After reading Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp’s honest and sometimes startling memoir about her decades-long (and mostly secret) struggles with alcoholism, I felt I had met a kindred spirit.
I don’t feel I have a drinking problem so much as I tend to drink problematically; I won’t touch booze for two weeks, and then one afternoon I’ll go out and buy a bottle of wine, and the next thing I know I’m sobbing on the kitchen floor and the cops are pounding on my door.
Knapp drank more regularly – she had the obligatory “secret stash” of bottles hidden throughout her home – but many parts of her memoir felt like scenes out of my own life: she would wake in the morning unsure of how she got home or where she left her car; she would be stricken with nail-biting anxiety at gatherings when they ran out of booze; she would grow irritated with the well-meaning concern of her boyfriends, who had watched her drink too much and act a fool at one too many parties.
One such well-meaning boyfriend used to tease her about her near-obsessive tendency to finish entire bottles of wine on her own. She would plunk the bottle down on the table with authority, as if to say, "I am drinking this wine tonight, so don’t even try to stop me." He called those her days as a "wine terrorist."
When I found out Knapp had died of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42, I mourned the loss of this woman I had never known but with whom I shared a common bond.
It seems women are less likely than men to discuss alcoholism, so when my boyfriend gave me an Aloud podcast from the Los Angeles Public Library featuring memoirist and poet Mary Karr, I was intrigued to hear her describe drinking patterns that sounded eerily similar to my own.
A successful teacher and writer whose drinking life was mostly characterized by periodic binges, Karr quit the booze for good after she nearly crashed her car into a concrete wall. In her struggles to stay sober, she test-drove various religions before settling on Catholicism after feeling inspired by the sense of community she experienced while attending mass. She details her experiences in her 2009 memoir Lit.
While I relate to the absolute lack of control and single-minded focus on getting as wasted as possible as quickly as possible after having a few drinks, Karr and I veer in different directions when considering Catholicism as a solution to this problem.
Of course I respect anyone who has overcome addiction and recognize that sometimes our last resorts can save us (Karr was a lifelong atheist), but I cannot abide a religion that says birth control and homosexuality are sinful, expects its followers to somehow reconcile a god whose love is unconditional with the possibility of eternal torture and damnation, and gives women a secondary role to men. Also, some of the pope’s stances – such as telling AIDS-ridden African communities that condoms are actually responsible for the spread of the disease – are downright dangerous.
Perhaps having been raised in an environment opposite Karr’s – everyone in my family is a devout Catholic – I simply cannot conceive of any reason why anyone would become Catholic by choice. To me it seems the same as choosing to believe in Santa Claus. At various points in the interview, Karr says “I know you think I’m crazy” regarding her choice to become Catholic. And my response is, “Well, yeah.”
On the other hand, she has managed to stay sober, while I have continued to struggle. And honestly, if I were the kind of person who could believe, maybe I would. But the older I get, the more I begin to suspect I'm just not that kind of person.