Want to quit drinking? Try to Quit Smoking: From middle-class wine mummies to world-famous celebrities, there’s an addictive memory for you
Boozers! Do you want to stop? Not quite ready for real meetings? Interested in how others have done it? Or just fancy a trawl through the rocky bottoms of strangers? Whether you’re sober and curious or realize that your drinking is ruining your life, there is a huge cocktail of lit stops to try.
I don’t mean Allen Carr’s self-help stuff – plus the addiction / recovery memories, which takes us to places we wouldn’t dare to go in real life (unless of course we do. ‘have already done, in which case we will relate fully), before pivoting to sobriety.
Substance abuse / recovery memoirs are often the same thing, because unless you are Charles Bukowski, those who stay in active alcoholism tend to stay in chaos or die, rather than writing books. on falling bar stools. We have to recover before we can write everything.
Before I got sober in 2006, I used to devour drug addiction memoirs. I wasn’t very interested in the little recovery, but I was intrigued by the catastrophic consumption of other people; maybe that was to reassure myself that I was nothing like those drunks on the page, in jail, in rehab, or whatever – yet in terms of inability to quit, the similarities were undeniable.
There are a ton of titles. Literally thousands. Here is, in no particular order, a random selection, from middle-class wine mummies to disenfranchised street drinkers (although it must be said, the former tend to produce a lot more light than the latter) .
You could start with Dry by Augusten Burroughs (2003), because it will make you laugh out loud; his superpower turns horrible into funny. Resuming his life as a young adult (his crazy childhood is documented in his early memoirs, Running with scissors), he’s now 24, works in advertising in Manhattan, and shows up drunk at big brand meetings. Until her employers set up an intervention and sent her to gay-friendly drug rehab.
“I don’t have to go to work for 30 days,” he tells his drinking buddy Jim the undertaker. “Awesome,” Jim says. “Congratulations.” As they drank more martinis, Burroughs thought to himself that after his initial horror he thinks the rehab looks cool: “I’m going to dry off for 30 days and it’ll be like going to a spa.” When I get home, I can drink like a normal person.
Obviously, this does not happen; the magic of Dry is that you are a passenger inside Burroughs’ hilarious and terrible car crash, as he progresses to early recovery and relapse, before finding long-term sobriety and becoming a great memorialist. success.
You might remember the hoo-ha caused by A million little pieces by James Frey (2003), when it turned out that Oprah’s advocated coruscating addiction memoir was not quite true; the author had not hit a cop with his car and spent 87 days in jail – he was five hours in a police station for two tickets. No matter. Frey’s portrayal of drug and alcohol addiction is flawless, as is his tale of life in a treatment center.
Holly Whitaker is more practical and curious Give up like a woman (2020), where she questions not only society’s acceptance of alcohol as a legal drug of choice, but also its gendered marketing (ladies – glamor equals Prosecco / Chardonnay / gin).
It also questions our acceptance of the 12 Steps as the dominant recovery model. Calling it “archaic and patriarchal,” she reminds us of how it was originally designed by and for rich and prosperous white men. The road to recovery “remember you are not God, refrain from re-instructing on how to be a woman” and “what made us sick in the first place”. Instead, she offers a range of abstinence-based tactics and approaches, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.
In The sober newspapers (2017), Clare Pooley – like Augusten Burroughs, a former advertising manager – also deviates from the 12-step method. After quitting her job to raise her three children, she ends up becoming a secret drinker; puffy, tired, anxious and depressed, living a life where it is always wine time. Describing herself as “shaken”, she wonders if there is life after wine, but she is too afraid to go to AA. Instead, she gets sober through online platforms like soberistas.com and Club Soda.
“Stone coldly sober?” Nope. It should be called “sober hot sun”. Because that’s what you feel, ”writes Catherine Gray in The unexpected joy of being sober (2018), where she examines the disconnect between alcohol sold to us as an essential part of pleasure, and alcohol being a major killer [three million global deaths a year, according to WHO].
It also examines the money we save by not drinking, as well as the other benefits of sobriety – physical, psychological, social, emotional, spiritual.
Young alcoholics can find ID in Koren Zailckas smashed (2005), which deals with alcoholism in adolescents (because you are never too young) while Bryony Gordon Glorious rock background (2020) gives a full account of The telegraph a journalist’s addiction to alcohol and drugs, and its impact on her marriage, despite her growing notoriety as an author and mental health activist.
Darker and more meaty is that of Tania Glyde To clean (2008), which reads more like a purge than a memoir. It’s horribly relatable, especially its 18 warning signs including secrecy, varying your sources of alcohol, rituals, drinking alone, panicking before parties, passing out at parties, indiscretions, crying, face drinking, fights, fainting, hangover.
For a truly heartbreaking safari into the deepest alcoholism, read The grass arena by John Healy (1988), the London Irish boxer turned street drinker who found sobriety through chess and wrote a beautiful extraordinary and unforgettable memoir, then vanished again into sober obscurity, before his book was reissued as Penguin Classic.
A slim, erudite but very colorful exploration of the “tolerated alcohol epidemic” can be found in British literary scholar John Sutherland Last drink in LA (2001), where the English teacher writes about his own alcoholism; her ass was waking up next to an unknown Californian named Richard who had “a penis stump” instead of a penis. Sutherland is not gay, but drinks in a gay bar because it is the bar closest to his home.
Despite his prestigious academic post at Caltech, Sutherland had become “a wino”. He was, he wrote, “very scared. After a gunshot through the Yellow Pages, I called AA.
Understanding addiction and how it works is explored extensively in Gabor Mate In the kingdom of hungry ghosts (2018), which explores all kinds of addictions – alcohol, drugs, food, sex, money, everything. The psychology of drug addiction is uniform no matter what you’re addicted to – the only difference between alcoholism and drug addiction is that one is legal, the other criminalized.
Dr Mate names his book after the Buddhist term for drug addict; although not a dissertation, the book is filled with case studies. Essential reading for anyone who needs to understand why addiction is a little more complex than failure of willpower.
Which brings us to the mother of all drug addiction memoir / alcoholic self-help books: The Ledger of Alcoholics Anonymous (1939). Written by the founders of AA four years after the original two met at a hotel in Ohio, the book was originally published to help those for whom there was not yet enough face-to-face meetings, when the organization was still in its infancy.
Entirely written by men for men – in very common parlance – it remains the standard 12-step recovery text nonetheless and is filled with anonymized stories as well as a 12-step manual. For more on the hectic life of AA co-founder Bill Wilson, read My name is bill by Susan Cheever (2004), herself an alcoholic and daughter of the alcoholic literary titan John. Susan Cheever’s own memoir, Note found in a bottle (1999), reveals an outwardly charmed life that revolved around cocktail hour, where alcohol was, as Homer Simpson put it, the cause – and the solution to – all of life’s problems.
Recovery by Russell Brand (2017) takes the 12-step model and expands it, adding contemporary relevance and humor, so that his interpretation of the 12-step is more inclusive and a bit juicier. (Step 1: “Are you a little fucked up?” Step 2: “Couldn’t you be fucked up?” Step 3: “Are you going to def ** k yourself?”). The steps aren’t just for alcoholics or drug addicts, he says, but can be applied to anyone living in what he calls “the era of drug addiction.”
He writes, “If you’re addicted to bad relationships, bad food, abusive bosses, conflict, or pornography, it can take a lifetime to spot the problem, and apparently a lifetime is all we have. This book is not just about extremists like me. No, it’s a book about you. Because at some level we’re all addicted to something.
Once you’ve digested all of this, you might like to relax with an addictive memory of a star-studded celebrity; there are loads of them, because fame and addiction go together like coke and a rolled up bank note. Me Elton John (2019) is a cracker, thanks to his mind-boggling anecdotes, honesty and self-mockery.
Life by Keith Richards (2010) isn’t that funny, but it doesn’t have to be, as he’s Keith Richards and managed to stay alive to write it down. Then he collapsed from Moby (2019) is surprisingly compulsive – much like Moby himself – while Carrie Fisher’s Drink a wish (2008) is an insane journey through Hollywood via psychiatrists, stomach pumping, and Elizabeth Taylor stealing her father.
There are so many more brilliant, funny, tragic, awful, redemptive, and mind-boggling drug addiction memoir, by the famous, the infamous, and the totally unknown.
Dig and add your own favorites to the stack. Because no matter how bad your drinking has been, there is always someone who was worse, and they wrote a book about it. Think of them as public servants.