Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.
Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, is also a Lifetime television movie. Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award in creative nonfiction. As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN-Headline News, and a documentary on WE-TV. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writers Guide to Memoir.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Sue William Silverman: I was a freshman in college, and I think it was a screwdriver. I didn’t like the taste of it, but I drank it at a fraternity party – kind of peer pressure – to fit in.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
Growing up, my family hardly ever drank. True or not (probably not), I always heard from my parents that “Jewish people don’t drink very much.” So alcohol wasn’t part of my upbringing.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I haven’t had any alcohol in well over a decade. My metabolism is such that I can feel drunk or high very quickly – and I don’t like that feeling. Additionally, probably because I’m a recovering sex addict, I tend to stay away from anything that has the potential to make me feel “not myself,” or numbed out, or out of control.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
When I was acting out in terms of the sexual addiction, I sometimes used alcohol to “enhance” the sexual addiction, lower my inhibitions. In other words, I’ve never been an alcoholic, but I did “use” it, on occasion, to make it emotionally “easier” to act out with inappropriate men. Mind you, I would pretty much act out with men anyway, without a drop of alcohol in my system. So drinking wasn’t a consistent thing, or a drug that I really needed. In short, I didn’t need alcohol to feel high; I needed men to feel high!
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
When I drank, it was usually Scotch. In the sex addiction – i.e., in my “magical thinking” of an addict – I believed men would find me sexy if I drank Scotch. Of course, this was based on nothing but my own addictive thinking at the time.
Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?
None. I can’t think of any time when drinking was positive, or allowed me to be more interesting, funny, witty, etc. If I can be interesting, funny, etc., on my own – great. But, if I’m boring (and aren’t we all sometimes!), well…I’d rather be boring than use a substance to feel high.
Has culture or religion influenced your drinking?
That mantra I always heard from my parents – “Jewish people don’t drink very much” – I’m sure influenced me. (Again, I have no idea if there is any basis of fact to this claim, or if it’s pure myth.) However, anyone with an addictive personality has a “drug” of choice, so I used sex/men instead.
Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?
I don’t drink because it makes me feel unhealthy, both physically and emotionally. This is not a moralistic stance. In other words, I’m not opposed to alcohol on moral grounds; I don’t judge people who drink. It’s just a personal decision. I’m better off not drinking.
Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?
I find Leaving Las Vegas a fascinating movie about drinking – or, really, about alcoholism. It’s a cautionary tale, with brilliant acting both by Nicholas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. At the same time, a wonderful movie that explores recovery from alcohol and drugs is Clean and Sober starring Michael Keaton.
An older movie, and book, The Lost Weekend, is also brilliant, especially since it was written before we knew that much about the disease of alcoholism. The novel, published in 1944, is by Charles R. Jackson. And Ray Milland stars in the 1945 movie adaptation.
I might also mention that Flaubert’s novel, Madame Bovary, is a fascinating book to read in terms of addiction: Emma Bovary, the protagonist, is addicted to alcohol, sex, men, food, money. I say it’s a fascinating book because Flaubert wrote it in 1857, before anyone knew anything about addiction. In short, he portrayed the character of Emma as an addict, without knowing the term.