Hello friends! Welcome back, and I’m sorry for being away so long. I know I say it quite often, but please, bear with me as I ramble through my first post in months. I’ve never been great at introductions or segues, so let’s just get right to it.
Last night, at about 10pm, I started watching a limited series on Netflix called The Queen’s Gambit. This morning, I finished the series. I’ve never been one that has been great at watching television shows (and by that I mean that typically, even shows that I enjoy watching – The Office, Gotham, and many others – end up being left unfinished), but there was something about this series that I could not walk away from. The fact that it was only seven episodes long likely helped keep my interest, but it was much more than that.
If you were to ask most people what the show was about, they would likely say something along the lines of “it is a show about a girl who is a chess prodigy, and her quest to become a world champion.” While this is absolutely true, saying that The Queen’s Gambit is a show about chess is – to paraphrase a line from comedian Craig Ferguson – “like calling Adolf Hitler a vegetarian: it’s technically true, but it hardly paints the whole picture.” The show is about so much more than chess. In fact, I would argue that chess is actually just an arbitrary subject matter. With all else in the show remaining the same, the focus could have been anything – sports, writing, cup-stacking, speed-crocheting, whatever – and it would have remained a fascinating and beautiful story of trauma, adversity, addiction, triumph, friendship, loss, recovery, relapse, found family, and so much more.
I won’t be doing a synopsis of the show – there’s plenty of places you could go for that, and I’d rather you watch the show for yourself anyway – but I’ll try to touch on certain aspects that spoke to me and felt like they really meant something.
First and foremost, I found the way that the show portrayed drug and alcohol addiction to be refreshing. I don’t claim to be an expert on film or television, but it seems to me that the angle they took with portraying addiction in this show was fairly unique. The show never felt preachy in its approach to addiction or getting clean, and the way the other characters interacted with Beth (the protagonist) in regards to her addiction didn’t either. While the characters voiced their concerns to Beth about her drug and alcohol addiction, they never felt like they were judging or chastising her for it, but instead just made it clear that they were there for her for support when she needed it, but let her make her own decisions. It feels rare to see the “we’re here for you, but ultimately, you can’t be helped until you’re ready to accept help” approach to addiction, whether in real life or in Hollywood portrayals. Often, addiction is viewed as a “if you’re not willing to help yourself, we’re either going to force the help upon you, or give you up as a lost cause” situation, which seems to often have the opposite effect on the afflicted person than what is desired.
Being a recovered alcoholic myself (this past June marked 6 years sober for me), this aspect of the show really spoke to me. While I do not relate to Beth on the drug addiction level that accompanied her alcoholism, I was able to relate to her struggles with booze, and found the support she received refreshing. Nobody tried to “cure her” by taking away her booze like she was a child, or forcing her in to rehab, which is so often how we as a society try to treat alcoholism. Even though the intentions in doing so are (most often, anyway) pure and done so in good faith of trying to help, they end up closing the addicted person off and making them feel even more isolated and despondent, because they feel that they cannot trust themselves, and fear what will happen when they are left to their own devices after rehab. Instead, by the characters being open and honest with Beth about their concerns for her, but letting her make her own choices and remaining by her side regardless, the change was able to come from Beth realizing that she wanted to get sober for herself, rather than feeling like she needed to get sober to make her friends happy and to make them not abandon her.
On the same token, I also found the way the show handled portraying relapse refreshing. I have, as of yet, been able to avoid a relapse in to drinking. I would be lying if I said I haven’t been tempted – with my mother dying a couple of years ago from cancer, other big upheavals in my personal life, and the abomination that is 2020 in general – but I have managed to be able to talk myself out of finding myself back at the bottom of a bottle. Unfortunately, the main reason I have been able to talk myself out of it is not from great self-discipline, or a lack of desire to drink. Instead, it is due to the bone-chilling, gut-wrenching, completely paralyzing fear at the thought of having to tell my family and friends that I have relapsed. To me, the fear and shame of a potential relapse is what keeps me sober, rather than simply no longer having a desire for booze. This show again took a much different approach to portraying drug and alcohol relapse. Any time Beth would relapse back in to drug and alcohol use, her friends and family would be supportive, rather than chastising her or making her feel guilty for “not being strong enough” to stay away. Again, they made their position and their concern known, but did not do so in a condescending way, letting Beth know that her choices are hers to make, and that they supported and loved her no matter what, rather than making her feel worse for relapsing. I don’t know if I will ever relapse from my sobriety, but if I ever do, I hope that those around me will treat the situation with the same love and care.
Another aspect of the show that I found interesting is how it portrayed response to tragedy and adversity. While it is true that Beth turned to drugs and alcohol at times to cope with horrors of her youth, it was not her only coping mechanism. She found that she had a natural talent for chess, and focused her mind and energy on that to keep her from giving in to despair. While it is true that “we can’t control what happens to us in life, we can only control how we react to it,” it is unfortunately also true that it is often much easier to lean in to despair when faced with adversity than it is to rise above and overcome it. It is made clear that traumas from Beth’s childhood were never far from the front of her mind, and throughout the series, she flips back and forth with how she copes with it, at times drowning her demons in pills and alcohol, other times focusing on being the best at her craft, and still other times seeking out personal connections with others. None of the coping methods are portrayed as being “bad” or “wrong” throughout the series, and are instead all accepted as valid (though some more unhealthy than others). I lost the point I was trying to make with this one, other than I found the representation of coping mechanisms to be refreshingly accepting.
And finally, a lesson that I took away from this show is one that I’m not sure was even intended by the directors. This show made it very clear to me that, no matter how talented, successful, rich, famous, or rife with opportunities someone is, life is hard for all of us in some way or another. That realization also makes it clear to me that the most important thing that we can do is to try our very best to be kind to one another, and accept that everyone has their own struggles to deal with, even if it seems they have everything going for them. Life is not a competition, and everyone’s struggles are unique and valid. The world is a scary and negative enough place on its own, we don’t need to add to it. Just try your best to understand and be kind to one another.
I’m sorry again for rambling this week, and I’m sorry if this came across dark or depressing, because I’m actually feeling the exact opposite and have a renewed feeling of hopefulness and optimism that I haven’t felt in a while.
I can’t promise when I’ll be back with another post, but I hope you’ll join me whenever that may be. Thank you for coming with me on this journey, and if you have watched The Queen’s Gambit already, or if you end up watching it after reading this, I’d be very happy to hear what you think. You can either leave me a comment here, or if you’d like to share your thoughts in a non-public forum, you can feel free to email me at email@example.com. Until next time, stay happy and healthy, friends, and do something nice for a stranger today. 🙂