In a black-and-white world of chaos or redemption, alcohol problems in between rarely reach the page.
In my early twenties I went through a phase of bingeing on addiction memoirs. I finished one and had to have another. I spent money I didn’t have on them. I shoved them into my handbag when my boyfriend came home so he wouldn’t see. The extremely thin irony was not lost on me: I was treating these books like I treated drinks.
It was a time when I drank alcohol less than ever, but thought about it all the time. I was coupled up, domesticated, and my partner’s personality did not allow for sloppiness, or loss of control, or weekends given up to hangovers in bed, surrounded by strewn pizza boxes.
Drinking moderately made me feel more addicted to alcohol than when I was free to drink as I pleased, because it meant I was painfully aware. I was aware of everything I drank at home beneath his quizzical, critical gaze, and I was aware of what I drank when I went out on my own or with friends because he would witness the aftermath.
I bought the memoirs on my lunchbreaks, or downloaded them if work was quiet and I could read them minimised on my computer screen. I inhaled them all, especially those which described people with outsize, outrageous problems very unlike my own.
One was James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, and I was enthralled by its abjection and physical violence; all that bile and blood and theatre. When I found out he had exaggerated or invented a good number of the book’s more dramatic moments, I was deflated but also felt I understood why he would do a thing like that.
Leslie Jamison, the American essayist and novelist, also understands this impluse. Her excellent book …read more
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