Romancing the Darkness – Alcohol Addiction and The Shining

Every once in a while you read something so profound, so connective to your life and thought process, it resonates and sets your mind right. Today on my 5th day sober, my 5th day sober after 200 days alcohol-free and a slip and a slide and another and another, someone in my community shared this perspective on alcohol addiction and Stephen King’s book The Shining from her 17-year-old son.

So, you know in the book The Shining Mom? Its way different and more important than the movie. In the book it becomes clear that the Overlook (the hotel) is alcoholism. And it eventually sucks Jack in. He can’t escape. And what makes the book so terrifying (unlike the movie) is that the scariest thing is that the hotel gets into Jack’s head and starts fucking with him. Telling him to drink. Its like his own head betrays him and he’s done. 

His family escapes, but barely. And that is sort of like a family that escapes alcoholism. They barely made it out of the hotel. Jack didn’t.” 

I confess I read the Shining years ago. And I did not see that symbolism. But, now that he brings it up, its clearly there. Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder, alcohol addiction, it is truly terrifying. More terrifying than monsters or things that go bump in the night. Because Alcoholism (the Overlook hotel) truly gets deep into our heads, and slowly drives us mad, so that we no longer trust ourselves. And, it slowly takes us over. But it is so sinister that we don’t even recognize the danger. Neither do our families until it is too late. 

The book and its imagery is especially poignant knowing Stephen King is an addict and at the time of writing, he was actively battling his alcohol addiction and other addictions. He crafts a universe in which reality, and the reality created by alcohol, are almost imperceptibly the same, but one of them you can trust – the other – will slowly take you over. 

Beyond that, my son’s interpretation of The Shining as a powerful struggle between alcohol addiction and the goodness in our lives has made me want to reread it .

Stanley Kubrik’s version ends with the shot of the photo on the wall of the hotel. Jack is featured front and center. In the photo he looks healthy and sane. The photo now represents to me all the good men (sexist as was the era) that alcohol has taken. And, I imagine that Stephen King was quite conscious of this as he was writing and battling his own demons.

Man at type writter battling his addiction to alcohol

Alcohol said to me,

“Can you really do this sober thing long term? Come on. What’s the point, anyway? You really weren’t that bad—my God, you read stories daily that show you really weren’t that bad! Won’t it feel weird with your friends to keep this up? Seriously. You miss wine, don’t you! It’s creating awkward situations now. I mean, how weird will they feel when you sit here and don’t drink while they are at your house? You did it, you went the whole summer without drinking. Are you really going to keep going and make a big thing out of this or what?”

It was a gentle, crooning voice—not a shocking outburst, not a crisis that drove me to the liquor store, but a gentle, persuasive conversation that went on all evening. It didn’t stop. Romancing the darkness. A lost lover’s whisper. Alcohol addiction? Am I an alcoholic? Nahhh – you’ve got this under control.

woman opening window to release alcohol addiction voice

I picked up my laptop and opened to my community for support, and there on top, was a post from one of our newer members that said two things I hope will resonate with me for the rest of my life. The decision to go down one fork or the other.  The decision to become the drink.  To stop watching the clock.  To just let it all revolve around drinking. Wrapping all little problems into one big one.  How easy that would be.  So easy to just roll in and stay there. Keep going with where I was headed before I stopped drinking.  

I am so lucky to have recognized the fork in the road I had come to. That post made me remember every detail of my night-before-Day-1 and all the months and years that preceded it. It was my decision time and I knew it then and I know it now. To just let go of the sober rope, or to grab hold, pull myself up, and go the other way.

The darkness ain’t all it’s cracked up to be
It’s not romantic
It’s just misery!

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3 responses to “Romancing the Darkness – Alcohol Addiction and The Shining”

  1. Great books are different books at different times of your life. “The Shining” is a great book. When I read it at 15, before I had ever taken a drink, it was a story about a terrifying father. I picked it up again a few decades later, and found a tale about alcoholism.

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