After 16 years without a drink, Jim Atkinson confesses that the urge is still strong at holiday times. How can an alcoholic describe to a non-alcoholic what it’s like to crave that drink? Atkinson uses analogies:
There’s something in the alone-in-the-crowdness of the holiday party circuit, the forced pleasantries and laughter, the charge to be friendly and engaging — but only in a trivial and superficial way — that is very much like the existential condition of the alcoholic psyche. So the holidays not only remind me of drink; they remind me of how it felt to be a drunk.
In fact, I have frequently been overheard to explain to the sort of person who still finds it good sport to ask me how I came to be addicted to alcohol and what it’s like now to be stone cold sober, “You know how you feel at Christmas at the umpteenth family gathering or company cocktail party. You really need that drink, right? That’s the way I used to feel all the time.”
Then later in the piece:
If you are among the 80 percent of people who drink “normally,” think of your relationship to booze as a minor friendship that strikes up at certain times of the week, or even the year. Think of the drunk’s as a torrid, reckless and self-destructive affair. Whiskey she is a bad lover, and all that. It is a decidedly adolescent affair, a kind of puppy love that overtakes all good judgment and reason. In that sense, I’ve come to understand that, if compulsive drinking is about different genes, it also about a certain arrested development that can’t be liberated until the addict takes the cure.