An alcoholic’s confessional of life from buzzed adolescence to blitzed adulthood and the fellowship of recovery.
Educator, essayist, and novelist Jamison’s (The Empathy Exams: Essays, 2014, etc.) introduction to the alluring crackle of alcohol occurred innocently in her early teens, but her messy descent into full-blown addiction began years later with her first blackout. In her early 20s she began drinking daily to blunt chronic shyness and ease relationship woes while getting her master’s degree at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. There, the author found “drunken dysfunction appealing” and identified with accomplished writers whose creative genius managed to function notably beneath the blurry haze of intoxication, something she dubs the “whiskey-and-ink mythology.” Throughout, the author references historical literary greats who were alcoholics, including Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Raymond Carver, Jean Rhys, and Charles Jackson, among others. Jamison examines the transformative patterns of addiction and how these authors, within their own bodies of work, attempted to “make some sense of the sadness that consumed” them. Saturated with unbridled honesty, her riveting chronicle expectedly slopes downward, as the author notes how she once believed that “passing out was no longer the price but the point.” After an abortion and persistent heart arrhythmias, Jamison eventually spiraled into the bleak desolation of rock-bottom alcoholism. Her ensuing heartbreaking attempts at rehabilitation ebbed and flowed. She relapsed after desperately missing the sensation of being drunk (“like having a candle lit inside you”), yet she also acknowledged that sobriety would be the only way to rediscover happiness and remain alive. Attending meetings, sharing her stories, and working the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous ushered the author into a new sober reality. Throughout Jamison’s somber yet earnestly revelatory narrative, she remains cogent and true to her dual commitment to sobriety and to author a unique memoir “that was honest about the grit and bliss and tedium of learning to live this way—in chorus, without the numbing privacy of getting drunk.”
The bracing, unflinching, and beautifully resonant history of a writer’s addiction and hard-won reclamation.