I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve never really looked into it. But what is up with this idea that in order to be a successful writer, you must also be a raging alcoholic? Well, maybe “in order to be a successful writer…” is the wrong way to put it. What I’m getting at is, why are writing and alcoholism irrevocably linked?
A personal fact about me: I used to drink. A lot. Ok yeah I’m not helping the cliché, but hear me out. I’m relatively young (27), but I started drinking early (16). And I obviously don’t mean “oh I’d have a glass of wine with my parents at dinner.” I mean, what 16-year-old does that, anyways? Maybe in Europe? Europeans, feel free to enlighten me if I’ve totally missed the mark. Yeah, anyways, I’m sidetracked. I drank a lot, even at the tender and impulsive age of 16.
Every recovering alcoholic will tell you, I drank a lot. Sometimes it seems exaggerated. I met a woman once who talked about her addiction. Every single night I’d go out for dinner, have a bottle of wine and drive home. My mouth fell open. She was drinking and driving! GASP!!!!!! Even though I drank a lot, drinking and driving was just completely out of the question. I guess all those high school campaigns really drove the message home. Anyways, she went on to tell me that having a bottle at dinner was just the warm up, she’d go home and have another… and another… and maybe even some more, if she wasn’t puking. It didn’t seem real to me. I mean, I drank a lot, too, but that was just exaggeration territory. Point blank.
I told this recovering alcoholic lady how, I too, like to drink wine (present continuous at the time, because I was still drinking). I told her how I was impressed that she could quit, because I could never give up my wine. But really, I didn’t have a problem, I told her. I only drank on the weekends.
“How much?” She asked me. I glanced over at her from my desk. This was all going down at work, you see.
“I mean, well, I can drink a lot.” I said, not really wanting to tell my coworker my drinking habits.
“Yeah, how much though?”
“Well… a couple bottles of wine, you know. Depends.” I grumbled, beginning to type in order to make myself seem busy.
“That’s a lot.” She said. “For someone your size, it’s a lot.”
“Yeah, but you’re skinny.”
“It’s not that much. Who cares? It’s once a week.” I said, defensive without realizing it. “Well, sometimes twice. But it’s weekends only. So it doesn’t count. Besides, I love the taste of wine.”
Negotiation. I wasn’t negotiating with Miss Exaggeration 2018. I was negotiating with myself. It dawned on me that I had a problem. So I tried to quit shortly after the conversation, to prove to myself and others (ahem) that I didn’t a problem, thankyouverymuch.
I couldn’t stop. I should probably add that when I drink, I get crippling anxiety about two days after the fact. Bad enough to affect my work, my relationships, everyone around me. I had every reason to stop, I mean if it was only once or twice a week, it should have been easy. If I didn’t have a problem, I could QUIT ANYTIME I WANTED, RIGHT?
No. I couldn’t.
Fine, if I can’t quit, two bottles will just be one glass. That’s perfectly reasonable! Negotiation.
This was not possible, either. I would drink one glass. Then I’d want another. And another. And then I’d be walking to the liquor store to buy more. Then I’d finish it. Then I’d be negotiating with Lewis for another bottle.
My problem got worse the more I tried to stop. It wasn’t always the cravings. It was the thought-process. “Well, if I just have a glass of wine with my dinner, it isn’t that bad. Everyone does it.” A favourite one of mine: “If I make this fancy meal, I will have a glass because how else can I enjoy it?” A sneaky one: “Oh, Lewis, wanna try that new French/Italian/[insert wine-related cuisine] restaurant?” asking while compulsively thinking of the wine. I could literally write a book on all the negotiation tactics I used.
When I traveled in Southeast Asia, it got worse. Alcohol is cheaaapp. Less than a dollar a beer in some countries. And if you order wine, it will most likely suck and be expensive (same price as Canada), but you get huge glasses. They fill that sucker right to the brim.
I didn’t drink every day, usually just once or twice a week. I just couldn’t stop when I did. And unlike Miss Negotiation 2018, I don’t puke. Ever. The last time I puked I had food poisoning. Before that…. I can’t remember. It had been years – I think maybe 3 or 4 since I’d puked from drinking? So yeah, badddd combination.
One night I had 18 cans of beer. Yes, I’m tall, but I’m like a rake when I travel. All my muscle disappears and I get skinny. Even when I have more meat on me, I have a poor tolerance to alcohol and get drunk twice as fast as normal people. So 18 cans is your equivalent of probably 25-30. I was a mess.
Lewis was with me. He had to get me back to the hotel. I had to be dragged, because I couldn’t walk. I remember most of this, oddly. He got me into bed, and I started to complain. I don’t remember about what, but I was mean. I’m loud, and the walls were thin, so people heard. I kept shouting at Lewis over nothing, and I said, “why don’t you just fight back?!”
He was quiet for a while. He usually pauses and thinks before he speaks (total opposite of me). He said, finally, “You have a problem.”
I have tried to quit numerous times over the 11 years I’ve been drinking. I’ve negotiated with myself, told myself I have no problem because I don’t drink constantly, etc. But when he said that, I knew he was right.
So I quit. Been seven months sober now, and I feel great. Quitting anything involves a mourning process, something which I can write a post on sometime. But weirdly, one of the things I mourned was drinking and writing. I still do. Right now, part of me wishes I could get loaded and smash out some chapters. Ugh.
But why though? Why do I care so much about this stupid idea that getting loaded = writer? It’s stupid. I’ve done wayyy better writing since I’ve quit. I’ve been productive. I’m healthier and my relationships are better. I’ve got more money and time (lots more) to put into my publishing project. So yeah, I’m a better writer and a better person since I’ve quit, but the idea of having a bottle while I write some chapters is so tempting.
I think it will probably never go away, the temptation. I just have to live with it. Like losing a loved one, it will always be there. It just gets easier to manage. But what is it about these two things that is so … linked?
I’m not suggesting that anyone go out and get shittered, write a few chapters and tell me. Quite the opposite. You’ll be a better writer if you take care of yourself and your mind. Alcohol makes you stupid and eats up your cash (which writers have little to begin with) and your damages your brain (our number 1 tool). In fact, quitting drinking should be your top priority, above “write.” I think Stephen King (my idol, whom I will frequently quote) talks about this, too. Quit. You’ll thank yourself when your book is published, well-written and successful.