Recovery Notes #4

Delusions and denial

When I was drinking I thought I had special powers.

I didn’t have any tolerance for the crazy people (aka social drinkers) who only ever had one or two and who (God forbid!) would sometimes abandon their drinks entirely. Instead, I spent my time with the kind of drinkers who would open a fresh bottle of whiskey and throw the cap in the garbage, the kind of drinkers who habitually got so drunk, they stumbled over their own feet, slurred their words and repeated themselves ad nauseam, all the while thinking themselves brilliant. They’d hang their heads and pass out at the kitchen table, or on the floor, or in the bathroom with their heads in a pool of puke, have beer for breakfast and slobber over their clothes. Afterwards, they’d deny what happened and pretend they’d only ever had a few social drinks. Those were my kind of drinkers.

I would match them drink for drink, but I was different (or so I thought). I drank because I was a writer and heavy drinking had a long and illustrious history among the creative class. As a writer, I was called to experience life deeply, to throw myself into the thick of things, to live fully and creatively and this involved lots of alcohol. Creative people like me had special powers so that alcohol didn’t affect us in the same way as it did ordinary people. I never stumbled or slurred my words (although sometimes people couldn’t hear me for reasons I didn’t understand). I did not pass out, (although I sometimes got tired and went to sleep in unusual places). If I drank in the mornings, it was so that somebody who really needed it would not have to feel bad about their morning drinks.

I thought that my biggest problem was that I was unfortunate enough to be attracted to rock-bottom drunks. Out of concern for my alcoholic friends, and also the alcoholics I saw staggering around Hay River, I became interested in the larger problem of alcoholism in the North and set out to sober everybody up.

I began to research alcoholism in my capacity as a reporter, and attended an Alcoholics Anonymous roundup, interviewing members and sitting in on AA meetings. (I also attended their banquet and dance, after a few surreptitious drinks in the bar.) One of the AA members I interviewed explained the role of denial in alcoholism: how alcoholics lie to themselves, and everybody else, about their drinking and how this denial serves to keep them drinking. “Hey, that describes everybody I know,” I thought. I published a detailed story about AA in Tapwe, hoping that some of my poor benighted friends might see themselves in it and get the help that they so badly needed. I may even have urged one or two of them, over drinks in the bar, to join AA.

Sometime later, I left Tapwe for a better-paying job at Hay River’s other newspaper The Hub and launched a weekly column about my personal life. I wrote a piece entitled, My Sweet Seducer, in which I described waking up on a hungover Sunday morning to find a half bottle of Scotch and an overflowing ashtray on my kitchen table, lighting a smoke and then having a conversation (in lurid prose that embarrasses me to this day) with the bottle as though I was trying to resist a lover who had betrayed me and now tempted me again. At the end of the piece I capitulated and reached for a drink.

There is a part of ourselves, often so deeply buried we don’t know it’s there, that nudges us toward healing and we start calling for help, sometimes long before we are ready to receive it. Looking back now, I understand that writing that column was one of my calls for help. But at the time I fooled myself. I explained to anybody who would listen that the column was not about me, that I had turned myself into a character in order to render an artistic commentary on alcoholism. (As far as I know, a lot of people believed me. At least they pretended to.)

It wasn’t until three years later when I had moved to Yellowknife and decided to quit drinking that I saw how deeply I was steeped in denial. It shocked me to realize that while I could see how others denied their alcoholism, I was unable to see it in myself even though I was drinking just as much and behaving in exactly the same way. This, more than anything, made me realize the power that alcohol had over me. And it convinced me that I would not be able to quit alone.


This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!


Recovery Notes #3

I write, therefore I am

Even though I didn’t quit drinking until 1983, I’ve always believed that I took the first step toward recovery in early April, 1978, while I was a student at the University of Guelph. Guelph was in the grip of first days of spring and the air was soft while the sun sparkled on the melting snow, but I had no eyes to appreciate any of it.  Two years earlier, the loneliness brought on by the end of a long-term relationship had hurtled me deeper into the drinking life. I had become a crazy barroom lady, mouthy and laughing on the outside, while dying on the inside. I embarked on a series of unrequited love affairs and the continual rejection battered any remaining self-esteem to a pulp. Finally, there was one rejection too many and I became paralyzed. I stopped attending classes, skipped my final exams and spent my days sitting on the floor in front of the couch drinking, listening to sad music and crying.

Somewhere in midst of my misery, I decided to write a letter to my absconded lover. For three days, I struggled to put my feelings into words, and as I did, something deep inside of me changed. A quiet voice in my head said “writing will get you out of the hell your life has become.” It stopped me cold and, at first, I didn’t know what to do. But I, who had elevated self-doubt and cynicism to the level of an art form, believed the voice without question. I put away the booze (temporarily), showered, changed my clothes, left the house and was able, for the first time in weeks, to look people in the eye.

My lover thought the letter was “too weird” but by the time he read it I no longer cared. I turned my back on Ontario and embarked on the hitchhiking journey that would eventually take me to northern Canada. The trip quickly degenerated into a tour of bars and parties across the country but, throughout it all, I remained convinced that somehow, somewhere, I was going to be a writer.

Eight months later I found myself on a bus heading south from the Northwest Territories. I had been to visit Bart*, an old friend with whom I had hooked up on the road, and who had then gotten work in Hay River. Now I was on my way home for Christmas, but I planned to return in January to set up housekeeping with Bart. When the bus stopped in Peace River, Alberta, a young woman, Violet*, hurried on and plopped herself down in the seat beside me. She had overslept in Hay River so a friend had driven her 600 km south to catch the bus in time to make it to Saskatchewan for Christmas. She told me that she worked at a Tapwe, a small weekly newspaper run by a publisher who would hire anybody who could type.

As soon as I returned to Hay River in the New Year, I made an appointment with Don Taylor, the publisher at Tapwe, and haltingly told him that I wanted to write. It was the first time I had ever admitted my aspirations to anybody and I was terrified he would laugh me out of the office. Instead, he asked me if I could type. When I responded in the affirmative, he hired me on the spot as a reporter/photographer trainee.

Don was an eccentric newshound who had earned his reporting chops at the Regina Leader Post and Canadian Press before venturing north in the mid-1960s to start his own newspaper. I soon became his protégé and I was so smitten with everything that I was learning at my new job — reporting, writing, northern stories — that for a time I was able to restrict my drinking.

But the darkest days of my alcoholism were still ahead of me. The difference was that now I had something to hang on to. Writing gave me a way to fit into the mosaic of the world. It gave me an identity and a purpose. I finally felt that my life could have value. When drinking eventually overtook me and I faced the choice between life and death, I believe it was this sense of identity and value that helped me to choose life.

*not the real names

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

The things to do before writing

A short time ago, I made a resolution to write a weekly blog post every Friday. Even though I have broken this resolution several times already, this morning I decided to try again. But in between writing sentences, I suddenly felt compelled to do the following:

  • Check Facebook at least five times: once to read yet another tribute to Prince; once to read an article about why a lifelong atheist started to believe in God; three times to just scroll through the Facebook flotsam for anything of interest. (I swear Facebook was invented by the antichrist of Getting Things Done.)
  • Check Amazon and Goodreads to see if there are any new reviews of my novel “Free Love.”
  • Let in the dog. (Not my fault. She was scratching at the door and I couldn’t leave her to freeze in the cold.)
  • Clean behind the stove. (Also not my fault. For some incomprehensible reason, my retired husband, Bill, got the idea, for the first time since we moved into this house four years ago, to pull the stove out from the wall. He found spilled coffee grounds, greasy clumps of dog hair, miscellaneous stains, abandoned almonds, grapes that had petrified into raisons, and more. I couldn’t let him clean it by himself, could I?)

And now it’s lunchtime and I’m only partway through the blog. Then there’s grocery shopping, and walking the dog and … oh well, this all seems to be part of some strange ritual I have to go through every time I break the virginity of the empty page.*

*Wow! Isn’t that last phrase amazing? I’ve completely fallen in love it. When that happens it usually means it’s really bad and my editor would make me get rid of it immediately. However, I do not have a blog editor: hee, hee, hee.