Interview with Lisa F. Smith, Author of the Memoir, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar”

Lisa SmithFrom time to time, 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.

 Lisa F. Smith is a writer and lawyer in New York City. She is the author of “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” her memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law. Lisa’s writing has been published in The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, AfterPartyMagazine.com, and Addiction.com. She is passionate about breaking the stigma of addiction and mental health issues.

Prior to beginning her more than 15-year legal marketing career, Lisa practiced law in the Corporate Finance group of a leading international firm.

Lisa can also be found at girlswalksout@gmail.com, on Twitter @girlwalksout, and on Facebook at Lisa F. Smith, Author.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Lisa F. Smith: When I was about eight or nine years old, I started sneaking sips of leftover drinks at my parents’ parties – things like gin and tonics and whiskey sours. I was a self-conscious, anxious kid prone to sadness. I learned pretty quickly that the cocktails adults drank could make that anxiety disappear for a little bit. It made me feel peaceful in much the same way that scarfing down a couple twin packs of Yodels in two minutes did. By the time I was 13, I had found the kids who liked to sneak into the woods to drink Budweisers. These were my people.

How did/does your family treat drinking? 

I grew up in the 1970s and drinking was very much part of life. There were nightly cocktail hours at home, but no one got drunk, nasty or out of control. Alcohol was a happy, tasty reward after a long day. It made the adults around me relaxed and friendly. I was an insecure kid who never felt comfortable in my own skin, so I couldn’t wait to grow up and let alcohol work its magic on me! I had no reason to fear that anything bad could come of drinking because I grew up with happy memories around it.

How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?

Being in recovery now for 12 years, alcohol isn’t really part of my daily life. My husband will have one or two drinks if we’re out, but he gets super buzzed after just two, which I find remarkable. I always tell him that he wouldn’t have made it through breakfast with me when I was drinking. Two drinks were down before 7 am. I have to be around alcohol occasionally for work or social situations, but I avoid places like bars, where drinking is a key part of the evening, as opposed to it being something incidental to the evening.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?

I don’t have kids.

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

My alcoholism and, later, cocaine addiction were progressive. What started with weekend drinking became daily drinking, which included drinking alone. Then the amounts increased from a couple glasses of wine in the evening to at least a bottle. After that, lunchtime drinking dropped into the mix (people in France drink at lunch!), followed later by morning drinking (it’s lunchtime in France!). By the end I was drinking and using cocaine 24/7. I needed it to be steady. If you saw me when I hadn’t been drinking or using, I looked much worse off than when I had that appropriate calibration of substances flowing through my body.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Seltzer with lime because abstinence from alcohol is the only choice for me (I cannot speak for anyone else) and my nutritionist made me cut out the artificially sweetened diet CranCherry juice I used to add to the seltzer.

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

I actually don’t think I could narrow it to one. So many incredibly wonderful times in the first 38 years of my life involved drinking.

What about the worst time?

I actually don’t think I could narrow it to one. So many incredibly awful times in the first 38 years of my life involved drinking.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

Drinking nearly killed me and it crushed so many of my relationships–many I have been able to repair through making amends, which very much includes living amends and showing up for life in a way I never did when I was drinking. The fact that I no longer drink has allowed me to have relationships I never could have had if I hadn’t gotten sober. For example, I wouldn’t have made it through one date with my husband when I was drinking. He would have run for the hills and been smart to do it. Also, I have great relationships with my niece and nephew, who would likely think I was a disaster if they saw what I was like when I was drinking.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. “Lit,” by Mary Karr is probably my favorite addiction memoir, although I love so many of them.

I love every Red Hot Chili Peppers song that references addiction and recovery. There are many, but I might relate most to “She Looks to Me.” Anthony Kiedis is kind of a sober shaman to me. Whenever getting drunk sounds tempting (big difference between having a drink and getting drunk – I really never did the former and always chased the latter), I tell myself that if Anthony Kiedis can stay sober, so can I.

“Candy” with Heath Ledger is my favorite addiction movie, although it’s more about heroin than alcohol. The addiction element is the same with either substance in my mind. The movie is so hard to watch, but it contains my favorite quote about addiction. Heath’s character, Dan, at one point says, “If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is.” I need to remember that every day.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Alcoholism has been the worst thing that I have ever experienced, but also led to my recovery, which has been the best thing that I have ever experienced. In the 10 years before I got sober, I could count on one hand the number of days that I didn’t drink and I would still have fingers left over. Alcohol owned me. My mental obsession over drinking, when I would have my next drink, was complete. It was with me from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until the moment I passed out. Although I never lost a job, got a DUI or lost my family due to drinking, I lost immeasurable parts of life living in obsession and self-loathing, as well as feeling miserable physically.

I am beyond fortunate that I was able to find recovery and begin a new life. Recovery is the only reason that today I have an incredible husband and family, a job that I feel proud of, and a healthy emotional and physical life. I wrote my memoir, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” in the hopes of helping the next person who feels as alone in their addiction as I did to learn that there is a way out, people who can support them, and a kick-ass life on the other side of drinking.

Share

Interview with Candan Yazar Osma, author of “The Journey Home”

photoFrom time to time, 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.

Candan Osma Yazar is a recovering alcoholic from Istanbul, Turkey. She has been sober for twenty-nine years. After she began her recovery in Brussels, Belgium, she attented Rutgers University and received a degree in addiction counseling. She moved back to her native country, where alcoholism was widespread but Alcoholics Anonymous was not yet an option. She began work at the Admiral Bristol Hospital in Istanbul as an addiction counselor. This is also when she began her journey to bring Alcoholics Anonymous to Turkey. She wrote the original version of her book, The Journey Home, in Turkish in the hopes of getting her message out to touch a broader group of people. She lives in Istanbul and spends most of her days writing, guiding AA newcomers, and enjoying her grandchildren. The Journey Home can be purchased through major retailers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it? 

Candan Yazar Osma: I had my first drink, when I was 16 years old. We skipped school and went to an older friend’s house for lunch. She asked us if we would like to have a drink before lunch. My other three friends and I got very excited and said ” YES” immediately. She gave us vodka with orange juice. At lunch we were so drunk that, I couldn’t find my mouth. Laughing like crazy at all the silly things. I enjoyed it a lot.

How did/does your family treat drinking?  

My father was dead when I was 1 year old. My mother was a strict mother, because of handling us alone. We did not have51QTXZ6nQuL._SY300_ alcohol in the house, but occasionally, some light drinks were served to celebrate special days. Alcoholism was not heard at that time (1960s) so there was no concern about it.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

Because I am a recovering alcoholic, sober for 29 years now, I don’t need to approach alcohol.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?

I had two kids, at a young age when I was drinking. At the last years of my very heavy drinking, I had to hide the bottle from them.

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

I seriously started drinking after I got married. My husband was a heavy drinker, but did not have a problem. My drinking took 20 years but the beginning was less. When I started to feel the problem I drank more and more. As soon as I started drinking, I could not stop.

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

My best time of drinking was, at the times that I could handle the alcohol. I was a shy person, and alcohol took that away. I loved that, because I could talk with people comfortably, dance like a dancer, tell funny stories. People enjoyed me more then, and obviously I liked this.

Has drinking ever affected-either negatively or positively-a relationship of yours?

Drinking affected all my life, days, nights, spirit and all my relations. Especially, I was very much ashamed of my children.

What do you like most about drinking?

I used to love to drink wine with a delicious dinner. I enjoyed drinking couple of whiskies before dinner. Also cognac after dinner. These couple of glasses took me to alcoholism, but at least there are many times that I enjoyed it.

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

I chose not to drink because it affected all my body, life, spirit. I came to a point that I couldn’t live with or without alcohol. I had to quit, or I would die.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Alcoholism in the beginning was very shameful for me. I had no idea that women could be alcoholics. I did not know that it is a killing disease. When I was 10 yrs sober, I had cancer. Believe me that was easier to overcome that. Because it only affected me, it was my disease. Alcoholism affected all my family, and even friends.

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

If I would be a drink, I would like to be red wine in a beautiful crystal glass. Because that really looks like a very nice painting.

Share

Interview with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Editor of the Fiction Anthology, “Singapore Noir”

Tan.Author Photo.byJohn SearlesFrom time to time, 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.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is the New York-based editor of “Singapore Noir,” a new fiction anthology, and author of “A Tiger In The Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family”.  She is currently working on her first novel.

Tan was a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal, In Style magazine and the Baltimore Sun. Her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Marie Claire, and Newsweek among other publications. “Singapore Noir” was just named one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month: Mystery” for June.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan: I was about 15 or 16, which sounds early, except that in Singapore, where I grew up, the drinking age is 18 and teenagers being what they are anywhere in the world, you figure out a way to sneak into places you’re not supposed to go. I didn’t much care for alcohol then though — and drinks are rather expensive in Singaporean bars and clubs — so it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Back then, vodka Ribenas were the rage in Singapore so that’s probably what my first drink was. It’s like vodka cranberry but much more delicious. I love Ribena, a British blackcurrant syrup, in a cocktail.

How did/does your family treat drinking? 

My father briefly worked for a company that distributed liquor in Asia when I was a child so I may have drinking to thank for my college education! I have this very vivid memory of my father coming home from the end of a long work day, pouring a glass of Chivas and stretching out on the balcony to unwind for a bit. I’ve never been a big whiskey drinker myself but I’ll always associate that drink with my dad. When we have a special family dinner these days though, wine — Bordeaux, red — is typically the beverage of choice.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

It’s not part of my every day life unless I’m seeing friends — I’ve never been a writer who can write while buzzed (even a little sip of something light will throw me off) so I tend to avoid it when I’m in the thick of a book. I never drink during the day unless I’m on holiday. (How can one say no to that little lunchtime splash when you’re having the most perfect meal on the sunny Sicilian Coast?) It’s a marvelous social lubricant though — I love sitting at a large dinner table with friends with a few bottles of splendid wine, good nibbles and hours and hours to just gab and laugh.

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

It’s funny — people sometimes joke that now that I don’t have to be in an office every day and I write books, I’m probably drinking all the time a la Hemingway. But I probably drank more frequently in the twelve years I worked full-time as a journalist! I love the newsroom culture of grabbing a beer at the end of the day with your colleagues when you’ve all survived deadline, filed all your stories and you’re looking for that cold fresh something to cap another intense day of putting the paper out. When I worked as a cub reporter in the Annapolis, Maryland, bureau of the Baltimore Sun, our editors knew that on Fridays, if it was past five p.m., to call the bar — the Ram’s Head — across the street if they had questions about our stories. I love how that was one of the first things explained to me when I started in that bureau.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

I adore gin gimlets, straight up. I love anything very tart and tangy and the lime in it always perks me up.

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

A quiet autumn evening on the Ligurian Coast a few years ago, my ex and I found ourselves in teeny tiny Manarola, a town so small it seemed to just have four restaurants and a bar. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we first walked into Cantina dello Zio Bramante for an after-dinner drink — it was an intimate dark space, filled with tourists from various bits of the world who had somehow found themselves in Cinque Terre during the off-season and several locals. At first, the groups kept to themselves — British students from Oxford in one corner, Swiss backpackers in another, the old Italian guys who lived around the corner scattered around. After a few drinks, the owner of the bar pulled out a guitar, started strumming songs and the entire bar just automatically began singing along. (We found that Beatles tunes were the ones everyone, regardless of age or nationality, seemed to know the words to.) At some point an elderly Italian guy suddenly sprang to his feet and started belting out O Sole Mio with impressive gusto. You couldn’t have scripted it better. We all left feeling like we’d stumbled upon a truly special evening.

What about the worst time?

No comment!

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

If you haven’t read Lawrence Osborne’s “The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey,” you must.

What do you like most about drinking?

There’s something very appealing about having that chilled glass of Sancerre to look forward to at the end of a long, hard writing day.

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

A strong, spicy Bloody Mary. I love how complex and heady the drink can be if done well — peppery, vinegary, salty, tart, and all of that bound together with the sweetness of tomatoes and divine when cut with a shot of green freshness from biting that crunchy celery stick. (I was at a Cape Cod restaurant recently with a Bloody Mary buffet that allowed you to add ingredients such as crispy bacon to your drink — lovely.) A good Bloody Mary bites and invigorates — that’s a drink that can really smack you around.

Author Photo by John Searles

Share

Elaine Stritch: “You Can’t Enjoy Them Sober”

ElaineStritchIn the February 2, 2014 issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Elaine Stritch was interviewed by David Itzkoff in a piece called, “You Can’t Enjoy Them Sober.”

In the article, Itzkoff asks Stritch, the nearly 89-year-old actress and subject of a new documentary, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot me,” about her decision to drink again after over 20 years of sobriety.

Itzkoff: You were completely sober for more than 20 years, but you’ve since allowed yourself to drink again.

Stritch: I’m almost 89. I’m gonna have a drink a day or two. I know how to handle it, so there. I’m proud of the fact that I can handle a couple of drinks.

Itzkoff: That’s not at all dangerous?

Stritch: No. I’m not going to have three drinks, I’m not going to have four. I’m going to have two, and that’s it, folks. I just want to enjoy life and relax a little bit and go out with the rich ladies in Birmingham and enjoy them. And you can’t enjoy them sober.

————–

The notion of stopping for all those years and then beginning to drink again is perplexing to me. I’d love to hear from  readers what your thoughts are on the subject and if you think it’s a feasible goal.

To read the complete New York Times interview, click here.

photo credit

Share

Interview with Olivia Laing, Author of “The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking”

Olivia Laing_credit_Jonathan RingFrom time to time, 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.

 Olivia Laing  is a writer and critic. She is the author of “The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking,” and “To the River.” She is the former Deputy Books Editor of the Observer and writes for a variety of publications, including the Observer, New Statesman, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?  

Olivia Laing: I don’t remember an exact time, but probably red wine at Sunday lunch alongside roast lamb and gratin dauphinoise, probably with Tosca on the record player. That would have been a pretty classic Sunday in my family in the 1980s, and I’m sure we were sometimes allowed to sneak a sip. I don’t think I liked it though. I can remember thinking ‘I will always like lemonade better than beer’.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My parents are divorced, and my mother’s partner was an alcoholic, while my father is a very gifted bon viveur. So on the one hand I experienced drinking as frightening and dangerous, and on the other hand as a source of great pleasure.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?  

I’ve taken my dad’s route – I drink for pleasure.

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

I don’t drink daily, but I’ve never had a period of long abstinence either. It’s very much part of my social life, though I rarely get drunk. If I drink too much these days I get terrible hangovers, so as I’ve got older I’ve become more moderate – the days of tequila slammers are long gone.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?Trip to Echo Spring

I’m a pretty loyal bourbon drinker: Maker’s Mark, one cube of ice. When it comes to cocktails I like a Boulevardier, which is a negroni with bourbon instead of gin. In the summer, nothing beats a Campari and soda. And I never say no to a glass of champagne.

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

There’ve been so many. I have a tradition of having cocktails at Dukes Hotel in London with my editor to mark special occasions. It was a haunt of Ian Fleming, and is where the classic James Bond ‘shaken not stirred’ martini is said to have originated. In New York, I always have a great time at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle. Sancerre in a French fishing village, Hemingway daiquiris on a beach in Key West, whisky with friends after swimming in an outdoor pool in Cambridge, champagne on Christmas morning… the list goes on.

What about the worst time?  

Well, I don’t really like to be drunk drunk. Last time I really had too much was on a friend’s birthday in the Lower East Side a few years back. One too many margaritas, and I was fairly sure my headache was going to kill me the next day.

Has culture or religion influenced your drinking?   

Well, I can’t say I’m totally immune to the allure of Humphrey Bogart sitting at a bar. But I’m also very suspicious of the glamourising myth, and how it is used to cover up genuine alcoholism. Hemingway is a case in point here.

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

I’ve just written a book about writers and drinking, so there are lots I could list. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, the short story ‘The Swimmer’ by John Cheever, almost anything by Hemingway or Fitzgerald, particularly The Great Gatsby. As for movies, James Stewart’s hiccuping drunk scene in The Philadelphia Story is hard to beat. Also The Man Who Fell to Earth, with David Bowie as an alcoholic alien – weird, beautiful and very bleak.

What do you like most about drinking?

I like the ritual, the taste, the sense of ceremony and celebration. My house is full of champagne corks – my dad likes to put coins in them and write the date to mark special occasions. That’s the kind of drinking I really love: communal, pleasurable, joyous.

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

It really is a very enjoyable part of my life. Not dominating, but a pleasurable element, absolutely.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

That’s a big question. So big in fact that I wrote a book about it. Alcoholism is a frightening condition. It really marked my childhood. It’s very damaging to anyone who encounters it, particularly if you’re a kid. I’ve always wanted to understand it, to make sense of how absolutely overwhelming it can be. That’s really why I wrote The Trip To Echo Spring, to try and work out why an alcoholic carries on drinking, even when it’s clearly destroying everything they hold dear, including their own health.

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

A very cold, very good glass of champagne. Who doesn’t want to be delicious?

 

Author Photo Credit: Jonathan Ring

Share