The Queen’s Gambit – An Honest Reflection of My Alcoholism

Wine glasses on Chess board- The Queen's Gambit and alcoholism

I saw a Twitter discourse on the “lie” and glamorization of addiction in the Queen’s Gambit. People I really admire and respect in the online sobriety community are challenging the portrayal of alcoholism in the popular Netflix series. They want to know: How is this untarnished youth and beauty alcoholism? Where is the weight gain? The bloat and smeared makeup? Why isn’t she shitting herself and why aren’t there vomit stains on her dress? In short, why isn’t she a mess? Why doesn’t addiction look uglier in this series? Alcoholics don’t just stop drinking after a good chess game (true). AA is the only way to get sober (not in my experience). Alcoholism is not sexy!

I admit this show doesn’t do the best job at accurately portraying recovery . Based on my experience of it the evolution of alcohol addiction is well presented in The Queen’s Gambit, but the slow process of recovery is mostly skipped. I also have real issues with the “what’s the cost of your genius?” question the show attempts to explore. There are some problematic tropes and it’s not perfect, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of a show or movie that does alcoholism full justice, and I think that mostly boils down to the fact that most of the time alcohol addiction just isn’t sexy.

I think it would be impossible to make a good movie about everyday alcoholism because it’s just too plain and sad and boring. It’s a war of attrition. Alcohol addiction takes and drains so slowly that it would make for a rather dull watch. A better approach might just be to make a movie that is not ostensibly about alcohol or problem drinking, but the characters’ problem drinking would slowly disrupt their plans and the movie’s real plot with increasingly pathetic and silly and avoidable setbacks and procrastinations or tangents. In other words, the plot would need to promise a plot but never deliver it. Kind of like a Tristram Shandy concept, where the movie keeps promising to deliver a specific story but never gets around to it because of all the setbacks and digressions of its characters.

An honest depiction of my descent into alcoholism would not be a suspense-filled drama but would have to be a tragi-comedy or a farce.

Most of the time, alcohol addiction is boring as shit. It’s mundane. You have Leaving Las Vegas at one end of the spectrum, but the majority of people with alcohol issues don’t look like that. It doesn’t look like something you’d make a movie out of, and I think that’s what keeps a lot of us stuck in the addiction — alcoholism is not usually the rock bottom, down and out drama we expect it to be but rather a monotonous sort of dragged down tired. Tired of being sick and tired. As a society, we seem to be told we need to be a veritable Ozzy Osbourne before we get to call ourselves ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addicted’ Someone who is unraveling slowly over the course of a decade or two? Could the average viewer pinpoint this decline halfway through the movie before the evidence was absolutely irrefutable? 

We want addiction to be obvious, dramatic and look ugly. We want addiction to be identifiably – OTHER- or abnormal. And I think that this is why it’s so important for those of us who become addicted to alcohol to keep up the outward appearance of a normal, beautiful life. When you’re young, it’s easy. Sure, there were nights where my mascara was smeared down my cheeks and my lipstick smudged, but all of my makeup-wearing friends probably looked like that after a long night out. There were also plenty of nights where I’d be out and throw up in the bathroom, only to come back to the table and have no one be any wiser. In the last few years, it was clear that alcohol had taken a toll on my physical appearance but for a long time, it didn’t.

Do you have to wait until you gain the wine weight to be deemed an addict ?

Is it only when the capillaries break that you are an alcoholic ? 

I think of my alcoholism much more now as just simply ‘stuck’. I was stuck in underachieving my best life. Drama didn’t happen in rapid succession, just small moments where it sometimes bubbled to the surface. My alcoholism was defined as clinging to the safety of the escape button. I’m not that bad, I haven’t burned the house down yet! It’s scary and therefore brave to call it out: it’s addiction. Plain, boring, everyday addiction.

I wish there were more representations of people in the early or middle stages of addiction, ones who haven’t hit rock bottom. Where’s the neighbor who is ashamed of her recycling but never misses a day of work? Or maybe the one who does miss work but only drinks socially? It’s not as neat and tidy as we want it to be and calling out the spectrum of addiction could help a lot of people before serious intervention is needed. Addiction is really on a sliding scale and nobody wants to talk about it because so many people are sliding. Everyone wants to think that to be a true alcoholic you have to be living under the bridge drinking out of a paper bag. And when we talk about the truth most people get uncomfortable because they recognize that they too are slipping toward alcohol abuse But they don’t want to face it.

The bar for “it’s a problem” is set ridiculously high. Higher still is the bar for “you need to do something about it.

I first heard about The Queen’s Gambit in my online sobriety community. The influencers on Twitter may not see The Queens Gambit as an accurate representation of alcoholism, but everyone in my quiet little community remarked on the accurate portrayal in the series and it is an honest reflection of the progression of my addiction to alcohol. When I watched it, I was taken aback at how slowly the addiction took hold. While it was clear that the protagonist quickly found herself physically dependent on pills (as one might expect), the alcoholism took longer to develop into something recognizable. I watched as the main character danced drunk around her messy house and thought God, I know that scene. Not once while watching did I think, yes, put the records on and pass me a bottle!

I have no nostalgia for that dance.

I told friends of mine who are wondering why I need to stay sober to watch the Queen’s Gambit as well because the depiction of alcoholism felt spot on. Sometimes like being young, sometimes like a party, sometimes like an act of solitary self-destruction in the face of failure. I think of that scene where she’s with the all-grown-up guy from Love Actually and they’re at the bar when he asks her “are you just going to drink all night?” and she says, “yep!” Her tolerance is high. Her makeup is on point. She’s not slurring her words. 

I know that, I think. 

That was me.

I’m going to bed late having watched the last 2 episodes of The Queen’s Gambit. I loved it but wouldn’t recommend watching it if you are in early sobriety. It is chock full of seductive visuals of every drink that can be drunk and in the first weeks of living sober, that kind of imagery can knock you off your quit, but I’m nearing the end of my first sober year and am finally able to handle any images of alcohol that the media might throw my way without feeling triggered to drink. What a difference a year makes! Rather than opening a bottle after my son went to sleep, I had some genuine me time watching something I really enjoyed (and will remember it all tomorrow). I’m going to bed feeling better for having a stone-cold sober cry earlier (100% unclouded real emotions and thoughts processed). And as always these days, I’m satisfied and happy that I’m going to bed without a drop of alcohol in my body, secure in the knowledge that I will wake tomorrow feeling as good as I can, with a clean slate and possibilities unhindered by the effects of my night before.

I may not have been the drunk under the bridge but like the protagonist in The Queen’s Gambit my descent into alcoholism meant that I had to stop drinking or become my worst. That may be the best thing about sobriety, that it gives us the opportunity to do the best we can. And that is the conclusion of The Queen’s Gambit as well! Sobriety for the win! However you get there.

Sobriety offers everything that alcohol promised – except the hangover.

Queen on Chess Board The Queen's Gambit and alcoholism

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4 responses to “The Queen’s Gambit – An Honest Reflection of My Alcoholism”

  1. I liked the series overall but I actually felt the opposite from you as for her descent into alcoholism – it felt so fast! Some of the earliest scenes where she first has a drink (with her adopted mom) she chugs the drinks down and wants more. At least in my experience, addiction didn’t happen immediately like a switch had been flipped. It took time, it took years really of increasing tolerance and a daily habit that went from a couple drinks to relax to a full-blown addiction needing several to fall asleep. But I was never chugging drinks from the start. It thought it was strange the way Beth became seemingly addicted overnight (speaking to the alcohol, not the pills). Anyway that was just my perspective on the matter but overall I enjoyed the show and I agree, that montage with her day drinking and dancing and losing control felt so real and reminded me why I do not miss that lifestyle! Great article.

    • Thank you ! Yes we all have a different experience really, I don’t think that there is a one size fits all in addiction or recovery- excepet that we take the drink/drug- and it eventually takes us- unless we fight back

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