When I was in graduate school, pursuing my MA in literature and creative writing, I took a wonderful class that focused on Modernist female poets. Though I often felt ill-prepared for the round-table discussions we had about the various poems we read, I fell in love with poems and knew I was in the right place. When we got to Elizabeth Bishop, our teacher told us a little about her biography. “She was a closet alcoholic for most her life,” he said.
I felt a click of recognition and a sinking feeling. That’s me, I thought, though I wasn’t drinking heavily at the time. I still hid how much I drank. I was around 24 when this happened, and I took that thought and locked it away, much like I suspect Ms. Bishop often did.
Another click of recognition came later when an older friend sang the praises of drinking (wine, in particular) but with this warning: “You’ve got the stop the moment you feel good,” he said. “If you drink beyond that point, things can get ugly.”
I can’t stop when I feel good, I said to myself. This time, I felt scared, but once again I locked the thought and feeling away. I’m sure I went home and drank that night, too.
All the signs of problem drinking were before me, but I refused to acknowledge them. I was an alcoholic from the first drink, but I thought I could handle it. Thank God I’m handling it now, and in the right way.