A couple of weekends ago we went up to Fort Bragg, Mendocino. A breathtaking stretch of craggy coastline straddled by redwood forests and stretches of wine country. On the way we stopped in the very small town of Boonville for a coffee and next door to the café was one of those bookstores* that I find it impossible not to wander into. Small, well stocked, friendly, independent, personal. I always find something to read in these bookstores unlike the large chain stores where I can wander and not pin anything down for an hour, here I can find one or two books within a few minutes that feel perfect for the time.
This time one of those books was Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. I recall hearing about a book like this a few years ago and it caught my attention but I’m not sure whether it was specifically this one or not. What I can tell you though is that this book is amazing and has had me firmly in its grip from the first chapter.
Caroline tells the story of her own twenty years of drinking while laying down truths that are so deep and haunting they often hit that common river that runs between us all (drinker or not) that shows you something you knew but did not know you knew.
Caroline was the type of drinker who “manages”, she manages to keep a professional creative career as a writer, she has friends and lovers, she has family, and she’s falling apart. Using drink to anesthetize herself from facing her own very normal fears, sadness, and shyness, she begins pulling the very ground out from beneath her feet.
As I read I am continuously floored by what I have come to refer to as her zingers. These notes of clarity that just jump off the page, here are a couple:
“One of the things you hear in AA- one of the things that makes core gut-level sense- is that 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. When you drink in order to transform yourself, when you drink and become someone you’re not, when you do this over and over and over, you relationship to the world becomes muddied and unclear. You lose your bearings, the ground underneath you begins to feel shaky. After a while you don’t know even the most basic things about yourself- what you’re afraid of, what feels good and bad, what you need in order to feel comforted and calm-because you’ve never given yourself a chance, a clear, sober chance, to find out.”
“There’s something about sober living and sober thinking, about facing long afternoons without the numbing distraction of anesthesia, that disabuses you of the belief in externals, shows you that strength and hope come not from circumstances or the acquisition of things but from the simple accumulation of active experience, from gritting the teeth and checking the items off the list, one by one, even though it’s painful and you’re afraid.”
Both excerpts above taken from Drinking: A Love Story By Caroline Knapp – I highly recommend it.*By the way, the photo above is not of the Boonville bookstore, just in case you happen to pass through and think you’re going crazy. Nope, just forgot my camera.
***And on a related note… How I Improved My Life Enormously with One Small Change