Having written about addiction treatment, centred on my experience of 12 step programs as an alcoholic – now nearly 24 years clean – and having made one of the main characters in my novel, Trader Bob, an alcoholic … the question occurred to me: what can we learn from real & fictional alcoholism? By the way Trader Bob has a website, www.traderbobnovel.com

My fictional alkie in Trader Bob was constructed from the most common traits we all seem to share which would be: no conscience around acquiring drink by any means; moral compass lacking in other areas, too, when under the influence and that could be pretty much all of the time; the insanity of believing our own lies and failing to predict that we’d get the same bad results from our drinking most times; and not liking being told what to do.

But there are differences between real & fictional alcoholism. Trader Bob had a textbook recovery up to a point. However real alkies are more complicated. They’re all individuals with unique personalities. These can become eroded in the last knockings when they sink into a pit of misery. Only after they’ve sat in the rooms, numb of emotion, for a while and the feelings start coming back, then the old personality begins to emerge once more. It is then we find out if they have a sense of humor, whether they like the company of other people, whether they are generous out of the context of a bar room, and so on.

Isms can be stubborn

In the worlds of real & fictional alcoholism, in the real world we’re all different individuals, but in the fictional world they’re all drawn much the same. (With the exception of Trader Bob of course – no one could call him a cliché.) In the real world we never get rid of a fault completely, but some are easier to reduce than others. There are some traits that a real alkie hangs on to longer than others. The isms of alcoholism can be stubborn to remove but our personalities dictate how many of them go after we sober up. In my case I’m basically not a jealous guy. So the jealousy that had arisen when I drank was easy for me to reduce to nearly nothing. Others would find that they were basically a jealous type and so it was a trait that was harder to deal with for them.

But I found guilt stuck hard and it took me eight years to get rid of the feelings of guilt surrounding how I treated my first wife. Then shame came out of the woodwork and it took another eight years to tackle that.

The guilt reduced massively when I realized that I wasn’t the same person sober as the one that drank. Sober, I just don’t behave that way. Eventually I got rid of the shame when I was able to forgive myself. I was lying down in a semi-meditative state saying to myself in my head: “Do I forgive myself? Yes I do”. After an hour I believed it.

Real & fictional alcoholism

In the worlds of real & fictional alcoholism, fictional alkies can be lovely funny, easy-going characters with a great sense of humor, but a factor that real alkies share is that the first and strongest emotion to emerge after a few weeks of abstention is anger. Lots of work is required over many years to reduce this trait to approaching nothing. I still experience road rage after nearly 20 years without a drink, but now I keep it in my own head inside the car. Eventually I will realize that I can’t give free driving lessons by transferring brain waves and that it is only me who is upset. The only attitudes I can change are mine. And I’m only upsetting myself. Let it go.