Caroline Knapp

My Grace is Gone (A Climb Out of Alcoholism)

Today’s Music (stealing a line from my handsome bud El Guapo…) Grace is Gone. (This is not the light-hearted running-thoughts post I’d planned for today. Sometimes life takes you on a musical-detour; a place you didn’t plan to go, but needed to go nonetheless. This is one of those posts I needed to write.)

“Grace is Gone” makes me think of my grandmother. This year marked the tenth anniversary of her death, and last Sunday would have been her birthday. I don’t know how old she would have been; she became ageless to me the day she died.

I think it was losing her (having lost my grandfather just three weeks prior) that pushed me over the edge–my alcohol addiction tumbling faster and gaining momentum, like an avalanche, unable to stop for any in its path. Instead it swallowed me, as I was compelled to swallow it, over and over and over again — “excuse me please, one more drink” — wiping out loved ones and relationships in the process. I was so busy looking backward, at my pain, at the Grace I had lost, I never stopped to think of anyone else. They had lost their Grace too. They were watching their Grace slowly fade away in front of their eyes, growing ever more translucent, like the ghosts of my grandparents we silently mourned–did they even notice me?–as I began to lose myself in the bottle — “could you make it strong, cause I don’t need to think.

I can’t name the precise moment I finally vanished. As Caroline Knapp writes in Drinking: A Love Story, alcoholism is an insidious becoming:

“Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It’s too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you’re both aware and unaware of it almost all the time, all you know is you’d die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It’s a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.”

And become, I did.

Slowly, gradually, insidiously, elusively…

Until fast forward eight years and I am going to visit my dying mother. My grace has long departed, there is not even a trace of it that lingers. I drink on the outbound plane. I had been trying a few months to stop. But I drank, heavily, that day.

A psychologist later told me, “You knew you were going to visit your mother. You knew she was dying. It’s understandable. It’s okay to mourn.”

“No,” I tell her, “I was just selfish. I knew no one would find out.”

She looked at me with pity, like she didn’t believe me. I never went back to her.

They did find out though. I was drunk by the time I got off the plane. We were early. I stopped at the bar for another drink, weepily telling the bartender my mom was dying. She kept my wineglass full and only charged me for one glass. I drank at least ten. Rapidly. I remember getting up and leaving a hundred-dollar bill on the counter. And that’s all I remember.

It was the one time my mother saw me totally obliterated, and angry, and belligerent, on a full-blown quest to kill my pain–almost killing myself in the process. That is a shame I live with daily. That is my cross to bear.

The hospice social worker visited the next day. I was hungover and kept excusing myself to the bathroom, my stomach poisoned from the night before. She said that maybe it had to happen that way. To my mom, “maybe you had to see how bad it was. Maybe you didn’t know, didn’t want to believe. Maybe this can bring you more strongly together.” The social worker’s name was Grace.

That visit was the last time I saw my mom alive.

She died two weeks later.

“She broke my heart, my Grace is gone.” 

c and m

My beautiful mother and me.

I would like to say that was the last time I ever drank. It wasn’t. But it was the next to last time I was ever drunk. Six weeks later, the pain was unbearable and the booze was plentiful. And yet, somehow I knew it would be the last time alcohol would willingly pass through my lips.

I had lost everything I most loved. She was gone. It was all gone. There was no way to hide from the pain anymore; there was nowhere I could go that it couldn’t follow. The pain is now a reminder that she, my grace, once lived here–and I welcome it, I cherish it. Where the pain lives inside me, that’s where she lives too. Pain and Grace, side by side. Death cannot break the bond between a mother and her daughter.

“I could never love again so much as I love you
Where you end where I begin is like a river going through.”

The pain reminds me why I drank.

Her grace reminds me why I will never drink again.

Each day I ascend, another painful step toward grace.

“One more drink, and I’ll be gone.”


My mother died March 21, 2011. My last drink was May 6, 2011.

I am gratefully 27+ months sober.

If you or someone you love needs help, please visit my Contact and Resources page.


Lyrics written by Dave Matthews.

Words For The Weekend (“The new years come, the old years go”), Volume 23

This is the latest installment of quotes and words that move me for the weekend of 12/29/12 (Volume 23). I hope you enjoy them too.

I am currently enjoying a “mini-hiatus” from blogging, so this weekend’s quotes are reposted from Volume 5–one of the most viewed editions. I’ve also included a couple of poems to ring in the new year. I wish you all a safe and joyful New Year!


Have no fear for giving in, Have no fear for giving over, You better know that in the end, It’s better to say too much, Than to never say what you need to say again… Even if your hands are shaking, And your faith is broken, Even as the eyes are closing, Do it with a heart wide open. Say what you need to say, say what you need to say… ~ John Mayer, from song “Say (What You Need to Say)


There’s something about sober living and sober thinking, about facing long afternoons without the numbing distraction of anesthesia that disabuses you of the belief in the externals, shows you that strength and hope come not from circumstances or the acquisition of things, but from the simple accumulation of active experience, from gritting the teeth and checking the items off the list, one by one, even if it’s painful and you’re afraid. ~ Caroline Knapp


When you no longer believe that eating will save your life when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed or lonely, you will stop. When you believe in yourself more than you believe in food, you will stop using food as if it were your only chance at not falling apart. When the shape of your body no longer matches the shape of your beliefs, the weight disappears. ~ Geneen Roth


Listen to your being. It is continuously giving you hints; it is a still, small voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are. Never try to be another, and you will become mature. Maturity is accepting the responsibility of being oneself, whatsoever the cost. Risking all to be oneself, that’s what maturity is all about. ~ OSHO


Trying to reason with an addict was like trying to blow out a lightbulb. ~ Anne Lamott


If you live in a past dream, you don’t enjoy what is happening right now because you will always wish it to be different than it is. There is no time to miss anyone or anything because you are alive. Not enjoying what is happening right now is living in the past and being only half alive. This leads to self pity, suffering and tears. ~ Don Miguel Ruiz


Never despise small beginnings, and don’t belittle your own accomplishments. Remember them and use them as inspiration as you go on to the next thing. When you venture outside your comfort zone, wherever the starting point may be, it’s kind of a big deal. ~ Chris Guillebeau


If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.


Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; But remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. ~ Epicurus



An oak tree and a rosebush grew,
Young and green together,
Talking the talk of growing things-
Wind and water and weather.
And while the rosebush sweetly bloomed
The oak tree grew so high
That now it spoke of newer things-
Eagles, mountain peaks and sky.
“I guess you think you’re pretty great,”
The rose was heard to cry,
Screaming as loud as it possibly could
To the treetop in the sky.
“And now you have no time for flower talk,
Now that you’ve grown so tall.”
“It’s not so much that I’ve grown,” said the tree,
“It’s just that you’ve stayed so small.”

~ Shel Silverstein


The Year by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.


Fragments for the End of the Year by Jennifer K. Sweeney

On average, odd years have been the best for me.

I’m at a point where everyone I meet looks like a version
of someone I already know.

Without fail, fall makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced.

The sky is molting. I don’t know
if this is global warming or if the atmosphere is reconfiguring
itself to accommodate all the new bright suffering.

I am struck by an overwhelming need to go to Iceland.

Despite all awful variables, we are still full of ideas
as possible as unsexed fruit.

I was terribly sorry to be the one to explain to the first graders
the connection between the sunset and pollution.

On Venus you and I are not even a year old.

Then there were two skies.
The one we fly through and the one
we bury ourselves in.

I appreciate my wide beveled spatula which fulfills
the moment I realized I would grow up and own such things.

I am glad I do not yet want sexy bathroom accessories.
Such things.

In the story we were together every time.

On his wedding day, the stone in his chest
not fully melted but enough.

Sometimes I feel like there are birds flying out of me.

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer K. Sweeney. From How to Live on Bread and Music