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.


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!!!
  • 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.


We Want to Know: What Is Your Definition of An Alcoholic?

In response to an article on The Huffington Post, “Rush People Who Have 1-2 Drinks to AA?” one person wrote: “I’ve been in recovery for seven years. Zero alcohol intake. I thought complete abstinence was the point. Have I been wrong all this time?”

The author, addiction expert Stanton Peele replied:

“You need to be a critical consumer of information for your own life. But, if your decision to abstain for life was based solely, or largely, on the idea that human beings with problems that qualify them as alcoholics never reduce their drinking – you probably should consider the scientific information that this idea is false.”

Peele was referring to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) detailed study of 43,000 drinkers nationally , which found that three-quarters of alcoholics recover without treatment, and more than half drink safely.

It seems there’s some discrepancy over the use of the word alcoholic.

I’ve always thought (and many of my friends have fought me on this) that if someone was diagnosed as an alcoholic, the only “cure” or solution was to never drink again. I also felt, based largely on my mother’s experience, that it would be nearly impossible for alcoholics to quit drinking on their own, and that they need some combination of therapy, detox, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

But I missed an important distinction. According to NIAAA, there are two forms of alcohol dependence: time-limited, and recurrent or chronic. As the writers at NIAAA put it, “In most persons affected, alcohol dependence (commonly known as alcoholism) looks less like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas than it does your party-hardy college roommate or that hard-driving colleague in the next cubicle.”

Your party-hardy college roommate? Most likely, her drinking will ebb and flow as she goes through different ages and stages. Just because someone has a heavy-drinking stage of life does not necessarily mean they are a candidate for AA.

In my opinion, it’s confusing to label time-limited alcohol dependence as alcoholism.  I think that there should be a distinction made between heavy drinkers and alcoholics.

What do you think, readers?

We Want to Know…What Is Your Definition of An Alcoholic? Do you think alcoholics can safely drink again and/or recover without treatment? Should there be a distinction between problem drinkers and alcoholics?


Guest Post by Jody Lamb, Author of “Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool,” a Novel for Tweens About Friendship, Fitting In, Parental Alcoholism, and the Power of Hope

jody lambBy Jody Lamb

Jody Lamb is the author of Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool, a novel for tweens. Her experience in a family with alcoholics has made her a passionate advocate for children with alcoholic loved ones, a fan of life and a lady on a mission to change the world. By day, Jody is a corporate public relations manager. She earned a journalism degree from Michigan State University. Jody lives in metro Detroit in the beautiful Michigan mitten.

As a young girl, I thought my loved ones’ excessive, destructive drinking was a problem unique to our family. No one spoke of it, for it was a secret that once told, would surely shame us.

Finally, at 22, when my loved ones hit rock bottom in their struggles, I read everything I could find about alcoholism and its effects on families. When I discovered estimates that 10 to 25 percent of American kids live with at least one parent who abuses alcohol, I cried.

How can it remain such a family secret in the 21st century? I looked for contemporary, relatable books for children on the subject, particularly for tweens. I found few. No wonder the cycle continues, I thought. That bothered me.

I found so many posts by tweens and teens on forums about loved ones’ drinking. They were desperate for answers and facts about addiction. What I read kept me up at night.

At age 26, with a pasted-on smile, I crashed into the waiting arms of depression. It was a bona-fide, serious quarter-life crisis. I longed for a sense of purpose and satisfaction in my robotic days.

One weekend, I read my childhood diaries. I cried recalling the grand plans and dreams little-kid me had for grownup me. The only thing I could think to do to make myself feel better was to write for fun, like I did as a girl. I enrolled in a creative writing course at my local community college.

Out quickly came a short story about a 12-year-old girl’s plan to make seventh grade awesome that’s derailed as she copes with and helps her depressed, alcoholic mother in a tiny lakeside town.

I realized I was meant to write for kids with alcoholic loved ones. On the weekends and at night, I wrote like crazy and was a sponge to everything that would help me create a better story. Before long, I had a whole novel manuscript. It is the story I would have been moved by as a child. Writing it was cathartic for me. My relationship with my alcoholic loved ones dramatically improved.

Over next two and a half years, I wrote three more whole drafts.easter ann peters book cover

The novel was rejected 30 times by agents and editors. Then I met the founder of a small publishing company. She believed in the story and in me. Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool was released on November 6, 2012.

It’s the story of 12-year-old Easter Ann Peters who has a plan—Operation Cool—to make her seventh grade year awesome and erase years of being known only as a quiet, straight-A student who can’t think of a comeback to her bully. When the confident new girl, Wreni, becomes her long-needed best friend, Easter lets her personality shine. The coolest guy in school takes a sudden interest. But as tough times at school fade away, so does a happy life at home. Easter’s mother is drinking a lot, and Easter works double overtime to keep their secret in the tiny lakeside town. Operation Cool derails, fast, and Easter must discover a solution.

Here’s an excerpt from Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool:

At two thirty three a.m., my bedroom door creaks and opens halfway, sending a thick band of hallway light into my room.

I’m out of half-sleep land right away; I rub eyes so I can see in the light.

“Mom?” I whisper, even though I already know it’s her.

She takes a few steps forward, and from the way she moves—steady and gentle—I know she’s not drunk anymore.

Yoplait’s snoring stops and beside me, she flops her body over to confirm that it’s Mom and not some intruder like Drama Chihuahua or someone else not welcome here.

“Mmm hmm,” Mom says. It sounds like her. Nice Mom. The Mom I love.

I move my legs a bit so that there’s enough space for her to sit on my bed.

Mom runs her fingers over the spot and sits.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

After about ten seconds, she says, “Nothing, sweetheart.” Though she tries to make it convincing, the words feel empty and untrue. “Just making sure you’re warm enough. Temps went down tonight.”

She pulls my comforter up over my shoulders.

“I’m fine,” I say as upbeat as I can. “But I haven’t been able to sleep real well lately.”

“Sometimes,” she says, looking away from me now. “It’s difficult to tell your body what to do. Sometimes you lose control.”

I have no idea what that means, so I don’t say anything.

“I’ll sit here until you fall asleep,” she says.

It’s just like when I was little.

So I turn on my side and face Yoplait, who’s already back to sleep. I can tell because her tail is wagging—just a little. That means she’s dreaming of yogurt cups and running Chihuahuas out of town.

Mom leans forward and draws on my back, just like she always did.

Hearts. Trees. Butterflies. Flowers. Ice cream. Everything happy drawn gently on my t-shirt.

And I sleep.”

Right now, my first young adult novel is in progress. I’m also currently writing non-fiction books for kids related to coping when loved ones are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. I hope to find a way to provide these books to young people for free.

If a kid ever says to me, “Hey, thanks for this,” well, those four words alone will be infinitely more meaningful to me than fifty years of success in the business world.

For readers with alcoholics in their lives, I hope my books remind them that they are not alone and inspire hope. For readers who do not have alcoholics in their lives, I hope they’ll gain a more solid understanding of what alcoholism is, how it affects others and sensitivity to what their classmates, teammates and neighbors may be coping with at home.


Keep in touch with Jody through FacebookTwitter, and her blog. Have a tween in your life or are you a tween at heart? Pick up a copy of Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool at Amazon or BN.com or in the Kindle store.


An Interview With Lori Butterfield, Director of the Documentary, “Lipstick & Liquor”

One night, Julie Kroll, a thirty-nine year old mother, stumbles away from a minor car accident, leaving behind her eight-year old daughter… and an open container of alcohol. As darkness descends, she disappears.

Julie’s story is the centerpiece of a new documentary, Lipstick & Liquor, about suburban women battling alcohol addiction. The film will have its Los Angeles premiere today at 3pm during the REEL Recovery Film Festival at the Laemmle Monica4-Plex in Santa Monica.

We caught up with the film’s Emmy award-winning director, Lori Butterfield, to ask her some questions about this groundbreaking documentary.

Drinking Diaries: What drew you to the subject of women and drinking? 

Lori Butterfield: My interest in raising awareness about women’s alcohol abuse and alcoholism began with the story of Diane Schuler.  In the summer of 2009, Diane made headlines after killing eight people, including herself, while driving the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in Westchester County, New York. Toxicology reports revealed she was both drunk and stoned, but her family vehemently denied that Diane had a problem.  How could someone hide their alcoholism so well that their own family had no idea?

In November of that year, I was working on a production project with the Ad Council about Buzzed Driving and read a startling statistic –the number of DUI arrests for women had shot up more than 30 % in the last decade while the rate for men was going down. Binge drinking for women was also on the rise.  Something was clearly happening in our society, but I hadn’t yet connected the dots.

I didn’t know Julie Kroll, who is our main subject in Lipstick & Liquor.  I read about her death in the Washington Post in late December 2009. The article took up two nondescript columns in the Metro section and no photo was attached.  Yet her story struck me on a deep, emotional level. As I read about this sad and senseless tragedy, I knew something profoundly larger was at play in our culture. There seems to be a double standard for women and an even higher standard for mothers who can’t control their drinking.  The judgment and hostility towards women who drink create a terrible stigma that keeps many of them from seeking treatment and recovery.  This is what compelled me to make this film.

Did making the film change your own attitude towards drinking?

Yes, the making of the film has definitely made me more aware of my drinking habits and those of others. Alcohol seems to get a pass in society as far as being more socially acceptable than say, prescription drugs or illegal drugs, but I think many women aren’t aware of what it means to overdrink and how harmful alcohol can be.

I am now very aware of what I call “cocktail creep,” which is something I see happening at social functions.  The conversation and drinks start flowing and we lose track of how many drinks we’ve had.  I always considered myself a moderate, social drinker but binge drinking is clearly on the rise, especially among women. I think it’s critical to get accurate information out about what moderate drinking actually means (1 drink a day for women and no more than 7 drinks per week.)

What did you learn over the course of making the movie that you didn’t already know? Was there something that surprised you or shattered your preconceived notions?

Before Lipstick & Liquor, I can truthfully admit, I was someone who had a tendency to silently judge women who couldn’t control their drinking, especially mothers.  How could they endanger their children? Why can’t they stop drinking? Don’t they know better?  I’m a mother and I drink responsibly, so it was hard for me to understand. But through the making of the film, after meeting women in recovery and talking to experts, I now have a much better understanding of alcoholism and what is at stake for those who struggle with the disease.

Julie’s friends and family say (in the documentary) that what Julie did was wrong and there was no excuse for it. But judgment and condemnation are not the answer.  Women need understanding and support so they can get sober and find recovery.  The stigma is what causes many mothers to feel shame, to hide the true extent of their drinking, and to refuse seeking treatment.  One fact I learned through the making of the film: according to the NIAAA, women are 12 times more likely to resist seeking treatment than men.

How is women’s drinking different from men’s?  

In the last 50 years, women’s roles have changes tremendously. As more women have moved into the workforce, they have more access to money, power, status, opportunity and financial freedom as never before in history.  Lipstick & Liquor focuses on the emotional and psychological issues that seem to impact many women today, from the intense pressures of modern life (pressure cooker jobs, marriages, children, caring for aging parents) combined with a relentless perfectionism that we bring upon ourselves.  The women in the film all said they suffered trying to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect daughter, the perfect employee.

I think because alcohol is so socially acceptable and readily available, it’s an easy option for women who are feeling stress or going through a difficult time, to reach for a drink to cope or to relieve boredom. At first, alcohol works, but for some women, drinking leads to alcohol abuse or worse, and the impact can be devastating.  Alcoholism is a progressive disease. There’s evidence that they become addicted faster than men and suffer alcohol-related diseases sooner than men.  According to the CDC, alcoholism is the third leading cause of preventable death among women between the ages of 35 and 55.

How did their husbands/partners/children deal with their drinking?

Because the topic is so broad and so complex, I chose to focus more on the women rather than partners or children.   However, Julie’s husband, Jerry, is featured prominently in Lipstick & Liquor and his love and devotion are so clearly evident throughout the 13-day desperate search by her family and friends to find her.  Despite the fact that he did everything he could to get Julie the help she needed for recovery, in the end, her alcoholism was too powerful to overcome and the disease killed her. Jerry is a real hero in my mind.

How did the women function in their every day lives? For how long did they function? Did anyone around them notice or tell them they had a problem? 

With all the women we profiled, it was amazing to see how much effort they put into covering up their drinking and denying there was a problem.  That’s why Lipstick & Liquor is about “secrets in the suburbs.”  Women often become “kitchen drinkers”–they hide the true extent of their drinking in the isolation of their homes. That’s one of the hallmarks of this disease. It plays tricks with your mind and magnifies our abilities to rationalize our behavior.

Mary is one of the women we profiled in the film who talks about sitting in a Taco Bell parking lot having a vodka screwdriver before she went home, just knowing that she didn’t want to go home without some sort of alcohol in her.

Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith is a psychotherapist and author featured in the film and she has a great quote.  She says many women feel shame when they drink. “There is a difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is about something that you did. Shame is about who you are and I think for women, there is a setup to feel shame when you are an alcoholic.”

What’s the best piece of wisdom you received from these women’s stories? 

Through the making of Lipstick & Liquor I’ve learned that a woman’s greatest gift may be the very thing that will save her from a life of alcoholism, pain and suffering. By nature, we are drawn to communicate and connect with each other and it’s the power of this sisterhood that I hope to share with others.  Women need to understand they are not alone, there is hope, there is treatment and that ongoing support, compassion and understanding through friendships with other women is what can provide the best hope for sustained recovery and sobriety.

Here’s what I learned from the women who were profiled: Most alcoholics know that they are alcoholic long before they share that information with anyone else or anyone else finds out and they have a deep sense of self loathing and self hatred that stays with them all the time. And, the only thing that relieves that sense of self-loathing is more alcohol.  

Alcoholics are under the impression that they should never be uncomfortable. And that’s just not the case. In order to experience the joy and the beauty of life, they also have to experience the pain and the suffering. But going through all of it will bring women to the full experience of humanity and that’s really what living sober is all about.

What do you think is the secret of women who get and stay sober? Did these women share their secrets with you?

Hayley, one of the women we profiled, talks about staying sober in the most poetic and powerful way. “It’s joy that you can’t even put into words. The fact that I show up for people, I’m a great friend, I’m a really good mom, I know how to communicate, I know how to set boundaries, I know how to take care of myself, that all comes from loving myself and that all comes from being sober.”

To any woman out there who is struggling with this disease, just give it a shot, like call someone right now and reach out and just let them know because the shame in continuing what you’re doing but the real joy and real win in this is when you can finally let it down, get that crap off your body and just start to live…  I was living in a prison and I know that women out there can relate to that because you are literally living in your own prison and you are so scared to step out of that box… They talk about a comfort zone, it’s very comfortable staying in your disease because it’s what you know. But, once you change that and shift it and come out of it, you’re a butterfly, you know, it’s fantastic.”

Whose story inspired or affected you the most? 

The women featured in Lipstick who are sober now are absolutely remarkable.  Emily, Hayley, Jodie and Mary were so open and honest about their struggles with alcoholism and their recoveries and I deeply admire them for their courage. They are amazing role models.  Emily writes a blog (Emilyism.com) that serves as an online community for sober women and Hayley has launched a successful clothing and accessory line called “Sober is Sexy.”  Jodie has more than 25 years of sobriety and has helped scores of other women over the years stay sober. Mary is part of a group of women working to organize a major rally for recovery in Washington next year.

Of course, Julie’s story affected me the most because she was the one who didn’t get the chance to experience sustained recovery and to live a long and happy life. I think often about her beautiful daughter, her husband, Jerry and her family and friends. It’s a terrible tragedy that shouldn’t happen to anyone.

It’s my hope that Lipstick & Liquor will help to shed the stigma surrounding women who drink and change the conversation with families, friends, and the medial community. We need to understand that alcohol dependence is a disease that if left untreated, can kill you.  My hope is that this documentary will inspire this new conversation and help women find support and treatment.

To learn more about Lipstick & Liquor and for a list of resources for those who want help, you can visit the website and  Facebook page.

Lori Butterfield spent more than a decade creating documentaries and television programs at National Geographic Television & Film and at Discovery Networks (including Discovery, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Military Channel and Discovery Science). She won an Emmy for her work at National Geographic.   Currently, She works at Home Front Communications in downtown DC, producing video content for a range of non-broadcast clients on multi-platforms.