An Excerpt from Rosie Schaap’s Memoir, “Drinking With Men”

DrinkingWithMenToday we present to you an excerpt from Rosie Schaap’s fantastic memoir, Drinking With Men. In it, she turns everything you think you know about “drinking” books on its head. This is not a memoir of euphoria followed by the inevitable despair and then repair. No—this is a celebration of the joys of a hearty and healthy drinking life. She’s in it for the long run.

Part of our mission at Drinking Diaries is to give our readers a glimpse into other drinking lives, other families, other worlds. So even if you don’t share Rosie Schaap’s love of drinking and bars, you can’t help but be drawn in by her stories.

For someone like me, who grew up in a home where alcohol was loaded with shame and who developed an ambivalent relationship to booze, this book is a revelation. She highlights an important side of drinking–drinking as social glue and community-builder rather than as something you use to self-medicate or retreat from your own feelings or world.

Rosie Schaap writes the monthly “Drink” column for The New York Times Magazine. She has also contributed to This American Life and You can read our drinking interview with Rosie here.

From Drinking With Men:

“But my attraction to bars is less governed by the laws of physics than it is by the rules of romance: I prefer one bar at a time. When it comes to where I drink, I’m a serial monogamist. Still, although loyalty is upheld as a virtue, bar regularhood—the practice of drinking in a particular establishment so often that you become known by, and bond with, both the bartenders and your fellow patrons—is often looked down upon in a culture obsessed with health and work. But despite what we are often told, being a regular isn’t synonymous with being a drunk; regularhood is much more about the camaraderie than the alcohol. Sharing the joys of drink and conversation with friends old and new, in a comfortable and familiar setting, is one of life’s most unheralded pleasures.

And yes, that goes for women, too. Or it should, anyway. If regularhood is considered suspect behavior, then female regularhood is doubly so. In many parts of the world, women just don’t go into bars alone. Even in comparatively less patriarchal societies, such as our own, a solitary woman at a bar is a curiosity, a wonderment to be puzzled over. And even in New York, where all things seem possible, as a bar regular who happens to be female, I am something of an anomaly. Regularhood is still predominantly the province of men.

I’ve been going into bars since the age of fifteen. Certainly in my youth I knew that patronizing bars was unusual behavior—but I figured that was due to my age, not my gender. There was the excitement of getting one over and getting served, of trying to fit in, unquestioned, with grown-ups in their natural habitat. But as I got older and that thrill abated, what I discovered in bars was much richer. As a regular, I have found friendship, comfort, and community. Mostly, I’ve found that fellowship in the company of men. Relations between the sexes at bars are often perceived as predatory and dangerous. But I did not look to bars for a place to hook up; I looked to bars for a place to belong.rosie schaap

In 1936, Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis counseled readers of her single-girl guide Live Alone and Like It. “It is not incorrect for a woman to go alone into any bar she can get into,” she wrote, “but we don’t advise it . . . if you must have your drink, you can have it in a lounge or restaurant, where you won’t look forlorn or conspicuous.” I find it remarkable— and a little depressing—that nearly eighty years later, ideas identical to hers still seem deeply internalized by many women. “I just don’t feel comfortable walking into a bar alone,” a friend once told me. “Like everyone’s looking at me and feeling sorry for me. Like there’s something wrong with girls who go drinking by themselves.”

For better or worse, I’ve seldom worried about who’s looking at me or not looking at me, or about what they might or might not be thinking. But I have noticed a pattern: Every time I’ve fallen hard for a bar, I’ve invited my best girlfriends to join me there for a drink, meet my fellow regulars, soak up the ambience that I found so appealing. Invariably, they like it. They have a good time. But, unlike me, they have no particular interest in returning the next night, or the next, or the ones that follow. Not only does the idea of becoming a regular at a bar hold no allure for them, they are also often puzzled by my enduring bar-love. But they have come to admire my ability to integrate, to talk to anyone, to be one of the guys.

In his very funny 1935 tract Her Foot Is on the Brass Rail, the humorist and newspaperman Don Marquis laments the post-Prohibition presence of women in bars. For men, there was “no longer any escape, no harbor or refuge . . . where the hounded male may seek his fellow and strut his stuff, safe from the atmosphere and presence of femininity.” In my experience these concerns have been beside the point; if anything, my chronic regularhood has made me assimilate into a largely male culture, not change it—except by the fact that I am part of it.

Regardless of my gender, a bar is my safe haven, my breathing space. Knowing how to read a bar helps. My favorites have never been big, rowdy sports bars teeming with testosterone or trendy spots featuring cutting-edge cocktails, but intimate, friendly neighborhood places where relationships with other regulars—and bartenders—have the right conditions to take hold, and where my instincts tell me it’s a safe space to be a woman in a bar.”

Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from DRINKING WITH MEN by Rosie Schaap Copyright (c) 2013 by Rosie Schaap







Excerpt from Brenda Wilhelmson’s Memoir, “Diary of An Alcoholic Housewife”

We’re thrilled to bring you an excerpt from Brenda Wilhelmson’s unflinching memoir, Diary of An Alcoholic Housewife  (Hazelden), in which she chronicles the struggles that led to her decision to get sober as well as her first year in recovery (and beyond).

The first ten people to comment on this post (and tweet about it—please paste your tweet in the comment section below) will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of the memoir.

The following are some of Wilhelmson’s diary entries, which will give you a taste of her candid voice and hard-earned wisdom:

[Saturday, December 7]

Strips of sunshine beamed on my face as the sun streamed through loosely closed bedroom window blinds. I opened my eyes and pressed my hands to my puffy face. My cheekbones ached. I lifted my head off the pillow and the room started spinning. I lowered my head back on the pillow. I was still drunk. Charlie kissed me and started tugging at my pajama bottoms. I started to cry.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I blubbered. “I’m a wreck. I’ve got to stop drinking.” Charlie rubbed my arm sympathetically.

I really didn’t want to stop drinking. I wanted to control my drinking. But I couldn’t control it. I kept getting plastered.

Once, when I was thirty years old and Max was two, I was sitting alone on the back deck of my house in Chicago drinking my third vodka on the rocks when I thought, I’m going to wind up in a program for addicts if I keep this up. Then I laughed and thought, At least I’ll get out of the house and socialize again. Then I walked out of the kitchen and poured myself another stiff cocktail…

…I married Charlie when I was twenty-seven and had Max at twenty-eight. I was an artsy, 115-pound freelance journalist who drank like a 250-pound guy. I wrote for the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Tribune, and covered the television commercial industry for Creativity magazine. I got wined and dined a lot while interviewing advertising people and commercial directors, but I stopped interviewing them in person after Max was born. My interviews were now done over the phone as I ping-ponged between Max and my computer. Some days I never got out of my pajamas.

Charlie and I moved from a relatively hip apartment in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood to a house we could afford in a safe, blue-collar neighborhood…

Five days a week Charlie took the train downtown to an office where he edited a trade magazine about telephone directories. I worked at home, took Max to parks and museums, and felt guilty about whatever I was doing. When I was writing, I felt guilty about not playing with Max. When I was playing with Max, I felt guilty about not writing. Mountains of dirty laundry piled up. The kitchen sink brimmed with dirty dishes. There was a layer of dust everywhere. When I reached my filth limit I’d clean, all the while muttering expletives about having to waste my precious time on banal tasks.

I started having a glass of wine or two when I cooked dinner. It was my treat for pulling off another day. Soon I was drinking two, three, four glasses of wine, and Charlie would come home and we’d finish off the bottle I started and uncork another.

…One of my dad’s nicknames for me was Bernice. Bernice was my fall-off-the-barstool alcoholic aunt. I called my dad Norman. Norman was Bernice’s mean-as-a-snake alcoholic husband. My dad and I partied a lot together. When I was twenty, I quit college for a year to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and went to work for my dad thinking I’d, perhaps, take over his printing company. I packed up my stuff at Northern Illinois University and moved back into my parents’ house near Chicago. Every morning my dad and I would get into his car, pick up his friend Jack, who worked in the same building, and drive downtown. At the end of the day, we’d hop back in the car and stop for happy hour at a rib joint named Bones. We’d hook up with one or two of my dad’s customers or suppliers, and my dad and his buddies would down manhattans like kids drinking Kool-Aid. I’d drink Heineken and do my best to keep up. Holding your liquor was a badge of honor with these guys. Thank God there was a large buffet table of hors d’oeuvres.

[Tuesday, January 28]

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about how I thought I didn’t give a shit about what people thought of me. I was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of girl. But I care what people think of me more than I want to admit. Drinking swanky martinis and expensive wine was part of a party diva image I tried to manufacture for myself. I liked people who stood out and spoke their minds, and I tried to model myself after them. As I lay in bed, I wondered if I was becoming a dullard.

[Tuesday, March 11]

I want to drink again. Maybe I can do it. It’s hard to relate to the homeless stories, whoring stories, my-children-were-taken-away-from-me stories. I’ve been trying to work the steps, but I’ve been having a hard time.

Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over (enter substance or behavior)—that our lives had become unmanageable.” I go back and forth with this one but, yeah, I know I’m powerless over alcohol, especially when I remind myself that part of the reason I had Van was to sober up.

Step Two: ‘Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” I never thought I was insane. I was a pothead-turned-drinker who let alcohol spin out of control.

…I started smoking pot my junior year of high school. I liked it. It made me feel uninhibited and comfortable in my own skin. My usual negative thoughts—I’m not pretty enough, I’m too skinny, I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist freak—evaporated when I got high.

I had attended a parochial Seventh-Day Adventist school from first grade through ninth grade. My mother was devout and she, my sister, and I kept the Sabbath from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown and went to church on Saturday. My sister and I were taught that drinking was bad, gambling was bad, dancing was bad, wearing jewelry was bad, reading novels was bad, going to movies was bad. My father, however, had immunity. He spent Friday nights at the Moose Lodge playing poker and getting sloshed and never went to church.

Paula and I were allowed to watch The Brady Bunch, Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, and The Waltons. We wished we could be like the normal kids on TV who went to parties and danced.

My sophomore year of high school, I began attending public school. The Adventist school I’d gone to for nine years, North Shore, ended after ninth grade…

A hateful look crossed my mother’s face. “You’re going to be miserable in public school,” she growled. “You won’t be able to participate in anything. All extracurricular activities are on the Sabbath. You’ll go to school and do nothing else.”

….[In high school] I discovered the joys of marijuana and alcohol. I started questioning authority, who I was, the existence of God. The first two questions persist today…

[Sunday, April 6]

Most people trying to recover don’t hang out with their drinking or using buddies. The ones who do usually start getting messed up again. I’ve been telling people at meetings who question my socializing that I’m doing it for Charlie. “Why should his life have to change, why should he stop having fun just because I stopped drinking?” However, I’m hanging out with the old crowd as much for me as Charlie because I don’t want to get rid of my friends. I don’t want to feel like a sicko who has to isolate and only hang out with sober people. A lot of people in recovery shield themselves from drinking situations, hide out at meetings, talk incessantly about how messed up they were. I don’t want to be like them. I just want to be normal.

[Tuesday, May 20]

Iris spoke next: “You know what’s strange? We feel comfortable telling people our drinking war stories, but we’re uncomfortable saying we’re sober and in recovery. I work in an emergency room and some drunk came in passed out, some young guy. He was a John Doe for a while because he had no ID. When he came to, he had no idea where he was. The nurses were scratching their heads about this blackout thing and I was like, “Oh yeah, that happened to me all the time. I’d wake up and not remember how I got where I was.” They were like, “Really?” But never in a million years would I have said, “But I don’t drink anymore. I work a recovery program.”

That’s the paradox. If people know you’re in a recovery program, you’re sick, but as long as you’re still partying, you’re okay.

–From Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife by Brenda Wilhelmson, copyright 2011 by HAZELDEN FOUNDATION, Reprinted by permission of Hazelden Foundation, Center City, MN.

 Diary of An Alcoholic Housewife is Brenda Wilhelmson’s first book. You can find an interview with her on Drinking Diaries.


Excerpt from Amy Hatvany's Novel, "Best Kept Secret," About an Alcoholic Mother

We are thrilled to introduce you to author Amy Hatvany. essay order Her novel, Best Kept Secret, which will be out in June, 2011, is a deeply personal, emotionally resonant portrait of an alcoholic mother who desperately loves her child. Below, Amy introduces a sneak preview of the book.

When I was drinking, I thought I was the only woman who had ever poured red wine into a coffee mug first thing in the morning, sipping at it to ward off the shakes as I cut up toaster waffles for my kids. I believed I was the only woman who lied to supermarket checkers about the dinner party I was having that night as an explanation for the numerous bottles of alcohol in my cart. I thought I was the only woman to stare in the mirror, not recognizing what I’d become, hating how far I’d fallen, and feeling a shame so intense I wanted to die.

After getting sober in 2005, I began writing the novel, Best Kept Secret, as a direct result of my own emotional experiences around being a mother and a recovering alcoholic. I wanted to write a story that would illuminate how this descent can happen to anyone. I wanted to show how quickly a seemingly innocent glass of wine can destroy an otherwise successful, strong woman while she attempts to keep the balls in her life in the air so no one will suspect what’s really going on.

Although the plot and characters are fictional, the emotions behind this story were incredibly personal, because in revealing the main character’s secret, I was revealing my own. There were dark memories I had to revisit, and it took time to build up the courage to get the emotional side of those experiences fully onto the page. I worried about being judged for my alcoholism, but the idea that if I told the truth, it might help even one woman who is still suffering alone in silence made it worth the risk of what others might choose to think of me personally.

The following excerpt from the novel is the beginning of Cadence Sutton’s story – a woman struggling to come to terms with her alcoholism while she fights to regain custody of her son. My biggest hope for the book is that it starts a conversation about the secrets we keep. I hope that the story widens readers’ understanding and compassion, and perhaps makes them re-evaluate any preconceptions they might hold about women who suffer from alcoholism. Most of all, I hope that anyone in the throes of active addiction sees themselves in the pages and realizes that there is a way out. No matter what, they don’t have to face any of their problems alone.

From Best Kept Secret:

Being drunk in front of your child is right up there on the Big Bad No-no List of Motherhood. I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew it with every glass, every swallow, every empty bottle thrown into the recycle bin. I hated drinking. I hated it…and I couldn’t stop. The anesthetic effect of alcohol ran thick in my blood: the Great Barrier Reef built between me and my feelings. I watched myself do it in an out-of-body experience: Oh, isn’t this interesting? Look at me, the sloppy drunk. It snuck up on me, every time. It took me by surprise.

I tried to stop. Of course I tried. I went a day, maybe two, before the urge burned strong enough, it rose in my throat like a gnarled hand reaching for a drink. My body ached. My brain sloshed against the inside of my skull. The more I loathed drinking, the more I needed it to find that sweet spot between awareness and agony. Even now, even though it has been sixty-four days since I have taken a drink, the shame clings to me. It sickens my senses worse than any hangover I’ve ever suffered.

It’s early April, and I drive down a street lined with tall, sturdy maples. Gauzelike clouds stretch across the icy blue sky. A few earnest men stand in front of their houses appraising the state of their lawns. My own yard went to hell while I was away and I have not found time nor inclination to be its savior.

Any other day I would have found this morning beautiful. Any other day I might have stopped to stare at the sky, to enjoy the fragile warmth of the sun on my skin. Today is not any other day. Today marks two months and four days since I have seen my son. Each corner I turn takes me closer and closer to picking him up from his grandmother’s house. For now, it was decided this arrangement was better than my coming face-to-face with Martin, his father.

“What do they think will happen?” I’d asked my treatment counselor, Andi, when the rules of visitation came down. My voice was barely above a whisper. “What do they think I’d do?”

“Think of how many times you were drunk around Charlie,” she said. “There’s reason for concern.”

I sat a moment, contemplating this dangerous little bomb, vacillating between an attempt to absorb the truth behind her words and the desire to find a way to hide from it. I kept my eyes on the floor, too afraid of what I’d see if I looked into hers. Two weeks in the psych ward rendered me incapable of pulling off my usually dazzling impersonation of a happy, successful, single mother. Andi knew I was drunk in front of Charlie every day for over a year. She’d heard me describe the misery etched across my child’s face each time I pulled the cork on yet another bottle of wine. She knew the damage I’d done. Copyright c 2011 by Amy Hatvany

Amy Hatvany lives in Seattle with her family. Best Kept Secret is her third novel and her fourth will be released in February, 2012. You can also find Amy on Facebook and Twitter.