I did NOT want to read what I considered to be a sad, depressing story of a drunk getting sober – probably because I’ve seen that played out in real life and even though it might end well, it’s still tragic and depressing to walk alongside someone you love as they take this journey.
“Drinking – A Love Story” is considered to be one of the best examples of memoir according to Marion Roach Smith, whom I believe to be THE master teacher of memoir-writing. When she tells you to read something, you obey.
(And, by the way, I am not writing a memoir, so relax parental figures and sibs.)
Published in 1996, “Drinking – A Love Story” is shocking in its brutal honesty. I found myself cringing and wanting to look away as Knapp chronicles her twenty-year relationship with alcohol. Only someone who has dealt with alcoholism first-hand will recognize the truths she freely shares. Knapp describes her love affair and obsession with alcohol with such clarity I struggled to completely step away from her words. The REACH and HOLD her story had over me is palpable, and my heart goes out to those I love who face similar struggles.
Knapp, who is a twin, was born into an upper-class two-parent family in an affluent area. By all measurable standards, she began life with every advantage a child could ask for, even though her parents were definitely not affectionate and loving in any demonstrative ways. In this book, she digs deep into her internal battles and unsuccessful ways she attempted to calm and soothe herself as a child and young adult. Unfortunately, drinking was introduced at a very young age and in her home alcohol was present and easily accessible. By the time she was a young professional, it had become a fixture in her life, just as it had been in her childhood home.
The expectation of Knapp’s parents was that she would achieve great things and be successful. As a young professional she was a perfectionist, smart and capable, never missing work or a deadline as editor of the lifestyle section of The Boston Phoenix, a large alternative weekly newspaper.
Her words are too good not to share. Here are just a few of the many quotes I flagged in the book:
1). “High-level functioning stands in the alcoholic’s path like a huge road sign, flashing the message that everything is under control. You’re cranking away at work and getting promotions and making money and never missing a deadline. No alcoholics here! It’s not possible. Toward the end of my drinking it would occur to me that my professional life managed to move forward because it was the one area in my life where I never got drunk…drinkers like me tend to spend vast amounts of energy protecting our professional lives, maintaining the illusion that everything is, in fact, just fine. It’s part of what keeps us going.”
2). “Of course, active alcoholics love hearing about the worse cases; we cling to stories about them. Those are the true alcoholics: the unstable and the lunatic; the bum in the subway drinking from the bottle; the red-faced salesman slugging it down in a cheap hotel. Those alcoholics are always a good ten or twenty steps farther down the line than we are, and no matter how many private pangs of worry we harbor about our own drinking, they always serve to remind us that we’re okay, safe and in sufficient control.”
3). “A single drink can make you feel unstoppable, masterful, capable of solving problems that overwhelmed you just five minutes before. In fact, the opposite is true: drinking brings your life to a standstill, makes it static as a rock over time.”
Fortunately, her story is about recovery too. Knapp is prompted to admit herself into rehab after she narrowly escapes an accident in which she was completely trashed and nearly killed her oldest friend’s two daughters.
Her story may be old and familiar, but it’s also important and relevant today. In the past few years, I have had several close friends randomly make the decision to stop drinking – not because of a DUI or because they got fired for drinking at work. They weren’t forced to stop because of a life-altering event, but just decided “no more alcohol” and after quitting they now recognize what a domineering force/hold alcohol had on their lives.
If you know someone struggling with any type of addiction, this book would be a good start. Knapp is a masterful writer and I am more understanding and empathetic for having read her words. Her untimely death of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42 is a tremendous loss to the world, but she left us all with a great gift: her story.
If you are still reading, thank you.
I want you to know I struggled with whether or not to share this particular book review. It’s so raw. And so private. And not at all cheerful. But I believe it’s important. Then, coincidentally an article (see link below) came across my newsfeed this morning that seemed to direct me to go ahead and share Caroline Knapp’s story with you.
Have a great weekend!