‘Quit Lit’ and the Origin of Zombies

I’VE BEEN OFF THE BOOZE since December 2017.

This isn’t the first time I’ve joined the ranks of the teetotal.

On other occasions (I was off it for a year while living in Colombia), I trialled the lifestyle and for one reason or another, always found myself slipping back into old habits. Familiar company.

That’s not to say that I was bat-shit crazy or a lunatic with the gargle. Far from it. Returning to Ireland from Colombia, I folded easily again into the pub scene. Didn’t take much persuasion.

Weekend binges became a regular occurrence once more.

This time around, seven months on, there have been no dramatics. No rock-bottom. No iron will, forged from the fiery pits of shame and embarrassment.

Instead, a general awareness returned. An acute sense that those nights could be better spent. The penny has dropped before, many times, but I’d slot it back into the vending machine again and watch as it spat out another Heineken. This time, I choose to keep the penny.

Optimum physical and mental health has become a growing priority as I watch close relatives suffer under the weight of stacked bad habits. Perhaps I have more self-awareness now I’ve reached my mid-thirties.

I’ve been on a few sober dates in recent weeks. In the past I would have needed drink to soften the sharp edges on those exchanges. It’s taking a little bit of getting used to, but for a guy that used booze especially in the decade of my twenties as a way to gain confidence to meet women, it’s been like learning to walk again.

That’s not to say it’s been easy.

Social occasions are a bit tricky to manoeuvre because, at least in my own network, there is still a stigma attached to not drinking. The need to justify not drinking is still there. Slowly, my friends are getting used to the sober me.

Like it or lump it, they’re stuck with him now.

I’ve been reading a lot of ‘quit-lit’ books lately, interested to learn how and why others have binned the booze.

I recommend ‘This Naked Mind’, ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’ (really good!), ‘Kick the Drink…Easily’, and I’ve just finished ‘Asylum’.

The last one was written by William Seabrook, an adventure writer of the 1930’s.

He was plagued by insecurity about his own writing ability, even though, he was one of the best paid writers of that era. He escaped the own tormentors of his mind by seeking solace in booze.

Well, common or not, what I was afraid of was that I wasn’t good enough…I was ready to admit that this was why I had tried to drown myself in booze. Good enough for what? Well, it wasn’t complicated, and I am not ashamed to admit it, for it was not too pretentious. It did not involve wanting to be Shakespeare or Joyce. What I wanted more than anything was simply to be a good writer, and what I was afraid of was that I would never be anything at most but a good reporter.

  • Fun fact: Seabrook was responsible for introducing the word ‘Zombie’ into the English language. His book, The Magic Island, was the basis for ‘White Zombie’ – the first ever zombie flick.

Things reached a head in Seabrook’s career in 1933 where he ‘made and baited and walked into the trap’. For the first time in his life, he was successful. At least in outward appearances. Plenty of money, perfect surroundings, good contracts and lots of time to work on new projects.

Instead of doing my best I took to drink and did practically nothing. I had been afraid to do my best for fear my best would not be good enough.

Up until that point, Seabrook spent a decade travelling the globe to glamorous locations, never choosing to settle.

I knew now that I had always been afraid of a showdown. I saw now that I had been running away all my life. I had been variously listed and publicised as an ‘explorer’, ‘traveller’, ‘adventurer’, but I had always been merely a frightened man running away – from something…I kept running, all over the map, for miles and years (with books as by-products of my circlings), until I got caught in a trap of my own devising where I had to sit down and face myself. I had been so unwilling and afraid to face it that I had tried to drown myself in booze. I had been forced at last to stop running and sit down with myself – and it had landed me – by the back door, since I hadn’t even the excuse of being cracked – in this place.

This ‘place’ was a mental asylum! He had enlisted his friends to commit him to the institution in a last-ditch attempt to conquer his alcohol dependence.

The book covers the eight months Seabrook spent inside, battling his inner demons. This, at a radically different time in history, seen through a reporting lens long before AA and the root cause of alcohol addiction were explored.

The self-reflections, even eighty years later, are still very powerful and revealing.

I had plenty of time to face myself now, and if I wanted to come out and survive, I had to take stock of whatever I was and get the courage to face it without trying to drown the image in drink again. I had to stop running away from myself, I had to stop hiding from myself, I had to stop drowning myself in gin. Whatever I had was all I had, and if I weren’t a hopeless coward, I had to do my best with what I had.

Pretty sobering stuff!

5 thoughts on “‘Quit Lit’ and the Origin of Zombies

  • Hi Aidan. It’s interesting to think about drink. I’ve never enjoyed the feeling of drinking too much…and I remember the day I realised that if I close my eyes and it feels like my brain is doing cartwheels then I’ve had way too much. I found my stopping point. I’ve never had huge amounts but now I largely would rather enjoy a drink than enjoy drinking (if that makes sense)…maybe I’m just getting old! 😄 Good on you I say!

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    • I know exactly what you mean. Least you found your stopping point. I would have typically drank until there was nothing left in my wallet. Not with ‘tapping’ the card for payment, it’s never been easier to dig into debt. Not entertaining that any more!

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  • On another note…if you fancy reading what I think could be an odd thing, look into the history of Rotoroa Island when it was run by the Salvation Army…isolating people from families and friends to get them off drink…how the world has changed.

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