I’ve had a tough last few weeks, going through some stuff that left’s me feeling like I’m on shaky ground (still not being cryptic – I’ll post about what’s going on this week). Anyway, it’s hard to just sit in all the shitty feelings when, historically, you’ve reached for panaceas and now there’s nothing left to take the edge off. I needed some reminders why I’m doing (or not doing) the things I am doing (or not doing).
So that found me roaming the memoir aisles of the library last Sunday, lifting dark drinking books off shelves and considering them in very much the same way I used to do wine bottles. I even had the same sense of paranoia: how many of these can I take home without looking like an alcoholic?
Life’s a funny, funny trip.
I ended up with Sarah Hepola’s Blackout, because it seems like everyone is talking about this book right now and because I have heard Hepola on Home podcast and I really liked what she had to say. Also, the subject of blackouts is very interesting to me. Did you know that not everyone experiences them? In fact, they are a super, super rare thing for a human being to experience; most people who drink alcohol don’t ever experience a single one. If you’re like me and you can’t quite believe this, it’s probably because like attracts like: while hardly anyone ever experiences a blackout, a large percentage of heavy drinkers do and we tend to find one another and laugh about this stuff until we think it’s normal and everyone’s doing it. But actually, there is evidence that whether a person experiences blackouts or not is determined by one’s genes, not necessarily by how much they consume. Anyway, Hepola’s book of combined scientific research and life stories goes into these details much better than I can, so if your interest is piqued you should just read the book. It start with a really wretched, heart-in-your-throat anecdote of coming out of a time shift into the bed and arms of a man Hepola doesn’t even remember meeting. It’s frightening, it’s familiar, it’s a great argument for sticking with tea.
In Blackout, Hepola references Caroline Knapp’s Drinking, A Love Story, which was interesting because that was the second book I checked out. Knapp is known as one of the pioneering female voices in addiction memoir; while she’s not in this world anymore, she forged a big trail in the wilderness. Her book is smart and beautifully written; it chronicles her coming of age in an upper crust family, her psycho-analyst father’s not-so-secret but quite quiet alcoholism, her half brother’ fetal alcohol syndrome, her slip from moderate drinking to chronic but highly-functional abuse. There was an eeriness reading Knapp’s book. She wrote it in her mid thirties, just a couple years after finally getting sober. At the beginning of the book, Knapp’s mother asks her to stop drinking. “It’s worse than smoking,” her mother says. Knapp’s father has just died from a cancer associated with alcohol abuse. Knapp is ashamed of herself but largely ignores her mother’s plea. Towards the end of the book, Knapp’s mother (a non-drinker) dies of breast cancer with the author’s wineglass on her bedside table, Knapp too drunk to cope. Despite knowing of Knapp’s alcoholism, her mother’s final words to her daughter are not a request she stop drinking, but a request she stop smoking. What Knapp didn’t know when she wrote the book is that within five years of it’s success, she would die of lung cancer in her early forties. This was the acute sadness in the victorious ending of Drinking, A Love Story. So many years of this brilliant woman’s life were wasted in active abuse; she so thrived in recovery, but for so few years.
I also read Elizabeth Smart’s My Story, because the book was on the same self and it caught my attention and I figured, “Hey, if I throw this in I will look like less of a drunk and maybe more like I’m just really into memoirs.” My Story was written with assistance from Chris Stewart, and told the story of what happened in the nine months of Elizabeth Smart’s abduction from a first-person account. Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom when she was only 14 years old, and was hidden in plain sight by veils and sheets by a psychopath and his equally-monstrous wife. The book is modest, heartbreaking, optimistic, and is a story of overcoming insurmountable odds.
Anyway, that’s my drive-by Book Church this week, folks.