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.
Suzanne Finnamore is an internationally bestselling author of Otherwise Engaged (Knopf 1999), The Zygote Chronicles (Grove/Atlantic Press, 2003) and Split: A Memoir of Divorce (Penguin USA 2008). She is married to her second and very last husband, who she met on Match.com in 2009. Her next book, Add To Cart: A Memoir of Loss, Lust, and Finding My Second Husband Online at Fifty, is expected out in 2013. She lives in Durham, North Carolina with her family.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Suzanne Finnamore: I was about three, and it was a discarded can of Hamm’s beer that was on our front lawn where my father had spent a goodly part of the previous night, passed out. I seem to remember that there was a picture of a smiling cartoon bear on the Hamm’s beer can, his brown eyes twinkling with mischief as if to say, “Come to Jellystone Park and we’ll have us some good time, sugar. Come on with me and Booboo, bring a bowl of salted nuts.” Was Yogi Bear the official sponsor of Hamm’s beer? In my mind, he is. He may have been.
All sorts of bad shit went down in the 60’s; I don’t know why everyone remembers it as some sort of psychedelic heyday laced with purity and love. It was squalor at our house, I can tell you that. And in the world black ministers and young presidents were being gunned down like clay pigeons. So naturally cartoon bears were pushing beer to toddlers.
And I’m remembering this first drink right now as if I’m watching a commercial, a peppy little PSA on the subject of Children of Alcoholics, except it’s playing in my head instead of on our flat screen. I hadn’t realized it was a movie I could access at will, I hadn’t thought about it much, in the same way that a blind person who lost sight at three doesn’t think about when they first realized they were blind, unless you’re Helen Keller and have that sort of eloquent, total recall and a Miracle Worker taking down names and helping you form letters with your hands.
It’s a little scene that appears innocuous enough but that actually tells you everything important about my childhood, which is something that started out good but became a maimed enterprise fairly quickly, became the start of this sort of developmentally blind person’s way of crashing through the world, and not even knowing that other people know how to do this, how to walk around without taking out an eye or fucking bad men exclusively and marrying badly and alienating the very people you want to love you.
I think I just answered that. They treat it like life itself. And then they die on New Years Eve, which is how my father and third stepmother died. Dead on the road, laid out like statistics and never mind the funeral, just a little wine and cheese affair. I’m not kidding. That was it. I was nineteen. My first feeling was relief. And that has pretty much stayed with me, just bald-faced relief. They were spiraling; it wasn’t going to get any better. After my boneless lush of an emotional cripple monster father was dead at least I had a chance. I didn’t have to drag his sorry ass around throughout college and beyond, apologizing for being a girl and not being available for screwing and for going to college and being, well, conscious. Not being passed out on the lawn with him, which is, I believe, where he would have been most comfortable having me.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
Now? With deep suspicion. Mostly, I approach it like a loaded rifle that’s propped up on the table aiming at my head, Hemingway style.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
My kids are not allowed to drink. I don’t care if it’s fair. When they’re 18 they can do as they please; they can smoke crack then. But until that time, they pee in the cup and they submit to swabs in their mouths. I’m not fucking around. And no, I don’t drink in front of them, hardly ever. Extremely rare. And I quit smoking when they were old enough to rat me out.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
Of course. Alcohol is our most convenient and available anesthesia. Alcohol got me through my divorce when my first husband sashayed off with some bitch from the ad agency. After my toddler son was in bed at night, I chain-smoked and listened to Bob Dylan and drank mid-range chardonnay, one bottle every single night, from 8 pm- midnight. Alcohol was my very best friend, then. You see, it was that or suicide or heroin. I chose booze. But then I was sober for two years, to make up for it. I didn’t miss it. But then, I wasn’t dating either. More on that later.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
Diet Coke. Because it’s fizzy and it doesn’t make me fat. Although now they are saying that yes, diet sodas do make you fat, even though they have zero calories and taste like a nice form of lead. Which is just the craziest shit ever. I’m not buying it.
Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?
2005 and 2006. The Online Dating Years. One Cosmo and two glasses of white wine, warm appetizers, dessert and coffee. Fornicate wildly and then repeat. Plus I was still wearing thigh highs and smoking, then. It was a tremendous lark, a limited time engagement with inebriation and promiscuity. The men changed but the signature drink stayed the same. I don’t know how divorced adults date without alcohol. I certainly couldn’t.
What about the worst time?
I was 16 and decided Southern Comfort was an acceptable thing to ingest a great deal of, one night. I remember lying down on a driveway somewhere in Oakland. I haven’t drunk hard liquor since.
Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?
Has culture or religion influenced your drinking?
What culture or religion. You mean drinking? Yes.
Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?
Split: A Memoir of Divorce is mostly about drinking. So, yes. It’s a favorite because I get to remember what the fuck happened that year, and also because I got paid a lot of money to write it. And because almost every day someone writes to me and thanks me for writing the truth about that kind of divorce, and for making them laugh.
What do you like most about drinking?
Strangers become more interesting. I get warmer, for about twenty minutes. Then I turn into Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?
I rarely drink any more because alcohol depresses the central nervous system and it makes postmenopausal women fat. The thing is, alcohol doesn’t work with me the way it used to. It tastes weird and I just get a headache and often I become agitated. I get the urge to smoke and break things with a hammer. I begin to think about just driving to the airport and getting on a plane. Things like that.
How has alcoholism affected your life?
Oh for God’s sake. Whose hasn’t it affected? Name me that one person in America. I’ll tell you this: you can’t. In many ways, alcohol is America. You take away alcohol and there would be rioting in the streets. You take away anything else, we don’t care. I think history bears this out.
If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?
Does anyone answer this question? Don’t send that person to me and I’ll give you a thousand dollars.
Author Photo by Augusten Burroughs, 2012