Drinking: A Love Story
Handrup, Cynthia Taylor
Drinking: A Love Story. Caroline Knapp. New York, Delta, 1996, 286 pp. paperback.
Drinking memoirs typically concern the escapades of a lovable roue and his triumph over alcohol. For the most part, they are written by men who have stopped drinking with or without the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In contrast, Drinking: A Love Story is written by a woman, and as psychotherapists have observed, women’s alcoholism often follows a different trajectory from that of men.
Knapp’s childhood predicted potential problems. She was born a twin, into a prosperous family. Knapp’s father, a prominent psychoanalyst, is described as cold, remote, and inaccessible, an alcoholic involved in extramarital affairs. Her mother, an artist, preoccupied with breast cancer through much of Knapp’s childhood, is seemingly unaware of the inner life of her children. Her twin sister responds to the family dynamics by becoming a physician, while Knapp develops a repertoire of addictive behaviors.
Knapp’s symptoms begin before she has her first drink. As a young child, she describes compulsive rocking behavior, probably used as a means of self-soothing. She starts seriously drinking at the age of 16, having been sneaking wine at home since 14. In her 20s, exhibiting all the symptoms of an anxious, overachiever with no sense of self, Knapp develops an eating disorder. She reaches her 30s with a stable career as a respected journalist, while adding to her addictions a series of unhealthy relationships with men.
In 1984, at the age of 25, she enters psychotherapy for help with the anorexia. Several years later, she joins a support group for women with eating disorders. During this time, Knapp moves from anorexia to alcoholism, staying in therapy, trying to figure out why she is so unhappy.
It is hard to select one incident in the book as “the one” that moves Knapp to stop drinking. Her parents’ painful deaths-both died of cancer one year apartseveral analytic comments made by her father before his death, and nearly dropping a friend’s child while Knapp was drunk, all seem to have propelled her into an Alcoholics Anonymous rehabilitation program.
I found myself comparing Knapp to many of the women in my practice who are highly successful in their chosen careers, attractive, intelligent, and in terribly unhealthy relationships with remote, narcissistic men whom they find irresistible. Though none of these women presents alcoholism as a primary problem, there is the presence of at least one other addictive behavior, usually an eating disorder. With the loss of a sense of self, these women find it difficult to control any selfindulgent behavior involving alcohol, food, or unhealthy relationships. I have observed a definite link between eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and other addictions.
Knapp compares her obsession with alcohol to a longstanding love affair with a remote, unresponsive man. Her denial of the destructiveness of alcoholism in her life is similar to that of women who delude themselves about an unfaithful lover. She calls her recovery, “a divorce from white wine.”
I have suggested this book to women who have entered therapy for “relationship issues.” They initially look at me as though I must have misdiagnosed them; they are not alcoholics. Yet each time, these women have come into the next session saying they really “get the connection.” Using that connection, they have been able to examine their own behavior in destructive relationships.
This is a deeply moving book. Knapp tells her story in a way that can be interpreted widely. In addition to being a useful adjunct to psychotherapy, it begs the question of the usefulness of Alcoholics Anonymous. Given the current debate about the treatment of alcoholism going on in the pages of this journal as well as in the profession, it is a worthwhile read for any mentalhealth provider.
Cynthia Taylor Handrup, MSN, RN, CS Psychotherapist, private practice, Chicago, IL
Copyright Nursecom, Inc. Jul-Sep 1998
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