldn't get through the next 48 hours sober. I wanted oblivion. So I went to the off-license as soon as it opened, which was I think maybe 11 a.m., and bought two bottles of wine and drank all day on Saturday. I think I went out and got some more in the afternoon and a pack of cigarettes, but I couldn't get drunk. I couldn't get to that place of numbness. The more I drank, the more aware I was of my crushing loneliness. The alcohol had stopped working. Day turned into night, and I just felt so desperate that I decided the only thing left to do was to try to kill myself.
So I took all of my antidepressants (of course I was on antidepressants, because alcohol makes you depressed) and laid down for 30 minutes. Then I panicked and thought “I don't want to die." I called an ambulance, and they took me to the emergency room, which on a Saturday night on a three-day weekend in London was chock full of people with alcohol-related injuries and mishaps. I was beginning to feel better, probably because I was getting some attention, but mostly because they put me in a next to a young man who'd been glassed (attacked with an empty beer bottle) at a pub. We started chatting, and I cheered up immensely once I had someone to flirt with, which of course was ridiculous. I remember the nurse telling me off, and they eventually put me on a ward after giving me all this black stuff to drink. I couldn't sleep and I was beginning to feel hung over and just really regretted what I did.
I just walked out of the hospital, and I didn't tell anybody where I was going or what I was doing. Because I was admitted as an attempted suicide, the police came looking for me. I inconvenienced so many people because I hadn't told anyone. I just went home and went to bed, and the next morning I woke up with a friend knocking on my door because I'd given his name as next of kin. I somehow turned it into a funny story and we went for a beer. But I will never forget that memory of crushing desperation and loneliness or how lost I was. I had no idea how to get out of the situation I was in. I lived in this incredible city full of exciting people, and I just felt alone and separate.
This all came back to me when I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and I had so much gratitude that I was no longer in that place. I rebuilt my life piece by piece with the most important part being the life-sustaining human connection I need to thrive. But my heart aches for all those people who are still there.