After last night’s post, I started re-reading Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: a love story. I’m a big fan of Knapp’s work, but find it’s a lot easier to admit to loving Appetites than Drinking. Although Appetites is often described as an anorexia memoir, Knapp writes about desire in a much broader sense – you don’t have to have had an eating disorder to identify with what she says. Drinking, on the other hand, is far more focused on her battle with alcoholism. I first read it in 2004. It touched a nerve then; even more so now. I am no way in the same league of drinking as Knapp & the others she meets along her way, but the patterns of behaviour ring very true to my experience.
This morning I finished Drinking &, inspired by her writings, did some journalling about my relationship with the demon drink. I have been pretty candid in my journal over the years, but have always somehow avoided writing about alcohol – or, more specifically, me & alcohol. Maybe Knapp’s analogy of drinking with a love affair was playing on my mind, but I found myself comparing my relationship with alcohol to my relationship with a particular person. Suddenly I had written the line: ‘Every time I expect it to be somehow magically different to the other times’. This terrified me: I genuinely don’t know if I was talking about alcohol & all the times I’ve abstained for a while then jumped off the wagon, or this relationship where we’ve gone long periods without contact, only to find ourselves repeating the same pattern every few years or so.
The fact that I could so easily confuse the two is worrying. But part of me also felt cheered by this. At one time, I could not envisage ever having a life without this person in it; it seemed impossible to even contemplate, however miserable I was. Yet one day I just decided enough was enough. I knew I had to choose the relationship – even just as friends – or my own sanity. I chose the latter. It hasn’t been easy. I feel sad about it still. I think of the person often. But I know it was for the best. Making that choice – however tough – felt like the first time I had made a mature, independent, authentic decision about relationships. It made me feel like an adult.
Perhaps it was this jumbled up set of emotions about relationships/alcohol & my thoughts about this person, but the following quotation from Knapp seemed to particularly speak to my condition:
“When you quit drinking you stop waiting. You begin to let go of the wish, age old & profound & essentially human, that someone will swoop down & do all that hard work, growing up, for you. You start living your own life."
Your own life – a life of one’s own – a new phase in mine began today, with a wedding where I stayed stone cold sober.