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.
Susanna Sonnenberg is the author of the memoir, “She Matters: A Life in Friendships,” and another memoir, “Her Last Death.” She was born in London in 1965 and grew up in New York. Her essays have appeared in Elle, O, the Oprah Magazine and Parenting, among other magazines. She lives in Montana with her husband and two sons.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Susanna Sonnenberg: Perhaps this wasn’t my first taste of alcohol, but my first whole drink, ordered just for me by my mother, was a Bellini–fresh peach juice and Champagne–on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, for my 12th birthday. No drink would ever taste that way again–thrillingly sweet and dense and grown up.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I try not to worry about it. For myself or for others. This is a discipline.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
I think–hope–we have a French attitude about children and alcohol. We drink in front of them, and from time to time let them taste the wine. We discuss the pleasures and perils of alcohol with them; try to address things with a combination of inarguable fact and parental tyranny.
When I first had a baby I was terrified that any alcohol in my system would impair my ability to keep him safe. (I’m not talking about nursing here; I didn’t drink while I was nursing.) People who grow up with addict parents tend to think this way: all or nothing. I had a rule for myself–absolutely no alcohol until I was sure he was asleep.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
A few days after my father died in 2010, I was wandering around New York and I had the curious thought that I wished I was a sober alcoholic, so I could head into a bar and get blind drunk. I wanted a kind of self-destructive oblivion. I wanted to not know with such clarity and consciousness all I knew about acting out. I just wanted the damn escape.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
In the winter, red wine, because it feels sustaining.
In the summer, Campari with soda and lime, because it’s pretty.
At artists’ colonies, it’s whiskey, which feels writerly to me.
It’s never as good a time as you intend it to be.
What about the worst time?
Unforgettable, unfortunately: Three giant vodka martinis on top of new anti-depressants. I suffered a vile episode of hallucinations and spins for six or seven hours. But what really made it bad was that I was afraid my kids would see me like that and hate me. They were asleep, though.
Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?
When I was a teenager I used to warn my friends about how much they’d had to drink. Oh, brother. I’m sure that affected my relationships!
One man, with whom I had no business getting involved, wooed me with very fine single malt scotch. Any tension or disagreement we had dissipated as soon as he pulled the elegant bottle down from the cabinet. There was something so governing and reassuring about the civility of the drink and the way he poured it for us.
Many of my very closest friends are recovering alcoholics. I met them after they got sober. I guess I just trust them–they’ve done the work, they’ve fought for themselves and the people they love, they are connected to their emotional experience.
Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?
Probably something by Billie Holliday. All that ruin. And I love the line in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof–Brick explains that he drinks because he’s waiting for “the click.”
What do you like most about drinking?
The click. Even though I haven’t felt that click. I know it’s a ghost.