Haunted by Unspeakable Monsters

“I have now been made Assistant Headteacher; why am I not yet content?”

Scribbled journal entry circa 2013

This is a line from a sketchy version of a journal I kept off-and-on for a few years. I found the book buried in my sock drawer this morning and opened it up. I haven’t looked at it since I got sober and I see now how my fear and insecurity manifested itself in my life. Within those very few pages (it was off more than on) I notice the conspicuous absence of any mention of alcohol or the internal struggle I was constantly having about my dependency on it. Instead I see dreams too far out of reach, hampered by the unspeakable demon in my life, what Pamela Pesta describes as “The Thief”, stealing away my contentment, confidence and creativity. 

There are a number of childhood memories in there too, food I enjoyed, places that I liked to be and occasions when I was happy and carefree. My brother, who is 14 years my junior, once reminded how, when he was a child, I had come into his room after a night out drinking, woke him up and told him to never grow up, decrying adulthood as a curse and a burden. I don’t remember that of course, but I do remember feeling it, I remember feeling it very well. I clung to those happy childhood memories as a reminder of a time when anything was possible and I felt protected, or blinkered to the world and its dangers and woes, and like a child I still could not name the monster in my midst. 

Throughout popular culture, legend and even religion we see examples of the power in naming things; The Candyman, Beetlejuice, Voldemort – even God! The power to control or to be controlled. It is no coincidence that many fellowships have us name our demon before we speak in a meeting, “I’m Matt and I’m an alcoholic”, with those words I am taking control of the monster and draining it of all its power over me. All those years when the monster was alive only in my head, unspoken and unacknowledged, but powerful and all-consuming – pulling me further and further away from life and into a dark and empty space where only the unspeakable monster could possibly thrive. 

There were times when I tried to speak its name, but I usually saw the fear in peoples’ eyes when I did and I didn’t want to unleash the demon on them, so back inside my head it went. I felt that I would never have the power to name it and perhaps I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for some spiritual intervention** in April 2019, but once I had spoken its name the power was destroyed. There was no fear in the eyes of others, it was only my own fear reflected back at me. 

Well over 18 months later and I have no fear in naming my alcoholism and it’s true that it no longer has power over me. T.S.Elliot had it spot on in his poem The Ad-Dressing of Cats:

And so in time you reach your aim,

And finally call him by his NAME. 

-From Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S.Elliot

To name it is to know it, to face the truth of what it means and invite the scrutiny of others. I am an alcoholic and I never want to forget it, for if I do I will drink again and if I drink again I will die. Maybe not in the mortal sense at first, but a slow, internalised death where the only feelings that survive are fear, guilt and shame. I never want to be there again, alone with the unspeakable monsters, and so I will speak its name, again-and-again, not with pride, but with a humble acknowledgement of the power it holds over me when in silence it remains.

© @SobrietyMatt 2020

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