Sunday 9th September, 2007

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Discard the props

“Mostly we lie. That's a statement of fact, not a judgment. Alcoholics lie about big things, and we lie about small things, and we lie to other people and above all we lie to ourselves. Big lies, small lies.”

Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking—A love storyLast week, I began writing about addictions. “You get your comfort where you can” wrote Knapp, who inspired me to write this series that led me to the conclusion that “comfort” can be a death wish, a perverse wish to sabotage your own life by knocking yourself unconscious.

In Drinking—A Love Story, Knapp peels away skin to bare her raw, brutally honest story of addictions.

She was a “high-functioning alcoholic,” successful journalist, and Ivy League graduate. She hid her alcoholism well.

She got me wondering why we humans hardwired to the life force, (making most of us want to live even if we are unimaginably miserable, bereaved, terminally ill, or in terrible danger) are drawn to the death wish.

Why do we deliberately sabotage ourselves with fat, sweet, nicotine, drugs? To be only a fraction of what we are capable of?

Knapp writes:

“As soon as I got home, I’d crack open the first beer and drink it with a deep relief. My booze was an ally, a defence against my own subconscious, against the demons that threatened to swim up from wherever they hid inside.

“Without liquor I’d feel like a trapped animal; which is why I always had it. Over time, over many, many drinks, that knowledge is incorporated:

“Liquor soothes and protects. It has a feel of a psychological safety net. Take a difficult, sober feeling—shyness, fear—and connect it to its easier drunken counterpart—courage.”

While I was reading this book, I met a woman at the hairdresser’s. She asked if I remembered a “chopping” in Trinidad last year.

The woman’s sister was murdered by a man who chopped her to death for a “dare,” to “show-off to his pardners.” The victim died in her son’s arms on the way to hospital.

She was sitting in her hammock in the twilight, swaying and reading when the man struck. The killing was mindless. He was drunk.

But by the time I finished reading Knapp’s affair with alcohol, which she ended with sobriety (she hadn’t touched a drop for years), I really liked her. I LOVED her courage.

She wrote that highly-functioning alcoholics squeezed their talent out bit by bit, as if out of a toothpaste. Painfully.

How could you not admire someone who bares their darkest selves so others can benefit? She wrote:

“As a rule, active alcoholics are powerless people, or at least a lot of us tend to feel that way in our hearts.

“They manage to hold on to trappings of personal power, like jobs and families. But you have to step back and look beneath the facades.

“In fact, few alcoholics feel like powerful players in their own lives. All the strength comes out of a bottle.”

When I was finished reading the book, I looked up Knapp on the Internet. I was eager to read more by her. Such honesty is rare. Her writing is compelling. Wonderful. I got her obituary.

She was dead at 42 from lung cancer.

The other addiction got her. I hadn’t noticed her many references to cigarettes, to “lighting up,” except the one where her mother, on her deathbed, urged her not to smoke.

The real battle is to discard the props and become a “powerful player” in our own lives. It’s that or the death wish.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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