Refreshingly unsentimental account of an addict’s descent into hell and tentative journey back.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steinberg (Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora, and the History of American Style, 2004, etc.) was living his own version of the American dream: a big house in the Chicago suburbs, a devoted wife, two adorable kids—and a drinking habit that was growing steadily, Jack Daniels by tumbler of red wine by surreptitious swig of rue-flavored schnapps. For years, he didn’t think his drinking was a problem. After all, he was a big-city daily newspaper columnist, a hard-drinking profession if ever there was one. But Steinberg’s rosy illusions were destroyed for good after a day-long bender during which he slapped his wife and landed in jail. Publicity and a court-imposed 28-day stint in rehab followed. After that came a months-long roller coaster of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings followed by binges followed by remorse, followed by still more meetings. Steinberg doesn’t gloss over the ugly realities of sobriety. Unmitigated by a shot of whiskey in his afternoon cocoa and a few glasses of wine on the commuter train home, suburban existence was crushingly boring. At monotonous meetings, he played board games and batted around balloons with people he wouldn’t have talked to in the real world. The whole “higher power” notion, critical to the AA recovery process, was a tough sell for an atheist; Steinberg eventually decided it was his wife. “As much as I love to drink—as much as I loved to drink,” he writes, “the bedrock truth is I love her more.” Instead of romanticizing recovery, he does something much more difficult and effective: He acknowledges, even celebrates, the allure of the drinking life and sees his year of sobriety as both “a triumph” and “little more than a good start.”
Enlivened by humor and brisk prose, Steinberg’s unflinching tale is far more compelling than most recovery memoirs.