"It happened this way: I fell in love and then, because the love was ruining everything I cared about, I had to fall out. This didn't happen easily, or simply, but if I had to pinpoint it, I'd say the relationship started to fall apart the night I nearly killed my oldest friend's two daughters."
The above is about alcohol. Thus begins the prologue of Caroline Knapp's 1997 best-selling memoir, Drinking: A Love Story.
I am fascinated by stories of drug and alcohol abuse, because there but for the grace of God, I could easily have been there. Because, lacking luck or God's grace, there went too many in my family. I could easily write a top ten list for my favorite drinking books or drug movies.
There are many good reasons why I turn to this genre, why I tended bar for many years, and why in those groups I led for violent men, I had a secret sadness for the men broken by cocaine, Jim Beam, and crack. My father died at 35 after succumbing to pills and I don't know what else.
I grew up at a time when it was all there for the asking. At seventeen, I walked down the street and a young man asked, "Yes or no?"
"Yes," I said.
He smiled, popped something in his mouth, and went on his way.
America has a love-hate relationship with drinking and no one outlined this teeter-totter better than Caroline Knapp (who, sadly, died of lung cancer in 2002) a successful journalist and columnist, magna cum laude Ivy Leaguer, and daughter of upper class Cambridge Massachusetts, who drank herself into oblivion.
With honesty and writing so good it disappears before your eyes, Knapp takes us deep into her secretly out-of-control world.
"Between the day I knew I had to stop drinking and the day I finally did, I cried almost all night."
I am lucky enough to have escaped an addiction to drugs or alcohol -- though I think I only skated away from it through a combination of luck and having a weak stomach -- but I struggled with cigarettes in this way. I loved smoking. Stopping terrified me. Reading Caroline Knapp's book helped me stay away.
This is the thing about memoirs. Despite the mocking that goes on about over-sharing, I believe that those brave enough -- like Knapp -- to share their lives, offer us a gift. By reading them, we can get a me-too and we can find hope. We can gasp in gratitude at the luck we find in our own lives and we can have more empathy for those who fell over grace's line.
I think of stories like Knapp's as generosity, this helping of truth being offered.
Growing up in a family where secrets reigned, without books I'd have had no clue that the entire world wasn't made up of Little House on the Prairie, Cosby, and Brady families. Every day I silently offer thanks to who are willing to write out their lives. Caroline Knapp spins her story inside out with honesty. No pretty pictures are painted. Being an addict is horrible. One of the hardest parts is that to end the addiction, you have to say goodbye to something you love.
We need to know this. I learned that was true about cigarettes. I loved them. What I learned from Caroline Knapp about stopping drinking became a lesson I applied to putting down cigarettes. Yes, there is joy in the substance. And then there is even greater joy in being free.