Sunday, August 31, 2008

Drinking: A Love Story

I have been reading another recovery book. This one is by Caroline Knapp and is called Drinking: A Love Story. This is her story of alcoholism, how she hit bottom and how she sobered up. Here is one of the passages that touches on the hardships of first becoming sober. It also gives an idea of what a great writer she was:

There’s something about facing long afternoons without the numbing distraction of any sort of anesthesia that disabuses you of the belief in externals, shows you that strength and hope come not from circumstances or the acquisition of things but from the simple accumulation of active experience, from gritting the teeth and checking the items off the list, one by one, even though it’s painful and you’re afraid....Passivity is corrosive to the soul; it feeds on feelings of integrity and pride, and it can be as tempting as a drug. If it feels warm and fuzzy, it is probably the [addictive] choice. If it feels dangerous and scary and threatening and painful, it is probably healthy.

I think that she is writing about the essence of what I have felt. A discomfort with myself and how there are many ways to block out discomforting thoughts that don't have anything to do with substance abuse. I think that over the last couple of years, I've learned to trust my feelings more. And by being honest with myself and my HP about who I am, I have become less fearful about feeling fear and have instead begun to learn from it.

Ms. Knapp died in 2002 from lung cancer. From what I've read, she was a life-long smoker. It's clear from her memoirs that she had a lot of class. And she was a gifted writer. She writes about rehab and the AA meetings she attended. And she writes about her struggle to overcome anorexia which she believed was linked with her disease of alcoholism.

This is really a poignant memoir of someone who appeared so out of sync with herself. She writes about how daunting it was for her to grow up and begin to face her fears.

It seems like such an obvious insight, so simple it borders on the banal, but I'd never before really grasped the idea that growth was something you could choose, that adulthood might be less of a chronological state than an emotional one which you decide, through painful acts, to both enter and mantain. I'd spent most of my life waiting for maturity to hit me from the outside, as though I'd just wake up one morning and be done, like a roast in the oven. But growth comes from the inside out, from trying and failing and trying again. You begin to let go of the wish, age-old and profound and essentially human, that someone will swoop down and do all that hard work, growing up, for you. You start living your own life.

This is a book in which I recognized feelings that I've known and feelings that I've heard expressed by my wife. I highly recommend it.


  1. This really touched me because I see the resistance to "growing up" in my son. I totally understand what she is saying. The addictive personality wants to remain childlike with no cares or woes. When faced with adult life choies, they need a crutch. Sad.

  2. I think I'm going to have to read this book. It seems like I would like her writing from the paragraphs you posted. And you're right, I think even people who aren't addicts have these same feelings. I see some of the waiting for outside factors to help you grow in my MIL, and she isn't an addict.

  3. i was so switched to avoiding. avoiding things, people, most of all feeling. i can now honestly say that feeling fears is NOT as scary and painful as it once was. true, there was the beginning, that time where i had to go through all the things i'd ignored, repressed, avoided, and where i had to come to terms with what i had done. and that did hurt and it was unpleasant. but now things, the world, aren't as fearful as they used to be. i'm now able to enjoy life once more. and feelings are just that, feelings. to feel, accept, learn from, deal with, some even to enjoy. quite marvellous.

    this reminds me. i heard on tv yesterday: "there are many ways to die, you have to find a way to live." simply put, that's IT, isn't it...

    great post this!

  4. this was one of the first books i read in recovery and i recommend it to ladies i run into.. it's a great book. i got it down off the shelf the other day with the intention to read again. i was sad to hear she died but was glad it was not because of alcohol. what a neat lady she was and an excellent writer!

  5. I read this book a year before I REALLY got sober (my lame year of "controlling my drinking"on my own without AA) and still find it one of the most powerful narratives written on alcoholism, addiction, and recovery.
    Caroline was a gifted writer.

  6. That was one of the very first books I read about recovery. I think I read it when it first came out loooong before I ever attempted sobriety. But I identified. I think it may be time to reread it. Passivity, I think, is what I just went through the last 3 weeks. Taking a break from recovery. Not that I stopped doing everything.. I just wasn't doing enough. Glad to be back and thanks for still being here.

  7. Whoa- "that adulthood might be less of a chronological state than an emotional one which you decide, through painful acts, to both enter and mantain."
    That's pretty profound!

  8. Are you raiding my bookshelves while I sleep?

    I, too, found this a great read. I didn't know she had died.

    Did you read "What did I do last night?" by Tom Sykes? Great stuff too.

  9. I always wanted someone else to do the work.

  10. I'm not much of a book reader, except for the dozen or so books of our fellowship, and my wife's Alanon stuff. Also a couple "daily" readings, e.g., God Calling, and Rabbi Pliskin...BUT I'm a-gonna look up Caroline K's LOVE STORY. Your excerpts intrigued me to making a library trip tomorrow.


  11. I'm going to add this to my book list. Sounds really interesting. thanks

  12. I hate growing up and facing my fears. But following the 12-steps, it is happening whether I like it or not! Talk about growing pains. lol

    Hope you had a nice holiday weekend, Syd!

  13. This sounds like a book I will look for. I'm trying to get into reading again. From what you shared, it sounds beautiful.


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