Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t write me outraged comments just yet.
Caroline Knapp, talking about hitting bottom, discusses the ‘leap’ that many active alcoholics take, a period of time that marks the distinction between mid- and late- stage alcoholism. The leap is the switch that gets flicked where someone who has been struggling to stay functional, and to keep dancing on the invisible line between a secret problem and an obvious one, sometimes takes. It can happen in response to a trauma (in Knapp’s case, it was losing both parents to different cancers within a year) or just because the drinker gets sick of hiding the problem, and on some level wants to force the issue. From there, the drinker is going to do one of two things: hit bottom and get help, or hit bottom and die.
So far, none of this is unusual. I think that even those of us who aren’t there yet, who haven’t moved into that phase, are familiar with the Fuck-it’s; those nights where, for whatever reason, we decide that we don’t care tonight. We will just drink the way we want to, no holds-barred, to get obliterated. The last time I did this, a week before I quit, LH and I were trialling a no-drinking-during-the-.week phase, and I was juggling a stressful time at work as well as my disabled mother’s latest health and finances crisis, and I came home on a Monday night, declared that I didn’t care tonight, I needed wine, and I drank steadily and heavily all evening, ignoring LH and his eyes on me.
In fact, it’s pretty normal for people with a drinking problem, who live with partners or family, to say that they looked forward to nights on their own because they could drink more without worrying about how it looked. Or to drink before an evening out, so as to be able to drink slowly once there. Or to limit oneself to two glasses at a party, knowing that there is a bottle waiting at home once there are no eyes to see.
We associate all of these behaviours with secret drinking, a sure sign of a problem itself. Even if we aren’t hiding wine casks in the rafters of our house, like an old colleague of mine did, it’s all behaviour designed to minimise the amount that other people see us drink, to keep our secret: we know that we don’t drink like other people.
It is also a form of moderation. Us drinkers, we practice moderation all the time. We watch the clock until the hands finally scrape past five pm. We count our drinks at dinner, and count other peoples drinks, to try and keep pace. We offer to drive when we know we can’t trust ourselves to stay acceptable otherwise.
oh, I never really tried moderation properly, maybe if I put more effort into it or even the closer-to-reality I know I can’t moderate; I tried and failed both ignore something huge. And that something is that nobody, nobody, succeeds in moderating their intake more successfully than an alcoholic. Not enough effort? Some days, it takes all of our effort. And we succeed, right up until we don’t. And that’s when Knapp’s leap occurs, when we finally stop moderating and swan dive down to the rocky, dark, terrifying bottom.
Of course alcoholics can moderate. It’s all we ever do. But moderating; which let’s face it, means for an addict that we are exerting willpower every minute of every day to resist the urge to obliterate, sucks.
So you can leap. Or you can stop.