I have made several attempts in this blog to latch on to various hot cultural trends, hoping to bring myself significant cyber-popularity. That’s pathetic, yes. And made so much more so by the pathetic results of my efforts.
I did a weight-loss piece – “Lose Weight Fast”. Millions of people, every day, click on fat-fighting sites. Every magazine published in the world has at least one fat article every issue. Write about losing a lot of weight and the massive masses slurp it up like a DQ milkshake. Unless I write it, I guess.
I should have used “before and after” pictures, except that I couldn’t find a Fat Ross photo that I liked.
I tried to catch the “cute cat video” wave. I entitled that piece “Cute Cat Video”, even though there was no video. That’s very much like lying. That’s how desperate I am for attention. I’m sure that my utter lack of success erased the ethical taint of that deception.
Daddy Blogs are very popular, especially among women. Men doing childcare and housework? Are you kidding? Like selling crack cocaine. I tried it – “Men Discover Babies. Parenting Becomes Important.” Apparently, selling crack isn’t as easy as I had been led to believe.
I’ve done cute kid stories. A piece on the War on Christmas. Political Correctness. Being a Man. I’ve done “how-to” manuals to help people be funny [who doesn’t want to be funny?]. My research tells me that each of these things is wildly popular – and so I should be.
But I am not giving up on my dream to become an internet sensation.
Fortunately, there remain a few genres to which I have not yet lent my special touch. One of them is the addiction memoir. There is a limitless appetite for personal stories of spiraling personal destruction through drug and alcohol abuse – all the degradation, violence, anger, sorrow, pain and alienation. And vomiting. Lots of vomiting. Who doesn’t love to read about those things? Especially when those things are accompanied by vivid descriptions of heroic booze intake and the smoking, snorting, injecting and otherwise creative ingesting of various fascinating substances with really cool “street” names. And the characters? Man. Drug dealers, gangsters, prostitutes, junkies, artists, writers, lawyers. All so interesting. Many with cool nicknames, horrific personal histories and fascinating physical deformities.
Of course, every addiction memoir includes “recovery”. In the end, the addict must pull out of the spiral. There has to be redemption. Healing. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Without all this, the memoir is merely voyeurism – addiction porn. The morbid enjoyment of destruction – like NASCAR.
Practically speaking, of course, without recovery, there is no one to write the memoir.
This is where the genre is misleading. Most of the time, there is no one to write the memoir. Most addicts don’t recover, not for very long. Most are too busy dealing with the urgencies of their day-to-day fucked up existence to write a memoir. They’re also far too invested in denial to write an honest account of their ordeal as they’re living it. Blackouts also make it very difficult for the responsible memoirist to get the story straight.
Then they die. Not romantically or beautifully.The addict/alcoholic death is usually a slow one. Addicts are resilient. It’s a long fall. And ugly. For every exciting young famous flame-out who “partied” too hard, there are hundreds and hundreds of decaying pitiful souls who give up, break down and expire in squalor. ParTay.
The addiction memoir spares us all that. The danger of certain death looms as a constant background to the narrative – if our hero(ine) doesn’t dry out – but we know everything is going to be okay by the end of the book. Later, a relapse can become the occasion for another book.
Typically, the mandatory “recovery” part of the memoir covers only a few pages. Recovery is the goal but not the guts of the addiction memoir.
Recovery is actually kind of boring – especially compared with what’s being recovered from. And it takes a long time. Think of action movies – how much time is spent in the hospital burns unit after the fiery crash? Same thing here. Recovering addicts have ordinary lives, like yours, except that they go to a lot of “meetings”. Who wants to read about that?
I won’t list my favourite AddMems [I just made that word up]. Lists are dull. But, I will recommend two. “Lit“, by Mary Karr is absolutely beautiful. Every sentence is a poem. Same with “Dry“, by Augusten Burroughs. On the other hand, comedian Richard Lewis wrote one with the title “The Other Great Depression: How I’m overcoming on a Daily Basis, at Least a Million Addictions and Dysfunctions and Finding a Spiritual (Sometimes) Life“. The book reads very much like the title. Ironic that a guy with no attention span expects us to read his entire, long-winded and unfocused book. But I did.
Some wonderful writers have booze and drug issues. I don’t know if there is a connection. Stephen King, of scary book and movie fame, places his addiction memoir in a book about writing. A great book about writing – “On Writing“. He doesn’t recall many of the details of the writing of his breakthrough book “Carrie”. He didn’t lose his writing chops when he dried out, thankfully.
So, I am one of those people caught up with the AddMem. I’ve read lots of them. Some are my favourite books. I bought a new one just the other day – “Kasher in the Rye” by Mosher Kasher. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I expect he recovers.
I bought the new book, coincidentally, on May 16 – the seventh anniversary of my first day of sobriety. Okay – that’s not quite right. I spent much of my childhood sober, especially during infancy. For much of my adult life, though, I have been an active, though functioning, alcoholic.
At this point, you’re supposed to say “Hello, Ross.”
Well then, as a recovering alcoholic, I am well equipped to cash in on the lucrative Addiction Memoir craze. How lucky is that?
Let’s get on with my crash-and-burn and rise-from-the-ashes story.
Except that I didn’t crash and burn. It was more like I was spending my life driving around with my tires under-inflated.
My story also doesn’t involve an interesting cast of characters. I was a drunk pretty much on my own. One of the questions they always ask on those “are you an alcoholic?” magazine questionnaires is “do you ever drink alone?” I guess that drinking alone is a terrible thing. I never got that – so I’m supposed to always find someone to drink with? What about making supper, doing the dishes, bathing the kids, reading bedtime stories? How could I possibly be a responsible parent and husband while drinking heavily if I had to go to a bar or a party every night? Be serious.
Besides, most of the friends I might socially drink with generally weren’t comfortable with how much I drank. I didn’t want them to worry. Or intervene. Or know.
There are no skeevy drug dealers in my story. All of my dealers were public servants working at government-run liquor stores. I don’t recall any of them having any interesting scars or missing limbs and none of them ever took my money at knife-point. There were a lot of them, of course, because I tried to spread my custom around. I rotated through the liquor stores because I wanted to avoid becoming a “regular”. I purposely did not learn any of their names. I couldn’t have a liquor store cashier thinking I had a drinking problem. Obviously.
Sorry, my story doesn’t involve snorting substance from a thousand-dollar-a-night hooker’s belly button. I quietly slurped scotch from my favourite little glass, which I filled frequently from various scotch bottles I had stashed about the house.
The AA folks have long asked us to characterize alcoholism as a disease. It is treated as a “disability” in the legal human rights world – though I notice that we don’t get special parking spaces. I’m also waiting on the International Paralympic Committee to declare alcoholism to be a disability for the purpose of the Paralympic Games. Imagine the hockey team we’d have.
It wasn’t a disease with me. More like a condition – like a bum knee. It didn’t disable me. It hobbled me. It prevented me from having the life I’d like to have. Well, not quite. I was actually, for a long time, torn on the issue of what sort of life I’d like to have. I kind of liked the “drinking a lot” aspect of my life. What’s not to like? Perhaps, to a non-alcoholic, the appeal of a life spent drinking heavily isn’t obvious. You’ll just have to trust me on this. At any rate, the successful drunk develops a level of self-loathing sufficient to dismiss any notion that he’d amount to much even without the drinking. In other words, if there was a better life waiting on me to be sober, which I doubted, it could wait. Indefinitely.
Mostly, I could manage. I could accommodate my disability, control my disease. I never missed a day of work. For all hard drinkin’ guys, that’s the ultimate test. I made it to work. Every day. I was really, really unproductive, of course. But I was there – pretending not to be hung over.
And, if I had to, if the circumstances absolutely required it, I could be sober. Of course, I started to realize that there weren’t really that many things that I needed to be completely sober for. It was often enough that I pretend to be sober.
There’s quite a lot of pretending in functional alcoholism. Some might consider this dishonest. I’m not comfortable with that degree of moral rigidity.
The only people I directly lied to were my wife and my doctor. Dishonesty in a marriage is a bad thing. Dishonesty with one’s doctor can be fatal. I figured he couldn’t handle the truth. He’d probably have suggested I quit drinking, especially since the “medical establishment” believes that my level of boozing was bad for my high blood pressure. Had I the energy, I’d have sought out alternative, more booze-friendly, therapies.
My story doesn’t have a dramatic point when I “hit bottom”. Instead, I turned it around as a result of a conversation I had with my wife, whom I had spared the burdensome knowledge of exactly how much I had been drinking for years. She suggested it would be better for all concerned if I learned how to drink “moderately”.
Why would anyone drink moderately? What is the point of that?
I realized I had three choices. I could drink moderately. I could quit drinking completely. I could drink myself to death. I further realized that drinking moderately was my very distant third choice.
She asked how much I drank. And, after many years of answering that question with a lie, I told the truth which, to get all literary, set me free.
I quit drinking. Not right then. I had a buzz going that I didn’t want to interrupt. The next day. Seven years ago. Like they say in AA “seven years at a time”. No, they don’t say that.
I kept a journal of my new sober life. For a couple of years. I looked it over as I prepared to write this. It is very boring. In fact, I note several times in the journal that my new life is really really boring. The worst part of sobriety, aside from how boring it is, is that all your problems – in your career, your family life, your life generally – are still there. Sobriety doesn’t magically solve anything, except drunkenness. And you’re stuck dealing with those problems because you’re no longer too drunk or too hung over to attend to them. Now that sucks. But eventually, slowly, you get used to it.
Many old drunks, when they quit drinking, feel like they’ve lost their best friend. They mourn that loss for a long time. For me, it was like an annoying roommate had moved out: a guy I’d known since high school, with whom I’d shared lots of laughs, who knew me better than anyone else. But I was spending way too much time sitting around home with that guy, on the couch, watching sports. Life outside us and outside our little home was just slipping away from me. He was not cleaning up after himself. He was always late with the rent and bumming smokes. He was too needy. He had to go. It was time to grow up. I don’t miss him. I can’t believe it took me so long to kick him out. Oh yeah, and in this metaphor, the roommate was going to kill me.
I hate how much of my life I wasted. You learn not to dwell on regret. I hope I’ve repaired all the damage I’ve done. But it’s only been seven years.
One thing I still don’t get, even seven years later. Why would anyone drink moderately?