Back in June I blogged about the sad death of Sally Brampton and at the time added her book to my reading wish list. ‘Shoot the damn dog‘ finally arrived from the library and oh my goodness what a beautiful book. It should be mandatory reading for each and every one of us depressed, drinker or otherwise.
She was the most eloquent of writers and this book is poignant, honest, heartbreaking and brave. She does for depression what we try to do out here about booze – tell our story in the hope that it helps someone else who recognises themselves in our words. I saw myself in Sally’s experience and I could quote huge swathes of this book exclaiming ‘me too!’
I shall desist apart from to share brief excerpts as to why she wrote the book, her experience with booze and therapy.
“So why am I writing this book? I’m writing it because although I dislike the confessional, I was (and continue to be) so repulsed by the stigma around depression that I determined I must stand up and be counted, not hide away in shame. …… I wish I could say it was bravery that drove me to pin myself like a butterfly to the pages of a national newspaper, but it was actually anger. I admit that my anger took me by surprise. But then, so did depression. I had never thought about its implications, or its consequences. The more I inhabited it, the more I came to see the fear and shame surrounding it. The more depressives I met, the more I came to understand that we are not simply fighting an illness, but the attitudes that surround it.” Replace the word depression with alcoholism and all of that could have been said by me, here. I share her anger at how those of us who become alcohol dependent can at times feel stigmatised and ashamed.
“I am drunk, I think, because I learned to use alcohol to try to crush my pain…… I learned that alcohol is the best anaesthetic in the world. If I drank, I did not feel……. And I knew, in that part of my brain that was still robustly sane, that alcohol would not free me from the pain, except temporarily. I knew that alcohol was a depressive, that I was taking an anti-depressive pill with one hand and a bottled depressive with the other. And I also knew that I was trying to kill myself. Alcoholism is a slow, ugly form of suicide.
As my shrink explained, ‘ You have to find your way into alcoholism which means drinking sufficient amounts to develop a dependency. Why you do that is open to interpretation. But once you have developed a dependency, you have an addiction not only to alcohol but also to a pattern of behaviour. The only way out of addiction is to stop the substance abuse, and to learn new ways of behaviour.’ Shrinks call depressive drinking, ‘self-medication’. I could stop for a day, a week or a month. I could stop drinking for 3 months or even six. Stopping is easy. Staying stopped is overwhelmingly difficult if you are drinking to stop pain.”
Every addiction is a manifestation of emotional distress. Nobody becomes an alcoholic or a binge eater because they love alcohol or food, they simply use excess alcohol or food to dull the pain that they are unable to express in words. Most of this, of course, is unconscious. If I am in emotional pain, my instinct is to take it away. My way of doing that is to drink, as I have learned that it relieves (if only temporarily) my pain. I have learned a disorderly habit of behaviour, that, once learned, is difficult to dismantle. It is a condition, an emotional illness or a behavioural disorder. It is, if you like, an inappropriate response to difficulty or pain. It is the messenger, not the message. Now that I am well again, perhaps I could drink again. It is simply a risk that I am not prepared to take.
Yes to all of the above.
“Looking at our own selves is horribly difficult to do, requiring a level of honesty and humility that can at times feel unbearable. Few people are prepared to engage with it fully but without it, I truly believe that we cannot be happy….. Therapy helped, but it is not magic. It does not change our thoughts and behaviours. It only teaches us what they might be. It does not work unless we take from it what we have learned and put it into action. So it is not, as so many people seem to think, a piece of indulgent navel gazing. Nor is it about blaming the parents. It is, I’d say, quite the opposite. It is about understanding and accepting our parents.
There is a saying, ‘it’s never too late to have a happy childhood‘. I’d rephrase that. I’d say, it’s never too late to stop a difficult childhood from turning us into unhappy adults. A difficult childhood may have set up a series of behaviours and responses that leads us to repeat those same patterns in our adult lives. That does not mean that we have to continue those patterns.”
I was given a birthday card with those exact words on during the first years of my recovery not just by one person but two – MrHOF and my sister. The identical card by two different people, who are both very close to me and know me very well, on the same birthday! It is on the wall above my desk …..
There is so much wisdom in this book I really do urge you to go read it in it’s entirety .