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.
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