Constant Craving

Caroline Knapp’s drinking memoir Drinking: A Love Story continues to be widely read twenty years after its publication. Knapp’s writing is emotionally honest yet unsentimental in a way that gets you right in to the mind games that we play with ourselves around drinking.

Like many others I’m sure, I’ve underlined and dog-eared parts of Knapp’s book (among others) to ¬†reflect on my drinking. One section that really hit home for me was her account of a formless kind of need in alcoholics that nothing seems to satisfy. Swilling scotch from a bottle at the time, she recalls, “I just remember the hunger, the need….Most alcoholics I know experience that hunger long before their first drink, that yearning for something, something outside of the self that will provide relief and solace and well-being.”

Knapp goes on to recall her childhood…craving and obsessing over attaining things — party shoes, she says, or horseback riding lessons. Over time, the object of that craving became alcohol, but the underlying drive to fill a hole she just didn’t understand was always the same.

It was the little kid thing. “That was me,” I thought. I’ve always viewed my drinking behaviour as a long, slow evolution of my habits in adulthood. There was no alcoholism in my home, so no obvious need to go back to my childhood make sense of my drinking. But I immediately recognized myself as a child in Knapp’s chant: “Fill it up, fill it up, fill it up. Fill up the emptiness; fill up what feels like a pit of loneliness and terror and rage…”

The pit I have been trying to fill since childhood is one of profound loneliness. When I was a kid, I fantasized about being anything or anyone other than what I was, and what I was was a gifted little dork with no social skills, and big emotions that came out at all the wrong times. In retrospect, I would have been diagnosed with ADHD and childhood depression. ADHD People are often “divergent thinkers,” so my mind did constant acrobatics, trying to imagine ways of being in the world that might feel less sad and angry, where I might fit in with my peers, where I might not have felt the need to hide in bathroom stalls and the corners or rooms with books, and the diaries I wrote in constantly.

I am still lonely, as I’ve mentioned. Perhaps this is a blog and a journey as much about loneliness as about drinking. I had all this trepidation leading up to quitting drinking before I actually committed. Now I’m having trepidation about committing to some kind of sobriety community. It’s just like quitting drinking. I know I have to do it but I’m scared.

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I Thought I Was Different

On a sober forum, I mentioned that I couldn’t quite reconcile my daily drinking with my near daily fitness regimen. I know some folks take up a fitness regimen of some sort as part of their recovery, so in this context, I was wondering what the heck I was going to do with the antsy business that would inevitably come with not drinking. “You’d be surprised how many people are fitness freaks except for alcohol,” someone in the forum replied.

I suppose I had it in my head that I might be a bit different because I was fanatical about exercise. Wow. That was silly of me. People with alcohol dependency come in all shapes, sizes and ways of being in the world. One of those ways of being is using exercise to manage your drinking, punish yourself for drinking, or prove to yourself and others that you are well, and in fact “healthy.”

Okay. So I wake up a bit hung over. (Like not today. Before this abstinence thing, I mean.) And do a bunch of work, and then go for a run, and probably do a bunch of weight training after that. And if I can exercise and otherwise be productive like that the next day, alcohol can’t be a problem for me, right? I’m healthy. I’m fit.

So when I started in on Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story” (which is beautifully written), I twinged in particular when she described going for a long, hard row while feeling like hell after a bender: “That’s a pretty common strategy among alcoholic drinkers,” she said, “sweat away the hangovers.”

Man, did that burst my bubble. It also¬†crystallized what I think, for me, has been a mounting tension in my life: a battle of sorts between “fitness me” and “drinking me.” I genuinely love yoga, running, cycling, and going to the gym. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s taken on shades of repentance, shades of addiction in its own right. I would have never imagined that fitness can be used as a denial strategy but hey… this is a thing I apparently didn’t invent. Can you be addicted to alcohol and then addicted to exercise as a way to redeem yourself for being addicted to alcohol?

It’s going to be interesting to see where all of this goes. There are wonderful, healing qualities to my workouts, but they are all entangled with something darker: the relentless push to “achieve” that probably has something to do with my drinking, too.

Am I good enough yet?

It always seems to come back to this question. And the answer has always been “no.”