What We Can Learn From Hemingway’s Mistakes With Alcoholism

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Ernest Hemingway was a passionate writer and outdoorsman, but he was also an alcoholic. Death and violence consumed much of his life, possibly contributing to alcoholism. Yet Hemingway did not allow situations to get the better of him, and often commented upon his own drinking habits. We can track Hemingway’s alcoholism by looking at things he said over the years.

Denial

Hemingway once said, “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with fools.” This can be marked as the denial stage. Hemingway is making excuses for his behavior instead of taking responsibility for his actions. This is a stage in which family and friends are key to convincing the individual that he/she may have a problem with excessive drinking. At times it can be difficult to move beyond denial independently. Denial is a defense mechanism that masks pain. In order to come to terms with this stage, it is often necessary for a loved one to state concerns in direct terms and that he/she wants to help. With a strong support system, the process becomes much easier.

Depression

Hemingway received a letter telling of his father’s suicide. In response he said, “I’ll probably go the same way.” These words clearly mark how far Hemingway has fallen into depression. Not all stages of depression are so distinct. Depression can manifest in ways that are much subtler. For example, if somebody who is usually outgoing and always talkative does not speak for an extended period, this person may be trapped in unhappy thoughts. It is important to look for warning signs in actions as well as words.

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Acceptance

Hemingway goes through a period of time in which he recognizes that his drinking habits can be disruptive. He says, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. It will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” This clarity is a sign of Hemingway’s willingness to receive the help he needed. This moment is key for recovery: lucidity is not always constant.

In Hemingway’s case, his treatment was too little, too late. It was not until close to the end that true acceptance really occurred. By the time he was treated, Hemingway was suffering from a variety of health problems including (alcohol-related) depression and a ruptured liver.

Lesson Learned

Although Hemingway’s story ends in tragedy, we can use it as a guiding light. His alcoholism was not addressed head on early enough. But this does not have to be the case. Find a strong support system and you can make it through. Remember (friends and family, I’m talking to you), look for warning signs.

The stages of alcoholism may have indistinct borders. It takes keen observation to step in at the right moment. There are five stages that often intermingle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Recognizing where a person stands can be tricky, but it is worth the effort.

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