Tuesday, 26 August 2014

I just finished reading a very good book, "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp.  It's a book about alcoholism, about women, about families.  It's a memoir written by Caroline Knapp, an alcoholic for twenty years. 

I've known alcoholics my whole life.  I saw what my grandmother did to my father, even though I never met my grandmother.  My sister's husband periodically blew through our family like a tornado, leaving destruction in his wake.  My son's father.  My daughters' father.  My partner.  I've cared for alcoholics going through withdrawal, shaking and swearing as their bodies dried out.  I've cared for alcoholics who had destroyed their livers and were now dying slowly, turning yellow and becoming confused, or quickly, bleeding out of their mouths and their rectums.  I've cared for alcoholics who had destroyed their minds and could no longer feed themselves or toilet themselves.  But I've never really understood why they do what they do.  Until now.

Caroline helped me to understand what it's like living as an alcoholic.  Why she did what she did.  How she lived like she did.  Three quarters of the way through the book I wanted to know more about her so I googled her name.  Sadly I found out she had died in 2002 of lung cancer.  I felt like I had lost a friend.

Here's an excerpt from her book.

"Al-Anon...estimates that every alcoholic's drinking affects at least four other people.  We worry parents, lovers, co-workers, anyone close who crosses our paths.  We lose our tempers with them, we blame them for our troubles, we push them away.  We never quite let them in, let them know us too well, because we're afraid that if they got too close they'd be appalled at what they'd find.  Accordingly, a great deal of the active alcoholic's energy is spent constructing facades, an effort to present to others a front that looks okay, that seems lovable and worthy and intact.  Inside versus outside; version A, version B.  The double life grows more sophisticated and more deeply entrenched.
Mostly, we lie.  That's a statement of fact, not a judgment.  Alcoholics like about big things, and we lie about small things, and we lie to other people and (above all) we lie to ourselves."

What got me the most was her assertion that alcoholism was about not feeling.  She drank to anesthetize herself, to stop feeling anything.  I can understand the desire to not feel but couldn't, wouldn't go there because to not feel pain or sadness or fear means to also not feel joy or love or compassion.  You can't have one without other.  It was a wonderful, sad and profound read. 



  1. Another really amazing book is by the founder of Al Anon. It is called, When Love is Not Enough". There was also a movie made by the same title. You don't know chaos until you have loved an alcoholic. You don't know true despair and until you have loved an alcoholic. I have loved many of them. Al Anon helps me cope.

  2. So interesting -- there is little alcoholism in my family, but I remember reading about the biggest and longest longitudinal study done on "happiness" -- hundreds of men studied over the entire trajectory of their lives, I think, from the 1920s to present day, and the single factor that was most common for an "unhappy life" with generational repercussions was alcoholism. It outranked depression, death, divorce, cancer, disability, war trauma, etc. I'll try to find the link, but it was fascinating.