A debut memoir of alcoholism without any drunken escapades.
Hollenstein (Understanding Dietary Supplements, 2007) makes it clear from the start that her book has none of the drama of typical addiction memoirs. She has no harrowing, cinematic rock-bottom moment to report, for example; instead, she focuses on her slow realization that “[a]lcohol numbed both [her] pain and [her] joy.” This quiet process of introspection, however, proves to be just as engaging as any tale of alcohol-induced havoc. Hollenstein writes eloquently of the complex role that alcohol once played in her life, and her insights into drinking’s cultural currency are especially sharp. Of alcohol’s transformative power, for example, she writes: “Champagne with oysters transported me to Paris….I drank whiskey to express my saltier side.” The author worried that her drinking habits detracted from her life but found that the existing culture of serious alcoholism—from the shocking memoirs she read to the Alcoholics Anonymous group that seemed baffled by her presence—didn’t represent “the vast spectrum of problem drinking.” This brief book successfully illuminates the murky area between healthy and unhealthy, which often gets short shrift in the media. At times, the author’s focus on the nitty-gritty of her own recovery starts to feel self-indulgent, as when she devotes much of the book’s final third to detailing her meditation practice. She also devotes little space to the broader implications of her personal experience. Still, Hollenstein’s careful analysis serves as an important addition to the alcoholism literature and points to a need for more nuanced, inclusive thinking and writing on the subject. The author’s attempts to gradually increase her self-awareness and sense of responsibility will ring true for anyone who’s struggled to make a profound life change. Her story is a refreshing antidote to the sensational tales of salvation that are so common in personal-transformation memoirs.
A sensitive, thoughtful account of the everyday consequences of alcohol dependence.