(Un)writing your fairy tale

When I reflect on not having had a drink for 9 months, I wonder things.

When did I know I was drinking too much?

When did I convince myself that I couldn’t actually have just one glass?

How did I finally make it stick?

How can I keep calling it a “mocktail” when really it’s just mixing two types of soda together?

I want to answer these questions for other people who are maybe testing out this idea of not drinking and finding out it’s not quite as easy as they want it to be. But I can just never come up with simple answers. 

And that reminded me of this seemingly unrelated, but completely and totally related new inquiry:

How do you write a fairy tale?

I love fairy tales! I told myself many, many fairy tales about the amount I was drinking and the effects it was having! How to write a fairy tale? THIS I can answer for you!!

To get started – and to show rather than tell – I’ve written such a tale for you:

Photo by  Nathan Dumlao

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Beauty and the Bottle

Once upon a time, there was a lovely princess who lived in a castle. She was thin and her hair was glossy. She had a good job where she made a good living. She had a handsome prince and three well-behaved children at home. Each evening, she had a single glass of wine which never made her feel tired or dopey or gave her a headache.

One day, a terrible old crone came to her office. The crone cursed the princess, saying “you are an alcoholic now!” Sure enough, when the princess arrived home that evening, she had more than her single glass of wine. She had three bottles! Within the week, she lost her job. A week later, the prince and children had kicked her out of the house. She lived on the streets drinking anything she could get her hands on, including vanilla extract and Shout wipes and that blue liquid they use at barber shops to clean the combs. 

On a Tuesday at 6AM, while lying in the gutter watching leaves and cigarette butts and Bazooka Joe wrappers float by, she had an epiphany. “I’M AN ALCOHOLIC!” she cried to the people passing on the sidewalk. And when she admitted her problem, a fairy godmother fell out of the sky and landed softly beside her. 

“I lift from thee the blight of alcoholism, my child,” said the fairy godmother waving her wand. Indeed, the princess was cured. She never drank again and lived happily ever after.

The End.

Let’s break this down into a few easy-to-follow tips:

Fairy tale writing tip #1
You’re going to want to include some royalty, some magic, and some mythical creatures such as children who have their shoes on when it’s time to leave the house.

Fairy tale writing tip #2
Once you have your story elements in place, just make up a narrative about the kind of thing we wish would happen, but never does. Here’s where our example above deviates from reality:

Photo by  Andrea Tummons

Only unicorns can have a single glass of wine each night, not human ladies.
I’ll concede that a few human ladies are unicorns, but one glass usually escalates.

When one glass escalates, it doesn’t happen overnight. 
This is the insidious nature of reality. It happens so gradually that we barely notice it. You turn 30, then 40, then 50, while the decades flash by in between. You look in the mirror and know you didn’t always look like a grandma (a hip grandma, but still). You just don’t remember exactly when that web of fine lines appeared across your forehead and at the corners of your eyes. 

Same with booze. You start out with a glass. Then it’s a couple glasses. Then a bottle (“a bottle’s only three pours!” as I used to love to say). Before you know it, it’s been five, ten, fifteen years, and you’re putting away a bottle a night (or more? the actual number is another fairy tale yarn we love to spin). Death by a thousand cuts and a million sips. You can never quite pinpoint when it got this bad.

An epiphany moment followed by instant behavior change is even rarer than that unicorn up there.
It’s awesome to wait for the big moment that changes it all. But if that’s your plan, I hope there’s an elastic waistband on those slacks because you’re going to be waiting for a while. Like maybe forever. The much more effective  –  albeit way less glamorous  – solution to changing things up is to just bumble along, trying and failing and trying again. And again.

It isn’t just alcoholics (living in the gutter or otherwise) that benefit from not drinking. 
It’s weird if you think about it. That somehow you have to wait until you have a “problem” before you go dry. As if waking with a pounding headache and zero will to live (let alone to get out of bed and dressed) isn’t permission enough. 

Someone else cures your drinking problem.
If only. You know how we tell teenagers that things we work for are the things that mean the most, so they’ll have to pay for their new junker of a car and their own damn college education, all the while secretly celebrating how people do things for us like how my husband takes out the garbage and mows the lawn and adjusts the thermostat? Well, it’s time to pay up for those types of responsibility shirks. This quitting drinking thing is all on you.

No one really lives in castles anymore, at least not here in Ohio.
We are known for our buckeyes, our unpredictable voting patterns, and our long suffering of disdain from the coasts – not our turreted mansions.

Fairy tale writing tip #3
Finish strong with a “happily ever after” and a “the end.” People like that garbage.

Now that you’re a fairy tale writing expert, back to those questions at the top. The answers are layered and individualized and I’ll keep trying to articulate them, but really I think the first step is to be real and honest with yourself. 

In other words, stop writing fairy tales.