Excerpt from “Pour Me a Life,” a Memoir by A.A. Gill

“If you’d asked me what the most grotesque thing about alcoholism was, I’d have said—indeed, I did say over and over to anyone who asked—and plenty who didn’t— it wasn’t the physical stuff, it wasn’t the sordid, humiliating death stuff . . . it was the sadness. I called it my angst. A suitable august Germanic word for a basement depression that was fathomless and occasionally erupted in gasping panic. And even when locked away, it would seep out and sour every other emotion, like bitters in milk. Alcoholic despair is a thing apart, created by the drink that is a depressant, but also the architect of all the pratfall calamities that fuel it. Alcohol is the only medication the drunk knows and trusts, a perfectly hopeless circle of angst, and it is all powered by a self-loathing that is obsessively stoked and fed. And it’s that—that personally awarded, vainly accepted disgust—that makes it so hard to sympathize with drunks. Nothing you can say or do comes close to the wreaths of guilt we lay at our own cenotaph.

There is something infuriatingly comic about drunk unhappiness, with its operatic tragic warble so out of proportion to the seedy, spivvy slapstick of its reality. From the outside it’s so obvious, so easy to resolve. Just stop. Stop drinking. Stop crying. Go to the dentist. Say sorry. Get a job. Be nice.”

Excerpted from Pour Me A Life © A.A. Gill, 2015, 2016. Reprinted with permission of Blue Rider Press.

A.A. Gill was born in Edinburgh. He is the author of A.A. Gill is Away, The Angry Island, Previous Convictions, Table Talk, Paper View, A.A. Gill is Further Away and The Golden Door, as well as two novels. He is the TV and restaurant critic and regular features writer for the Sunday Times, columnist for Esquire, and contributor to Australian Gourmet Traveller. He lives in London and spends much of his year travelling. He has been nominated for more awards than he has won.

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How Novelist Joyce Maynard Realized She Had a Drinking Problem

UnderInfluenceWEBIn a candid 3-part series for The Huffington Post, Drinking Diaries book and blog contributor, Joyce Maynard, reveals how writing her new novel, “Under the Influence,” led her to examine her increasingly fraught relationship with alcohol. We can’t wait to read her new novel. Below is an excerpt from her Huffington Post piece:

“I was reading a book I wrote when I realized: I had to give up drinking.

This happened a few months back. I had just finished writing this novel, and was reading it over one more time, the way I always do before a piece of my work is published. And it was hearing my own words about addiction to alcohol, spoken in the voice of my fictional character, that revealed to me what my daily morning headache, and my trips to the recycling bin with all those empty bottles, had not.

There was a reason why I had been able to get into the head of a woman who had a problem with alcohol. I had one too.”

To read the entire post, click here.


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When “Mommy needs a drink” Isn’t Funny Anymore

mom-cocktailI recently came across a piece that was published last year, yet seems as important and relevant as ever. Originally published on Salon, and written by Leslie Garrett, the piece describes the author’s experience as both the daughter of an alcoholic and a new, tired, stressed-out mother, and how those jokes about mommy’s drinking can be deeper and more serious than they appear. Although I’m no longer a new mother, I know that for many, stress and fatigue can send you straight to that lovely bottle of wine chilling in the fridge. Here’s what Garrett has to say…

“There was no social media when my mother began her descent to the bottom of the bottle. No Martini Mommy tweeting that “Two glasses of red wine turns my children from Devil-Eyed-Beasts to Tolerable-Additions-To-My-Life.” No Mommy Mixologist stressing that “sometimes Mommy REALLY needs a drink.”

Even the books – “Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay,” “The Three-Martini Playdate” and the just-released “Reasons Mommy Drinks” – arrived on bookshelves long after my own mother’s reasons to drink had grown up.

I wonder if, had my mother been born later, she might have adopted the Twitter handle @mommyhidesboozeinthewashingmachine. Might she have tweeted that “Vodka in my coffee dulls the sound of daughter’s begging me to stop drinking”? The thing is, I’ve seen the “mommy needs a drink” culture up close. It’s not that funny.

“Comedic gold,” is how Lyranda Martin-Evans described to a newspaper reporter the “daily struggle” that time-starved, sleep-deprived new moms face. Her book, “Reasons Mommy Drinks,” which she wrote with blog partner Fiona Stevenson, offers up advice paired with mocktail or cocktail recipes. The Day Care Defense, for example, is a fruity rum drink that promises to “numb your guilt, kill germs and boost your immune system.” The first 18 months of motherhood were “really hard,” Martin-Evans says, but “tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Apparently tragedy plus vodka does too.

I’ve tried to laugh along. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons features a woman with a glass of wine in one hand, her toddler on her hip. “This?” she says. “It’s a magical potion that makes everything you say interesting.”

Funny, right? It speaks to those mind-numbingly boring days when you’ve read “Puppy’s Birthday Surprise” 87 times and your kid won’t nap and you’re on deadline and you still can’t zip your skinny jeans even though your “baby” is almost three. Sometimes a glass of wine would take the edge off.”

To read the full article, click here.

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An Excerpt From “Drunk Mom: A Memoir” by Jowita Bydlowska

9780143126508_large_Drunk_Mom

Below is an excerpt from Jowita Bydlowska’s memoir, DRUNK MOM. While at first, I found the book unsettling for its close-up perspective of a woman as she hits rock bottom, as I continued to read, I began to appreciate and admire her raw honesty. Don’t let the book’s title fool you. In The New York Times, Bunmi Laditan writes: While the title suggests a simple autobiographical autopsy of motherhood marred by alcoholism, Bydlowska’s memoir delivers far more—a human portrait of the disease.”

Bydlowska, who was born in Warsaw, Poland, moved to Canada as a teenager, and now lives in Toronto with her family.

Oh, in case you’re wondering: I’m not a cocaine addict. I prefer to drink.

You found me in the middle of my story and I happened to have just found a baggie of cocaine in that bathroom.

But honestly, I prefer drinking.

I prefer drinking to anything in the world: sex, food, sleep. My child, my lover, anything.

I love to drink. Sometimes I think: No, I am drink.

It’s like my blood. Even before I get it, I can feel it in my veins. I’m not being poetic—

I can actually feel it in my veins.

It’s gold. It’s like little zaps of gold going through me, charging me, starting me up.

When I drink, I fill with real gold and become god-like.

So I’m not a cocaine addict. I’m a drunk.

I had been a drunk for a long time. I stopped drinking for a time, and then I started again.

I believe that you’re never cured of alcoholism. I use the word cure but it is not strictly a disease. Go to any AA meeting, watch or read anything about addiction, and sooner or later you will hear the word “disease.” But it is not a disease. Disease implies you can maybe cure it. In my opinion it’s closer to a condition or, perhaps, a habit you can’t unlearn completely once you stop it. Even if dormant, it is ingrained in you.

For example, my first language is Polish. I don’t use it often yet I will never unlearn it. When needed, I can speak it fluently, just like that.

I’m always going to be a speaker of the language of alcoholism too—if I relapse, picking up right where I left off, catching up to my last number of drinks with an extra drink to top it off, my vocabulary expanding.

People also tend to mistake alcoholism for drinking: “I’m going to slow down. Cut down on my drinking.” Okay. You do that. But if you’re an alcoholic, you can’t do just that. Alcoholism is not drinking, just like hemophilia is not bleeding. You can’t slow down, cut down on your alcoholism. You can’t unlearn its language. You can stop using it and forget some of the words, but you still know it. With drinking too, you can stop drinking and hope it’ll stay stopped. Alcoholism is a habit, a permanent condition of having the habit— like this wanting is, at least in my case. Sometimes the wanting gets too strong and I run. I run with it, run so fast I’m out

of breath, and then run even faster.

I relapsed when the wanting got particularly strong. To relapse means to “suffer deterioration after a period of improvement.”

There was a period of improvement when I became sober for the first time, at the age of twenty- seven. But before that, I was the kind of drunk girl who ran so fast with it, drinking, she could never catch her breath.

I was the girl who danced barefoot on tables or sometimes fell asleep with her shoes on, or sometimes lost a job or a relationship. I was the type of tragic girl that boys would try to fix, or try to drink with although only until they’d had enough, and there I would be, moving apartments yet again only to move in with another boyfriend who claimed he’d be better at fixing me.

I always had three drinks to your one, I always prepared for a night out with a bottle of wine, always opened another beer at 4 a.m., after coming home after a night of partying.

But it’s easy to hide your drinking in your twenties, when many of your peers seem to be bent on oblivion too, when comparing hangovers is par for the course. Except that I kept quiet when people discussed having blacked out as if it was something unusual. It happened

to me all the time. And I too shook my head in disbelief when a friend would do something silly while intoxicated— steal a garden gnome, climb on a roof, make out with not-his-girlfriend.

Look at that guy! Guy, you really need to cut down on your drinking!

Me? You couldn’t catch me. I juggled friends and environments. Except for those poor boyfriends, there weren’t that many people who witnessed my demise. It’s easy to flit from party to party, from event to event when you’re full of life in your twenties. It’s easy to drink in your room before you go out to flit—the people you keep around you in your twenties are new to it all. They are new to friends drinking in their rooms or friends in Emergency because of alcohol poisoning. And they are flitters as well; we all flit, trying to catch up with each other and outflit each other too.

The ones who drink a little harder can even make fun of themselves with typical youthful bravado. I remember sitting with a heavy-drinking friend and joking that once we reached twenty-five, we’d definitely have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous because this was just ridiculous, how drunk we were getting all the time.

She stumbled home, and I opened a third bottle of wine and wrote about that in my journal, or tried to write. Mostly I just scribbled. Go to AA when you 25 stupid bitch.

I went to AA when I was twenty-seven. At that point, I had lost another relationship and a job that I’d gotten freshly out of grad school. My roommates were planning to kick me out. As they say in AA, “AA was the last house on the street.” There were no other options.

I stayed in AA for three and a half years. I stayed sober.

But now I’m not.

I’ve relapsed.

I don’t know why. Or I know why and I don’t have the time to go over it right now. Or there are too many whys to consider. Or who really cares why?

The point is, I really, really need a drink.

 

From Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Jowita Bydlowska, 2014.

 

 

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Excerpt from “Drinking To Distraction,” a Memoir by Jenna Hollenstein

D2D coverSix years ago, Jenna Hollenstein stopped drinking. Though she could never quite identify herself as an alcoholic, she realized that alcohol detracted from her life in subtle but important ways. It became a means of avoiding her life, a way to numb herself to uncertainty, something to take the sting out of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The following is an excerpt from her new book, Drinking to Distraction, in which she starts to question her relationship with alcohol: 

“To Be or Not To Be”

At some point, perhaps years before the night of my book party, alcohol and drinking began to occupy an increasing amount of my mental real estate. During the workday I eagerly anticipated cocktail hour. Or I perseverated over where to purchase a bottle of wine on my way home from work. Among my shopping criteria were selection, price range, and distance from my condo. But most importantly, how frequently or recently I had purchased from a certain place. I feared becoming recognized as a “regular” so I rotated my patronage accordingly.

Between work and home, there were several options for buying booze, but I favored the Best Cellars on Boylston Street and Bauer Wines & Spirits on Newbury. Best Cellars had the atmosphere of a coffee shop, with bright lights, eclectic music, and cheerful baristas eager to inform me about the viticulture and taste notes of their many options. There were always a few bottles open for sampling and the placed reeked of an innocent perkiness that never felt alcoholic in nature. Bauer was the more distinguished option, where the employees were informed and discreet. I could walk in, pet the store cat “Spooky,” make a thoughtful selection, be complimented on said selection as I paid, and depart feeling as if I had just had a cultural experience rather than bought liquor.

I preferred to think of my alcohol-purchasing behavior as culturally savvy and was sensitive to the subtleties of less highbrow locations. I never patronized the Clarendon Wine Co., for example, because I had seen grizzled men slipping from there, furtively cradling paper bags in the crooks of their arms. Equally sketchy, but a reluctant favorite, was the Marlborough Market, a convenience store located a half-block from my condo. Though the selection was smaller, the Marlborough Market promised the shortest walk home with my prize. Still, I wondered if the people working there ever noticed how frequently I bought wine or liquor. Their poker faces never revealed whether they found it strange for a young, professional woman to purchase two nips of Tanqueray gin and perhaps a quart of milk for good measure. If they raised their eyebrows or exchanged knowing looks when I turned to leave, I never knew.

Once I had returned home with a bottle of wine, my preoccupation shifted to how I would limit my consumption. That I was thinking about the second glass before I finished the first did not bode well for my ability to control myself. Anticipation dissolved into guilt as I poured a second, third, and sometimes a fourth glass, emptying the bottle in a few hours. Those evenings of drinking at home alone usually consisted of trashy television, mindless online shopping, dozing off on the couch, and a few other fuzzy recollections. Mornings promised the spiky, sharp edges of remorse and my half- hearted resolutions not to repeat this scenario.

I Googled “Am I an alcoholic” and found a wealth of information including several questionnaires. One of the first I completed was the CAGE, a classic and simple test that includes the following four questions:

  • Have you ever felt you should CUT DOWN on your drinking?
  • Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or GUILTY about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had an EYE-OPENER (a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover)?

After rapidly scanning the questions, I answered them silently to myself:

  • YES
  • YES!!!
  • ABSOLUTELY!!!
  • NO!!!

Clearly, I thought, I’m not an alcoholic. Weighing my negative response to the fourth question Jenna headshot3more heavily than my positive answers to the first three was a certain type of denial, to be sure, but also enough to convince me for the time being that my drinking wasn’t that bad. The fact that I scored 75%—a grade I would have killed for in Advanced Placement Calculus—I chose to ignore.

There was more to this conclusion than mere denial. Basically everyone I knew would have answered the first three CAGE questions in the affirmative. Drinking was exceptionally normal, a regular experience for many of my friends and family members, most of whom were daily drinkers. At times we overdid it, but that didn’t make us alcoholics.

I also found more detailed questionnaires from The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Alcoholics Anonymous, AlcoholScreening.org, and The Michigan Alcohol Screening Test, among others. A questionnaire by the Office of Health Care Programs at Johns Hopkins University Hospital comprised 20 questions, most of which were a definite no for me:

  • Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
  • Does your drinking make you careless of your family’s welfare?
  • Is drinking affecting your reputation?
  • Do you turn to inferior companions and environments when drinking?
  • Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
  • Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
  • Do you lose time from work due to drinking?
  • Have you had financial difficulties as a result of drinking?
  • Is drinking jeopardizing your job or business?
  • Do you want a drink the next morning?
  • Has your physician ever treated you for drinking?
  • Have you ever been to a hospital or institution on account of drinking?

These questions seemed to suggest a more obvious drinking problem to which I just couldn’t relate. One of the questions I answered in the affirmative was clearly problematic:

  • Have you ever had a loss of memory as a result of drinking?

But the remainder of the questions I answered positively seemed to exist in a gray area somewhere between normal social drinker and problem drinker; I found myself wondering who would not have answered yes to these questions, at least occasionally:

  • Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
  • Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?
  • Do you crave a drink at a definite time daily?
  • Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
  • Does drinking cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  • Have you ever felt remorse after drinking?
  • Do you drink alone?

Answering yes to as few as three of these questions was said to be a “definite sign that your drinking patterns are harmful and considered alcohol dependent or alcoholic,” warranting evaluation by a healthcare professional. I wondered whether the people who wrote these questionnaires were out of touch with reality or whether I was poking holes in anything that might suggest I had a drinking problem. Perhaps a little from column A and a little from column B? While I understood that each questionnaire was subjective, and that it was up to the individual to determine whether alcohol had become problematic, at the time it seemed I had only two options: Identify as an alcoholic and stop drinking, or not identify as an alcoholic and continue to drink unmodified. That I had additional options had not yet occurred to me.

Jenna Hollenstein is a writer and nutrition therapist living in New York City. She explores the overlapping themes of addiction, mindfulness, and psychology in her writing and in her nutrition counseling business, Eat to Love. Drinking to Distraction is her second book and her first memoir. Jenna’s work has appeared in Shambhala Sun magazine and online at DrinkingDiaries.com, TheFix.com, and Mindful.org.

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