Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Week #8: "Upon breach of my late vows"



     Book Week concludes today with a glance at my upcoming book. 
     The day before we left on vacation, I handed the copyedited manuscript of "Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery" over to my co-author, Sara Bader. The book will be published next fall by the University of Chicago Press. It's an unusual book—we use quotes, from poems, from literature, from songs, movies, letters, journals—to walk the reader through the recovery process. The quotes are not just grouped, but mortised together, one leading to the next, so they form a mosaic, tell a story. Historical figures also appear, almost as characters, to help explain certain aspects of recovery. For the key issue of relapse, we use Samuel Pepys, the 17th century English writer. This is the beginning of the introductory essay starting the relapse chapter, called "Upon Breach of My Late Vows." When we began writing the book, I didn't know anything about Pepys except his diaries contain a candid account of his life. I assumed there would be drinking, and I was right. This is the first sample of the book to appear anywhere; I'm interested to hear what you think of it.


                             . . . and so the pewterers to buy a poore’s-box
                                   to put my forfeits in, upon breach of my late vowes
                                                    —Samuel Pepys, diary entry, March 5, 1662


     The vows that Samuel Pepys, the famously frank English diarist, had solemnly made to God a few days before, and would make time and time again, were to stop drinking wine and attending plays, two pleasures entwined in his mind. Putting aside the lure of the theater—then considered practically a mortal sin—Pepys offers ample evidence that long before there was the word “alcoholism,” there was the snare of drinking and its damaging effects, the struggle to resist and the tendency of that resistance to eventually collapse.
 
Samuel Pepys
   Two and a half weeks after buying a slotted box to hold the coins he fined himself for submitting to wine, Pepys is back at it. “And so to supper and to bed,” he writes, on March 22, 1662, after reveling with several ship owners, an alderman, and a captain, “having drank a great deal of wine.”
     The problem started early with Pepys, as it often does. Almost all that is known of Pepys’s college years at Oxford is a written reprimand chiding him and a classmate for being caught “scandalously overserved with drink the night before.”
     The lure of the wine shop would dog him well beyond his college years. In his diary, which covers most of the 1660s, when he was in his late twenties and early thirties, he presents a detailed portrait of a busy bureaucrat—he was a high official in the British navy. Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) was a prominent figure in Restoration London—acquainted with both Charles II and Isaac Newton—a man consumed with desires: to earn a lot of money, to grope every pretty maid or underling’s wife who crossed his path, and to engage in a steady rondo of drinking then swearing off drinking. No detail was too trivial or too self-absorbed to escape Pepys’s attention, and shame seldom caused him to halt his pen, creating not only an invaluable historical record but also a unique portrait of a man in the throes of addiction. If there were ever a writer who conveyed the maddening, tiresome, head-on-a-board repetition of relapse, it is Samuel Pepys.
     Then and now, relapse is perhaps the thorniest problem in recovery. To acknowledge that it happens—that addicts routinely toss away their hard-fought-for sobriety—can sound to the desperate drunk trying to pick the lock on the cellar door like a kind of permission: Oh, I’m supposed to do this? It’s expected of me? Thank merciful God.
     But to ignore relapse invites the user to completely surrender after a single aborted attempt at sobriety, when usually it takes more than one, if not many tries. The mountain trail is steep and slippery. Few get it right the first time. And having gotten it right is no guarantee of future success, which is why people generally say they are “in recovery” and avoid claiming to have “recovered.”
     So the trick is to learn about relapse, then tuck the knowledge away and forget about it, like an insurance card in your wallet to be taken out in case of emergency. Hopefully you never use it. It’s far easier if you don’t have to. Then again, “easy” is not a concept of much practical use in recovery.



13 comments:

  1. Hear me now and believe me later: this one's gonna be HUGE.

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    1. Get it right - it's gonna be YOOGE! YOOGE I tell you!

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  2. Writing about a relapse is probably therapeutic for you. It certainly won't be dull.

    Some in the in the old days were hooked on absinthe, especially in Europe.

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    1. Why is the publication delayed so long?

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    2. A number of factors. First copyright law. The book has been done for nearly two years, but we had to contact 90 rights holders, secure their permission, and pay them, which involved fundraising. University of Chicago Press is also an academic press, which meant submitting the manuscript to a three-person academic panel, then addressing those concerns. Having cleared those hurdles, there was a meticulous copyediting process, just now being finished. Then somebody has to decide how the book looks, and lay it out. As I'm always telling would-be authors: "Remember, you don't want to write a book. You want to write a GOOD book." That can take a long time.

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  3. Alchoholism tendencies can be inherited as well. If only those who turned to drink when stressed, found other outlets. Tranquilizers can be addicting too but perhaps not cause as many car accidents.

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    1. oops, no h after c in alcohol

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  4. Nobody ever said it was easy. However, it is simple. Simple does not imply easy.

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  5. Sounds like my cup of tea. Can't wait to order my copy.

    I picked up a copy of "Drunkard" at the public library the other day and read most of it on the train going into town. Riveting! And it did cry out for a retrospective look at what happened next. Drawing on Master Pepys -- another high functioning drunk, man about town and unparalleled observer of life around him was incredibly apt.

    Tom Evans

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  6. This sounds like a very interesting way to present the topic of recovery, and it is definitely going on my list of books to get.

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  7. Sundays too? Truly impressive,especially such high quality content.

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  8. My father was an alcoholic, and very abusive to my mother when he got drunk during the time these things were overlooked by the law. She eventually divorced him and we moved constantly to avoid contact as he threatened her life. This is an extreme example, but my father never would admit his addiction, or seek help. Just this year I learned he passed away in1998, from his family who finally tracked us down. I felt nothing but relief, as did my mother. I hope one day to have the courage to read "Drunkard" as recommended to me by one of Neil's colleagues.

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  9. i quit drinking (and drugging) at thirty three fully intending to relapse with intention on the occaision of my fiftieth birthday . many of my closest fiends and relatives implored me to reconsider as the date approached. i acquieced to their suggestion and put it off for an additional year. i had a beer and decided against the "eighth" i had once imagined being part of my return to debauchery. i had a beer again occaisionally for a few months and once a double shot of jack daniels. never did i drink to drunkeness . i soon realized that having even one drink was a chore i did not have the stamina for and havent had a drink for some years again now . with no intention of ever going back. i recently went to my first al -anon meeting . i may have found my people. look forward to reading your book Neil. always a pleasure. keep doing you darma it often brings me satisfaction

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