Interview with Leah Odze Epstein, co-editor of Drinking Diaries

by Leah on December 15, 2010

Each week, we will 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.

Leah Odze Epstein is the co-editor of Drinking Diaries. She is currently at work on her first young adult novel about her alter ego, Carolena Gold, a teen whose family battles addiction. You can follow her on Twitter at @Leaheps.

Drinking Diaries:  How did/does your family treat drinking?

Leah: My mother is a recovered alcoholic who stopped drinking for good when I was nine. Before that, alcohol flowed in our house. Every time my parents had their friends over, there would be pitchers of Sangria or decanted red wine on the table with dinner. After my mother went through detox, not a drop of alcohol crossed the threshold of our house. My father didn’t drink much, so it wasn’t a big deal for him. My mom didn’t even feel comfortable letting friends bring alcohol to our house for parties or at Christmas. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a drink at my parents’ house–maybe once or twice at Christmas. When they come to my house, I now feel comfortable opening a bottle of wine in front of my mom, and my father will have a glass, but that’s after many many years.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

With kid gloves. I love to drink wine, but these days, I mostly drink when we go out for dinner with friends. I’ve tried having that end of the day glass of wine as I’m preparing dinner, like some of my friends do, or having a glass or two after the kids are in bed, but ultimately, I just don’t feel comfortable. It’s too loaded for me. I guess I’m haunted by the spectre of my mother’s alcoholism even though it’s pretty clear at this point that I haven’t inherited the tendency.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

Yes! I was pretty much a teetotaler in middle school and high school. Maybe I had a total of a few sips of whiskey, one beer and a wine cooler throughout those years. In college, I thought I might be an alcoholic, since I drank every day, and sometimes in the shower while I was getting ready for parties. My friends did it, too, so it made me feel slightly better about myself. But still–I looked forward to drinking more than just about anything back in those days. I guess I was releasing all that pent-up adolescent rebellion. Being too good in high school can be a real problem.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

The truth is, I’ve mostly had a great drinking life. The best times have been while I was traveling, especially on my honeymoon in Spain. Every day, my husband and I would sit out in one of the squares in Seville, in the middle of the afternoon, drinking wine in little juice glasses, eating tapas and listening to gypsies play guitar and sing songs of passion that burned right through to my core. Another great time was when my friend Julie and I were traveling around Europe, our junior year abroad, and we landed in Mougins, in the South of France, in May. We ended up in this incredible square, with bougainvillea growing everywhere and a fountain in the center. There was this little grocery, and we bought a bottle of white wine, a crusty baguette, cheese and a fresh tomato. Then we headed to an old stone wall overlooking the sea, with a pale blue and pink sky, dotted with sailboats. We met some Australian guy who looked like David Letterman–he had a face that just cheered you up, looking at it–gap-teeth. Red hair. Freckles. The three of us sat on that wall, laughing and talking and drinking, tearing off pieces of bread, making little sandwiches, watching the sunset. Heaven.

What about the worst time?

Probably my junior year abroad in Paris. I was going through a tough time, and I was not a pretty drunk. I don’t remember why, but I got belligerent at this bar. At some point, I spiked the disco ball as if it were a volleyball. Then, when the bartender got mad, I took a swig of my beer and spat it in his face. I ended up being “escorted” out of the bar by two thugs who left me on the street, ranting and raving. Trust me, if you know me, this behavior was not characteristic.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

As I’ve mentioned here on the blog, I really love Anne Lamott’s trilogy of novels: Rosie, Crooked Little Heart, and Imperfect Birds. The main character is a recovered alcoholic. And Mary Karr’s Lit blew me away. Also, Ellen Gilchrist writes about women who drink, in her novels, short stories, and personal essays. And Theodore Roethke’s famous poem, “My Papa’s Waltz.”

What do you like most about drinking?

The way it slows down the pace of life and stops time.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

Despite a family history of alcoholism, I count drinking as one of the pleasures of life, and I’m basically a hedonist. I feel lucky that I’m able to drink. Blessed, really.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Being the daughter of an alcoholic has made me a humbler person, well aware that we humans aren’t perfect and in complete control at all times. It has also given me compassion.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

I’d like to be a velvety red wine–full-bodied, comforting and warming. But I’m probably more like a Bourbon and orange juice with a dash of bitters–luckily, that’s my husband’s favorite drink.