I was thinking about Wolfie today. You know Wolfie. Maybe you call him Al, or your addict voice, or the devil on your shoulder. Whatever your term for it, you’ve probably found it very helpful to anthropomorphise the part of you that enables your addiction, and – this is crucial – to separate it from yourself.
One of the bewildering things about being an addict, both when you’re in the throes of the addiction and once you’re out the other side, is the cognitive dissonance that’s required to maintain your habit. Once you’re out, it’s easy to feel total incredulity; was that really me? Did I say and think and do those things? Why would I…I mean, integrity and generosity are part of my personality and yet… It can go on and on, that reasoning and self flagellation. One way to make peace with it is to accept that the addict voice is inside you, but isn’t the true you; its only focus, its one motivation, is to feed the addiction. Questioning its ways is rather like a newly pregnant woman wondering why she’s doing something as illogical as throwing up her breakfast. There’s a parasite inside her, is why, and it plays by its own rules.
My Wolfie is an abusive partner, by the way. That’s the metaphor I find most useful, to understand what went on and who I became and why. But that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about the fact that even as we anthromorphise our addictions, bestow them with names so as to drain them of power, we divert attention away from the biggest baddest wolf of them all: the alcohol industry.
Alcohol is the only drug left that is able to advertise freely, and the people who profit from it make the most of it. Not drinking is so unusual that it’s considered socially unacceptable in many cultures, including my own. I met a teetotal bloke the other day who told me that he was so sick of the judgement that he had started claiming to be an alcoholic in recovery, because at least that gave him a ‘reason’ not to drink. It’s madness.
Western society favours individualism. The idea of ‘taking responsibility for yourself’ and doing things on your own and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is invested with huge moral power. Nobody wants to be seen to be whining, or shifting responsibility, or blaming others. Don’t be a tattletale, we tell our children.
But to press the narrative of individual responsibility is to ignore something that we all already know, which is that advertising works. Huge corporations, filled with thought leaders who are highly qualified in their fields, do not spend billions of dollars every year on a losing strategy. They advertise because advertising works, and they pay extremely dedicated people extremely large amounts of money to come up with ways to make that advertising more effective and more ubiquitous all the time.
Here is something else that we all know. Alcohol is a drug. It is, by its very nature, addictive. Not everybody gets addicted to it, but a lot of people do. It’s about one in ten, in fact.
So we take an addictive drug, and we allow the people who sell that drug to spend vast amounts of money on selling it to us, more and more of it, in more insidious ways all the time. And some of us do what all that advertising is designed to make us do, which is drink regularly. And some of us do what the drug is designed to make us do, which is get addicted to it.
And then what do we do? We call it a disease. We call it Wolfie. We call it a personal struggle with our inner demons, and we admit our failings and we spend the rest of our fucking lives worrying about ‘falling’ once more, strategising to slip through the cracks in the huge net thrown over us by the behemoth alcohol industry, and apologising to our friends for the inconvenience while we do it.
I spent today writing an article about the hidden alcohol in food, because it’s not enough that the stuff infiltrates the rest of our lives, now we have to be wary about eating it as well. I included tips on how to refuse your great-aunt’s tiramisu without offending her, because obviously we, the sober ones, are the problem here, and we don’t want any awkwardness, right?
Today, I am maintaining the rage. It’s not personal rage. Not drinking is not a problem for me right now, and I’m happy to accept that I’m not going to drink again. It’s rage against the industry that spends a fortune on selling us lies, and makes us sick and weak and desperately unhappy, and against which, for some reason, we never push back. Because we don’t want to be killjoys, or ruin the fun for the normies, or look like whingers. Because it’s our fault we’re alcoholics, and it’s our struggle to face. Because, for some reason, even those of us who are direct victims of the alcohol industry still feel like we need to include a caveat – of course I’m not saying nobody should be able to enjoy a crisp glass of white wine! – defending it.