I quit drinking. About a year ago. “Quit” may be too strong a word for it. Stopped. Let’s say I stopped drinking. I didn’t slow down my alcohol consumption, I stopped it. I had to. I was killing myself.
Reminds me of the joke where a cop pulls a guy over for running a stop sign. The guy protests and says, “But I almost stopped. I slowed down and made sure it was safe to proceed. That’s the same thing.”
The officer asks the man to exit his vehicle. He pushes the guy over the hood of his car and starts beating the shit out of him with his baton. “Now tell me,” the cop says, “you want me to slow down? Or stop?”
I think that’s a pretty good analogy for alcohol abuse. At some point, you realize you have to slow down or stop. And, as evidenced above, stopping is the far wiser (and ultimately less painful) choice.
The Ninth Step is about a lot of things. It’s about guilt and forgiveness, secrets and lies, chaos and order. It’s about getting clean. It’s about life and the cure for it. And it’s about drinking. Stopping. Not slowing down. But stopping.
One of the characters in the novel, Helen Patrice, has a bit of a booze problem—to put it mildly. She ends up laying the bottle down. She stops drinking. And you know what she finds out? It’s hard. Stopping is hard. A real motherfucker. But Helen, at least, has a good reason to stop. She killed someone while driving drunk. That’s pretty much a wake up call you can’t hit the snooze button on. Manslaughter. Five extra minutes of shut-eye isn’t going to make that one go away. You have to wake up and face it. And do something about it.
So she stops drinking. And then she gets down to the business of righting the wrongs she perpetrated while living a life under the influence. And you know what she finds out? It’s hard. Making amends is hard. Yep, a real motherfucker. She finds out that, as Aldous Huxley said, rolling in the muck isn’t the best way of getting clean.
I notice that I started off this piece on a confessional note, but didn’t really follow through with it. Then there was some sleight of hand with that tired old joke, taking the focus off my own experiences with addiction. I segued to straight-up book promotion. Then I transitioned into talking about a fictional character. Seems to be some misdirection going on here.
Anyway, like I said, the book is about a lot of different things, so I guess it’s okay if I meander a little bit. But now I want to wrap this up, tie it all together with something both eloquent and pithy that will tell you exactly what this book is about, and why it’s important to me, but the best I can come up with is: don’t drink and drive.
That seems a little thin. So I think I’m going to quote Edgar Woolrich, another character in the book. Having seen the twin miseries that both alcohol and rolling in the muck can bring about, Edgar says, “They eat at you, these horrible things you do. Especially later in life. They eat at you and you start to drink and take drugs to escape the memories. And then do you know what happens? It’s mad fuckery, that’s what happens. You have to make amends to the people you’ve wronged. To stop the pain. Yours and theirs.”
So, in summary, what I’m saying here (the take-away message if you will) is: don’t drink and drive.