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Drinking: A Love Story

Drinking: A Love Story

4.1 77
by Caroline Knapp

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Fifteen million Americans a year are plagued with alcoholism. Five million of them are women. Many of them, like Caroline Knapp, started in their early teens and began to use alcohol as "liquid armor," a way to protect themselves against the difficult realities of life. In this extraordinarily candid and revealing memoir, Knapp offers important insights not only about


Fifteen million Americans a year are plagued with alcoholism. Five million of them are women. Many of them, like Caroline Knapp, started in their early teens and began to use alcohol as "liquid armor," a way to protect themselves against the difficult realities of life. In this extraordinarily candid and revealing memoir, Knapp offers important insights not only about alcoholism, but about life itself and how we learn to cope with it.

Editorial Reviews

James Marcus
Caroline Knapp started drinking when she was 14, and spent almost 20 years as an alcoholic. Throughout the 1980s she maintained a good front, holding down a high-pressure job at the Boston Phoenix and keeping her addiction under wraps. Much of the time she managed to hide it even from herself: "You know and you don't know. You know and you won't know, and as long as the outsides of your life remain intact -- your job and your professional persona -- it's very hard to accept that the insides, the pieces of you that have to do with integrity and self-esteem, are slowly rotting away." This acceptance didn't come to Knapp until the early 1990s, when she finally entered a rehab program. Drinking, then, is a tale of recovery, with the emphasis on Before rather than After. When Knapp sticks to her own story, her writing is lucid and uncontaminated by self-pity. Her account of the way that alcohol "travels through families like water over a landscape" convinces us by its very specificity. Often, however, Knapp is unsure of whether she wants to write a literary memoir or a more general discussion of alcoholism. Over and over she interrupts herself to splice in statistics and vignettes she's collected from other drinkers, and while she delivers this stuff with requisite professionalism, it robs the book of its focus. Her story, she seems to suggest, approximates those of the other 15 million alcoholics in America. But approximations are exactly what we don't want in (as Knapp herself calls it) a love story. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a starred review, PW called Knapp's memoir of alcoholism "extraordinarily lucid" and "filled with insights." (June)
Jennifer Henderson
Knapp, a magna cum laude graduate of Brown University, journalist, and contributing editor to "New Woman" magazine, was not a stereotypical drunk. Instead, as a "high-functioning alcoholic," she kept her addiction--and hangovers--hidden. She never called in sick from too much liquor or drank on the job yet would imbibe night after night, lusting after the sound, feel, and camaraderie of booze. During her 20-year affair with alcohol, she led a double life, often sneaking shots at dinner parties or slipping into a restaurant bar for an extra round while her dinner companion thought she'd left for the ladies' room. "Beneath my own witty, professional facade were oceans of fear, whole rivers of self-doubt," she writes. Then she hit bottom and did a stint in rehab. AA meetings several times a week keep her sober. Detailing the reasons why she needed to medicate her feelings and the choices she has made to stay clean, Knapp offers, in well-crafted prose, hope for other women alcoholics desperate to stop drinking.
Kirkus Reviews
Boston columnist and New Woman contributing editor Knapp writes with unflinching honesty about her 20 years as an alcoholic, her struggle to overcome the addiction, and the special peril facing women drinkers.

Knapp was a drinker able to hold down a steady job while convincing herself (and others) that her drinking was not interfering with her life—that, in fact, it was making life easier. She drank to forget her problems or to get through a crisis. She rationalized the drinking by telling herself that she would stop after she came through an especially rough situation, never realizing that the drinking contributed to her difficulties. Knapp drank during her simultaneous involvement with two men, hiding each from the other. She drank through her parents' painful deaths a year apart, raiding their liquor cabinet, hiding bottles in the bathroom. The death of her prominent analyst father—and the subsequent realization that he, too, had been an alcoholic—started her on the slow path to recovery, although it was almost two years after his death before she checked herself into a clinic. His death made her wonder "if I would have been able to let go of alcohol without letting go of my father first." Through rehab and nightly AA meetings she was finally able to take control of her life. Knapp also suffered from anorexia during her 20s, and she believes that there is a link for women between food disorders, drinking, and other addictions. She suggests that women are particularly vulnerable to the belief that the abuse of drink, drugs, and food can and will change them for the better—not realizing the terrible physical and emotional tolls of such behavior.

Knapp is prone to repetitiousness, but this is still a soul- baring memoir with cogent insights into the nightmarish world of addiction.

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Read an Excerpt

A love story. Yes: this is a love story.

It's about passion, sensual pleasure, deep pulls, lust, fears, yearning hungers. It's about needs so strong they're crippling. It's about saying good-bye to something you can't fathom living without.

I loved the way drink made me feel, and I loved its special power of deflection, its ability to shift my focus away from my own awareness of self and onto something else, something less painful than my own feelings. I loved the sounds of drink: the slide of a cork as it eased out of a wine bottle, the distinct glug-glug of booze pouring into a glass, the clatter of ice cubes in a tumbler. I loved the rituals, the camaraderie of drinking with others, the warming, melting feelings of ease and courage it gave me.

Our introduction was not dramatic; it wasn't love at first sight, I don't even remember my first taste of alcohol. The relationship developed gradually, over many years, time punctuated by separations and reunions. Anyone who's ever shifted from general affection and enthusiasm for a lover to outright obsession knows what I mean: the relationship is just there, occupying a small corner of your heart, and then you wake up one morning and some indefinable tide has turned forever and you can't go back. You need it; it's a central part of who you are.

I used to drink with a woman named Elaine, a next-door neighbor of mine. I was in my twenties when we met and she was in her late forties, divorced and involved with a married man whom she could not give up. Elaine drank a lot, more than I did, and she drank especially hard when the relationship with the married man got rocky, which was often. She drank beer and vodka, and she'd call me up on bad nights and ask me to come over. The beer made her overweight and the vodka made her sloppy, and she'd sit on her sofa with a bottle and cry, her face stained with tears and mascara. I used to sit there and think, Whoa. I'd sympathize and listen and say all the things girlfriends are supposed to say, but inside I'd be shaking my head, knowing she was a wreck and knowing on some level that the booze made her that way, that the liquor fueled her obsession for the married man, fueled her tears, fueled her hopelessness and inability to change.

But some small part of me (it got larger over the years) was always secretly relieved to see Elaine that way: a messy drunk's an ugly thing, particularly when the messy drunk's a woman, and I could compare myself to her and feel superiority and relief. I wasn't that bad; no way I was that bad.

And I wasn't that bad. I had lots of rules. I never drank in the morning and I never drank at work, and except for an occasional mimosa or Bloody Mary at a weekend brunch, except for a glass of white wine (maybe two) with lunch on days when I didn't have to do too much in the afternoon, except for an occasional zip across the street from work to the Chinese restaurant with a colleague, I always abided by them.

For a long time I didn't even need rules. The drink was there, always just there, the way food's in the refrigerator and ice is in the freezer. In high school the beer just appeared at parties, lugged over in cases by boys in denim jackets and Levi's corduroys. In my parents' house the Scotch and the gin sat in a liquor cabinet, to the left of the fireplace in the living room, and it just emerged, every evening at cocktail hour. I never saw it run out and I never saw it replenished either: it was just there. In college, of course, it was there all the time--in small, squat refrigerators in dorm rooms, in kegs at parties, in chilled draft glasses on tavern table tops--and by the time I graduated, by the time I was free to buy alcohol and consume it where and when I wanted, drinking seemed as natural as breathing, an ordinary part of social convention, a simple prop.

Still, I look in the mirror sometimes and think, What happened? I have the CV of a model citizen or a gifted child, not a common drunk. Hometown: Cambridge, Massachusetts, backyard of Harvard University. Education: Brown University, class of '81, magna cum laude. Parents: esteemed psychoanalyst (dad) and artist (mom), both devoted and insightful and keenly intelligent.

In other words, nice person, from a good, upper-middle-class family. I look and I think, What happened?

Of course, there is no simple answer. Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air.

It's too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you're both aware and unaware of it almost all the time; all you know is you'd die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It's a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.

My parents' house on Martha's Vineyard is in the town of Gay Head, on the westernmost side of the island, in a dry town, a forty minute drive from the nearest liquor store or bar. When I was a teenager, our lack of proximity to alcohol was fine, a fact, something I didn't notice. Then, in my twenties, it became slightly questionable. I'd come for a weekend to visit my parents, and I'd assume my father would have gin for martinis and wine for dinner, and he would, and I'd be somewhat relieved, without really knowing it. And then, after I turned thirty, it became more than questionable; it became a problem, this dry town on Martha's Vineyard, a forty-minute drive from the nearest liquor store.

Somewhere inside I acknowledged that this made me nervous. Somewhere inside I'd become desperately aware that the last time I was at the house, there was only one bottle of wine for dinner--one bottle to share between four or five people--and that the level of liquid in the gin bottle was dangerously low by the end of the weekend. I'd remember, very clearly, that I'd had to compensate for the lack of wine by returning to that gin bottle several times, surreptitiously, sneaking into the kitchen to top off my drink while the rest of the family sat outside on the porch. In some dark place an anxiety about this festered: I didn't want to be trapped there again with an insufficient supply, but I didn't want to let on that I was anxious about the supply either. So I'd debate, without even noticing the arguments and counter-arguments circling in the back of my mind. Should I show up for the weekend with a case of wine, on the pretext that I'd brought it there "just to have it in the house"? Should I forget about the whole thing and just hope someone else had restocked the liquor cabinet? Should I borrow the car and drive the forty minutes to the liquor store, pretending to be off for a solo trek at the beach? In a back corner of my mind I'd notice that this question of what there was to drink in the house had become a big deal, and that fact would nag at me just a little bit, raising a tiny flag, a question about how much I seemed to need the alcohol. The questions would continue: what to do, how to do it, who'd notice, why didn't anyone else drink the way I did? And after a while these voices would start to feel too big and too confusing and too overwhelming, and in the briefest instant I'd just do it: I'd mentally wash my hands of the whole business, and I'd pick up a bottle of Scotch the day before the trip and I'd stash it in my weekend bag.

There. Problem solved.

That, of course, is how an alcoholic starts not to notice it. Just this one time. That's how you put it to yourself: I'll just do it this one time, the same way a jealous woman might pick up the phone at midnight to see if her lover is home, or cruise slowly past his house to check his lights, promising herself that this is the last time. I know this is insane, but I'll only do it this once. I'll just bring the Scotch this one time because I'm particularly stressed out this week and I just want to be able to have a Scotch where and when I want it, okay? It's no big deal: just a little glass in my room before dinner so I don't have to steal into the kitchen and sneak one there. Just a little glass so I don't drink up any more of Dad's liquor. No big deal; it makes sense.

And it would make sense, in a certain perverse way. There I'd be, out on the porch on Martha's Vineyard with my family, and I'd excuse myself for just a minute--just a minute, to go to the bathroom. Then, on the way to the bathroom, I'd make a quick detour to my bedroom, and I'd pull the Scotch out from the bag, and unscrew the cap and take a long slug off the bottle and swallow. The liquor would burn going down, and the burn would feel good: it would feel warming and protective; it would feel like insurance.

Yes: insurance: the Scotch in my bag gave me a measure of safety. It let me sit at the table during dinner and not obsess through the whole meal about whether there was enough wine, whether anyone would notice how fast I slammed down my first glass, whether or how I could reach for the bottle to refill my glass without calling too much attention to myself. It let me know I'd be taken care of when the need became too strong.

When you love somebody, or something, it's amazing how willing you are to overlook the flaws. Around that same time, in my thirties, I started to notice that tiny blood vessels had burst all along my nose and cheeks. I started to dry-heave in the mornings, driving to work in my car. A tremor in my hands developed, then grew worse, then persisted for longer periods, all day sometimes.

I did my best to ignore all this. I struggled to ignore it, the way a woman hears coldness in a lover's voice and struggles, mightily and knowingly, to misread it.

Meet the Author

Caroline Knapp was a contributor at New Woman magazine and a regular columnist at The Boston Phoenix, and her work has appeared in Mademoiselle, The New York Times, and numerous international magazines.  She is also the author of Alice K's Guide to Life and Pack of Two. Caroline Knapp died in 2002 at the age of 42.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Drinking: A Love Story 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Knapp's book is ideal, and potentially life-saving, for the intelligent, highly-functioning alcoholic who has not yet done anything so stupid that they are forced to recognize what everyone else in their life probably knows. This book could be the catalyst that allows them to head their problems off at the pass, because alcoholism ONLY gets worse. There's a well-known speech about alcoholics in AA that includes a memorable phrase about what it feels like to be alcoholic - "the worst part is, people will never know how hard we tried". Many an alcoholic can identify with this - no matter how many times alcohol has kicked you, it is the hardest thing you'll ever do in your life to quit. Trust me on this and respect the next recovered alcoholic you meet. Had they had a choice, they would rather have walked across the Sahara. But they took a deep breath and tried to do the right thing for themselves and others. If you or anyone in your family has a problem, or thinks they may have a problem with alcohol, this book may save your life. I thank Caroline Knaff for opening my eyes and pointing me in the right direction. I'm not sure that people who DON'T drink to excess will get anything out of this book ... I wouldn't believe half of it if I hadn't done these crazy things myself......   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. I am a young woman in early recovery & reading this book has been very therapeutic. So relatable, honest & smart. Knapp is now a hero of mine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Caroline Knapp started drinking when she was 14, and spent almost 20 years as an alcoholic. She was a high functioning alcoholic, able to make it through school and become a successful column writer for a well known paper in Boston. She was so well at hiding her alcoholism; almost no one knew she was an alcoholic. Eventually she decided to get clean and produced an excellent book. There was only one thing I did not like about the book and that was the writing style, but I loved what Knapp was saying. It was an easy read and very interesting. Even though it wasn’t my favorite writing style, I still wanted to keep reading because it was so interesting. The everyday struggles that Knapp faced and the stories she told were enlightening. It was a very informative book about life as an alcoholic, including her mind set before during and after she was drinking. It was inspiring how honestly Knapp wrote this memoir. There was nothing off limits and as the reader we were told every detail and secret about her struggle with being an alcoholic. Not knowing much about alcoholism I thought all alcoholics were “messy drunks” who broke things and called in sick to work. Knapp showed me that I was completely wrong and it was shocking a great to learn about a high functioning alcoholic. I would recommend this book to anyone even if you are not an alcoholic it is just a good read.
Dona Hodges More than 1 year ago
This book helped me understand my mother a functional alcoholic. ITS A EASY READ. Well written. I would read it a second time
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is just amazing. I was drawn by the title when it first came out, and I was in my own love affair with alcohol. Even as an active alcoholic, I loved the drama and story in this book- and must have filed it away for 8 years until I realized my lover was killing me and really didnt love me after all. I have heard many women in and out of recovery rave about this book. Thank you to the author for being another step on my path of sobriety.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful! I truly commend Ms. Knapp for sharing her story and for doing it so honestly. I could relate to so much of this book as alcoholism runs in my family. It was eye-opening and inspiring and I thank her for sharing her story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Caroline Knapp was a truly remarkable individual with so much love to give and share. In her short time after recovering from alcohol and other issues she was working through, she gave us her love, wisdom, strength, and hope in her written word. I have never read an author that has touched my soul like Caroline has. Everyday I think about her, her life, and her legacy. Caroline, even though you are not here in the physical form, you will always be with me in the spiritual form. When I re-read sections of her books, they tend to always be fresh, alive, and as if I have never read them before. God speaks and teaches us through people. Caroline, you have given me the two most important lessons for my own alcohol and emotional recovery ¿ hope and love. I hope Caroline¿s twin sister, Dr. Rebecca Knapp, continues her sister¿s legacy by being a voice for Caroline¿s struggles.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Are you still sober ? I hope so. This is such a horrible disease. It took my sister. She tried so hard to quit. But the disease won.
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tempepoolguy More than 1 year ago
Caroline Knapp's "Drinking: A Love Story" is an absorbing account of her own years-long experience with alcoholism. The book is engaging, whether someone has never tasted alcohol or whether someone, too, struggles with substance-dependence. I remember feeling sad when I learned Ms. Knapp passed away many years ago. So much to offer ... .
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bellevueblogger More than 1 year ago
I found Caroline's memoir about her alcoholism excellent reading. I feel like I understood alcoholism a lot more after reading it.
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Caroline Knapp is a brilliant writer. I would recommend this book to anyone battling anything in life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honest, Informative..............
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Finishing this book is like losing a freind. Caroline was so open and honest about her experiences, I looked forward to eharing form her every day as I read the story. Having alcoholics in my family thatr I never understood drove me to buy this. I cannot say I understand them now but theremany patterns and behaviors I recognize. Great read and I thank her for sharing.
GreenvilleReader More than 1 year ago
Caroline Knapp tells the unvarnished truth about herself and her alcoholism. Let's the reader draw his own conclusions about the shortcomings of the life she led. For five years after attaining sobriety, she shared a meaningful friendship with Gail Caldwell, fellow writer,memoirist, and recovering alcoholic. Caldwell writes extensively about Knapp in her book, Let's Take the Long Way Home. Knapp's articulate insight and unsparing soul searching make the book one of my favorite memoirs.
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