I’m spending a lot of time these days reading addiction memoirs. After finishing Caroline Knapp’s book, I moved on to David Carr’s Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. This is a fascinating book conceptually. Carr discusses at length our inability as humans to accurately recall our past. This is particularly true for addicts, so he decided to approach his memoir from the standpoint of a journalist. He interviewed the people from his past to arrive at some closer version of the truth about his life and the days he spent using.
Carr is a phenomenal writer and although I’m only fifty pages in, I am picking up a lot of insights. I read something today in that made me pause and do a little personal unpacking. Carr writes: “But being an addict means that you never stipulate to being an adult. You may, as the occasion requires, adopt the trade dress of a grown-up, showing responsibility and gravitas in spurts to get by, but the rest of the time, you do what you want when you want.”
Could it be true for me as well? Had my relationship with alcohol turned me into some hapless, thirty-something woman child?
These sentences brought me back to a similar idea expressed in Caroline Knapp’s book. She writes, “…in some deep and important personal respects you stop growing when you start drinking alcoholically. The drink stunts you, prevents you from walking through the kinds of fearful life experiences that bring you from point A to point B on the maturity scale…After a while you don’t even know the most basic things about yourself…because you’ve never given yourself a chance, a clear, sober chance, to grow.”
At this point in my reading, the wheels started turning. This felt true, familiar even.
The story I’ve told myself is that I was always afraid – afraid to leave a job I didn’t like very much, afraid to try something new and start over professionally, afraid to leave a relationship/situation with a man I had no business being around. I got to play the victim in these moments. Poor little paralyzed me. This narrative aligns perfectly with the current mantra of the self-help world. “Don’t be afraid to live your authentic truth!” “Step out of fear! Live in your truth!” Fear was my true problem. Not alcohol. Not depression or anxiety. Chalking the circumstances of my life up to fear fit within this neat box I had constructed and so I’ve kept it there, unchecked and unexplored. Until today.
I’m now challenging the idea that the hindrances of my life have been predominately fear-based. Perhaps Carr and Knapp have a point. I HAVEN’T really grown up. Throughout my twenties and very early thirties, I didn’t approach life’s challenges as an adult. I didn’t deal with my emotions in a mature manner. I didn’t make heathy decisions. I’ve always carried an air of immaturity about me that has contributed to part of my charm in some cases, but mostly has done me zero favors.
When I think back to my professional life during my twenties, I can’t help but cringe. I was the colleague talking during meetings ,distracting my neighbor, cracking the off color joke – a clown. I didn’t take feedback well and abhorred confrontation. If I had a problem with a coworker, I didn’t address them directly. I mostly resorted to gossip and venting. When the job was difficult (which was all the time), I didn’t ask for help and I didn’t listen well when somebody offered it. I was a particular kind of stubborn. I didn’t take responsibility like I should have. Mostly (in my mind) things were happening TO me in these spaces, beyond my control. Learned helplessness.
Meanwhile, my inner world was a bundled mess. Had I possessed the maturity to handle things better, I may have succeeded where I failed in my work, or, at the very least, had the wherewithal to get a different job doing something I was better suited for. Knapp’s quote speaks volumes on that last point. What WAS I better suited for? I had no idea because rather than navigate this professional, adult landscape in a constructive manner and do some soul searching, I would go to happy hour with colleagues who seemed equally maladjusted and vent over $5 drafts. When those coworkers moved on or stopped going to happy hour, I stayed exactly who I was the year before and continued to drink. I was the first person at the bar on Friday after work and the last to leave. On my way home, you bet your ass I picked up a bottle or two to settle down for the rest of the night. I was forever the girl begging anybody who would be persuaded to stay for one more round. I was never finished.
Knapp was right. There is something profoundly stunting about drinking alcoholically. If you’d asked me six months ago what I wanted to do with my life, I couldn’t have begun to tell you. I just didn’t know and the frustration of not knowing often led me to drink more. I have wrestled for years with the idea of what it is I should be doing five, ten, and fifteen years from now and watching people my age and younger be so ahead of the game added more pressure. I felt like a failure without ever haveing tried to do anything. The story in my head was that I should have been more or done more “by now” but I’d never made any actual sacrifice or effort towards those ends. I was too busy drowning myself in booze, mourning the loss of some personal or professional venture that didn’t even exist, and replaying regrets over missed opportunities from my past. I chose the easy thing of staying in a job that I knew, even if it was making me miserable, and in the evening time I’d get weepy eyed over what could have been and feel jealous of others who had made something of themselves. I was all ideas, no action, no backbone. Stuck.
Although I’m still formulating a vision for my future, I don’t feel the same inevitable defeat that I carried around the past fifteen years. I don’t feel locked into place. For the first time, I feel empowered to make plans for my life and build towards them. I’ve become much more introspective and although I still have to beat back the urge to interrupt people and give my two cents in a conversation (sorry y’all), I’m getting better at listening. In short, I’m growing. There is still a part of me that falls down the rabbit hole of regret, beating myself up for not having stopped sooner, or gotten real help, for being thirty-five and feeling like a recent college graduate. The good news is that instead of drowning those feelings out with whiskey, I confront them and move forward.
I am grateful, though, for the insights I’ve been picked up in these last couple of weeks. I’ve finally reached a point where I’ve given up thinking I have the answers to everything and that I can sort my problems out on my own. I highly recommend a bit of surrender to anyone who’s hit a rough patch. It works miracles. I’m seeing myself more clearly through these authors in ways that are not always comfortable (I feel I owe a bunch of people apologies in the near future), but are nevertheless necessary and worthwhile. I’m grateful to finally be sober enough to take it on.