I’ve probably lost half of you already with this post’s title. Folks are rarely neutral when it comes to Harry Potter. It is usually a love-him-or-hate-him deal, but for Harry and me it's all love, all the time. I'm obsessed with that little wizard-ling and have been since the first book of the series was published in 1997. But more than just Harry, I'm also fascinated by other characters in the books. I get lost in wonder reading about these amazingly crafted otherworldly creatures; they are good, evil, dastardly, funny, scary and wonderful all at once. It’s a very mixed bag.
Some of my favorite beings in the world of Harry Potter are the Dementors. They remind me so much of where alcoholism eventually took me. So what are these Dementors? For the one person left who hates Harry Potter but is still reading this post:
"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soul-less and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter series, book #3)
And then there’s this:
"A Dementor is a gliding wraithlike creature, widely considered to be one of the foulest to inhabit the wizarding world. Dementors feed on human happiness and thus generate feelings of depression and despair in any person in close proximity to them. They can also consume a person's soul, leaving their victims alive but in a vegetative state, and thus are often referred to as "soul-sucking fiends", rendering a person an empty shell.”
I’ve met people like that. Men and women so lost in their addiction that there is nothing left of them but an empty vessel. Their only purpose in life seems to be keeping their addiction fed. I was like that at the end. You never would have known it by looking at me. I had a job, an apartment and a life that seemed enviable on the surface, yet inside I was in a constant battle with my own Dementor, a profound addiction to alcohol. I had to feed it daily, even though I swore that I would not. I was utterly possessed. I would chant my mantra all day every day: "I will not drink today, I will not drink today, I will not drink today." The chant began in the morning as an attempt to soothe my intense hangover. It continued at work as I tried to concentrate on my job. It grew more insistent after work, so I’d struggle through a yoga class, anything to stay away from my apartment until I thought my “witching hours” had passed. Then I would walk home, hoping that I had so exhausted myself during the day that I would not need to drink. And then, without fail, I would open my apartment door, say hello to my boyfriend and go into my bathroom where I kept an enormous bottle of vodka under the sink, hidden behind a mad jumble of cleaning products. I would kneel down, still repeating my mantra, and I would put that large bottle of warm vodka to my mouth and just chug it down. Never even having taken off my shoes, or coat, or, in the winter, my gloves. And trust me, it is not easy to unscrew a tightly sealed vodka bottle with freezing hands encased in mittens. Every so often I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. A young woman, still nice and glowy from a yoga class, in a clean bathroom in a lovely apartment and I would just gasp. "Who are you?" I would say to the mirror. "What is happening to you? What is this monster that so controls you that even when chanting your "I will not drink today" mantra you drink?" I would gaze at that girl in the mirror and tell her "You can't be an alcoholic. You can't be. That's just not fair."
I'm reminded of another line from the books. As Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts (Harry's wizarding school) explains to his students:
"Dementors don't care who you are or what you've done. They can see through the disguises, and tricks won't dissuade them. It's not the nature of a Dementor to understand pleading or excuses.”
I've been there too, pleading and making excuses for my addiction. "I'm not nearly as bad as so-and-so.” “No one even knows I'm an addict." "Dear God, I can’t be an alcoholic. I'd rather be dead." But you know what? My addiction doesn’t care about pleas and excuses. In the rooms of A.A. you will hear the line "Your addiction doesn't want you dead, it wants you sick and suffering." That holds true for Dementors as well. A Dementor has no use for a lifeless corpse. They like to keep their victims alive so they can feed off of them and play with them when they want to. Like a marionette. That's what addiction felt like for me. I was nothing but a marionette whose strings could be pulled at any point to make me take that drink. So even when I swore to myself that I would not drink I was not the one pulling the strings, my addiction was.
Wow, this is going down a dark path. But who doesn't love a dark path? I do, Dementors do, addiction does. Is there a solution? Is there a way to combat these Dementors that want nothing more than to keep their victims alive.... but barely? Feeding off the remnants of their souls and their faintly beating dying hearts? For Harry Potter there is. It’s called the Patronus charm.
"The Patronus spell is the most famous (and famously difficult) defensive charm. The aim is to produce a silvery-white guardian or protector, which takes the form of an animal. The exact form of the Patronus will not be apparent until the spell has been successfully cast. One of the most powerful defensive charms known to wizardkind, the Patronus can also be used as a messenger between wizards as a pure, protective magical concentration of happiness and hope. It is the only spell effective against the Dementors. The majority of witches and wizards are unable to produce the Patronus and to do so is generally considered a mark of superior magical ability."
Harry Potter - Wikipedia
And that is what A.A. has become for me, a protector, a Patronus. I showed up there fully addicted, unable to control my own arms or hands or mouth or mind. I was in full combat with my own Dementors and they were winning, handily. Although I feared that I would never have my own Patronus to save me from alcoholism, I saw people who did. People who had been addicted and despairing but who had somehow recovered and found happiness and hope. While it seemed highly unlikely that it would happen for me, I saw that some strange magic had worked for the group members. And like the Patronus charm, whose magic is not immediately evident, I didn't even know that the spell had been cast. I went home, sure that I would open the door and go straight to the vodka. But I didn't. I went a full 24 hours without a drink. That first 24 hours was the miracle. That was my Patronus. 24 hours alcohol-free. And in this wild way these strangers that I sat next to in those very first A.A. meetings became messengers to me through their example. There can be hope. There can be freedom. There can be joy.
The first time Harry was saved from the Dementors was by a Patronus that most believe was not cast by him, but by another wizard:
"...and out of the end of his wand burst, not a shapeless cloud of mist, but a blinding, dazzling, silver animal. He screwed up his eyes, trying to see what it was. It looked like a horse. It was galloping silently away from him, across the black surface of the lake. He saw it lower its head and charge at the swarming Dementors..."
The Patronus that graced me those first 24 hours alcohol-free was cast by others as well. What I felt in my first months in A.A. I still feel, years later. A pure, protective magical concentration of happiness and hope. That's not to say that all A.A. meetings are great and that all A.A. members are saints. But there was enough of that magic in my first meeting for me to go back the next day, and then the next. And I started to cobble a few sober days together while under the protection of the other group members. That was the magic for me. Now my hope is that someday I can cast a Patronus charm for a newcomer. Someone who runs in, lost, terrified, Dementors hot on their heels. My wish for anyone suffering from addiction is that they will feel the magic in the rooms and grab on to that, rather than the dark, greasy, foul coat tails of the Dementors.
Although my own Dementors still hover patiently outside the windows and doors of all the 12 step meetings I attend they are not allowed into the rooms themselves. And I hold on to the hope and happiness I find in those rooms. I hold on to the program and the people and the literature...and my HP. Higher Power. A power greater than myself, a power filled with hope, a power who coincidentally shares its initials with my other great love, Harry Potter.