Monday, November 28, 2016

Confessions of a Drunk Writer

This will be the strangest and most difficult post I've ever had to do. It's about writing. And it's about drinking. Because lots of writers have had problems with the bottle over the years. I'm not trying to put myself in the category of the greats when it comes to talent ...

But when it comes to drinking, I'm right up there.

However, this post is not about A.A., rehab or quitting forever. It's about how I reversed my problem without all that.  

My first author photo. I was drunk and depressed.
The story begins at the shoot for my first author photo (above). It was taken in the spring of 2003 for the release of my debut novel (DEVIL MAY CARE/Simon & Schuster/Atria).

I was always nervous to get my photo taken - still am - so before I left the apartment that day, I had a few glasses of wine. I also tucked three small bottles of sparkling wine into my gym bag to 'take the edge off' during the shoot. But that wasn't unusual. 

Because I never went anywhere without wine in my purse.

Truman Capote
I usually filled a water bottle with pinot grigio. But because it was a special day, I brought sparkling wine instead. Incidentally, nobody knew back then that I didn't leave the house without wine. Not even my husband.

That day at the shoot, while I was changing outfits in the change room, I would quietly unscrew the cap off one of the bottles and slug away until it was finished. Then I would go out to the makeup chair and sit in front of the mirror while the makeup artist dabbed my face. I'd sit for the photographer for that set-up ...

Then go back to the change room and do it all over again.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
By the time the shoot was over, with the wine I'd already had before I left, I was pretty drunk. Let's just say I forget most of the afternoon. What I don't forget is that I was depressed - as usual. "Why wasn't I happy?" I asked myself, over and over again.

I was getting published! I'd been dreaming about this all my life! 

As happy as I look in that shot, I felt ashamed, guilty, terrified - and depressed. As I always did back then. But there was a reason for that - and it had to do with something that affects a lot of us without our even knowing it. Alcohol addiction. 

Ernest Hemingway
At the time, I was probably drinking two bottles of wine a day by myself. Then I'd drink more at night when my husband came home.

I didn't have a single meeting with my agent when I wasn't drunk.

I didn't talk to my editor on the phone even once when I wasn't drunk. I didn't edit a single page of my first book when I wasn't drunk.

If I drank too much - which I did several times a week - I blacked out. I was so angry and depressed, I often got in fights with my husband. Then, in the morning, I always felt so full of remorse. How did that happen again? 

Dylan Thomas

Yet I still didn't want to join A.A. or go to rehab.

So I was at a terrible impasse. I didn't know what to do. But something happened at the photo shoot that day that changed my life. The coincidence is so bizarre, you couldn't make it up.

At one point, the makeup artist commented on how irritated my skin was. I told her I had a mild case of rosacea - but my skin was really red and full of broken capillaries from drinking so much every day.

Dorothy Parker
She seemed to take the rosacea story in stride. But suddenly, she said, "I'm reading a really good book right now. It's called Drinking: A Love Story. You'd like it I think. It's all about a writer who was an alcoholic and how she dealt with it."

My heart almost stopped beating. Why had she mentioned a book about drinking?

Could she smell the alcohol on my breath? Could she hear me slugging away in the change room? Did she know the real reason my skin was so irritated? I was floored by the coincidence.

After that shoot, my drinking continued to escalate. The blackouts got worse. And so did the shame, guilt and depression. But I still couldn't stop.

Hunter S. Thompson
About two months before DEVIL MAY CARE was set to hit the shelves, I had a particularly bad binge. I knew I had to 'do something' - soon. So I went to the bookstore. I found the self-help section and I read Drinking: A Love Story by the late Caroline Knapp.

For the first time, I didn't feel alone.

Caroline Knapp
Unfortunately, the Boston journalist had managed to control her drinking through A.A. I was as leery as ever about the twelve steps, but I still learned so much in that book. Especially about the natural - and reversible - link between alcohol abuse, dopamine production and depression. Which is really what 'addiction' is.

That book soon turned into another and another and another. 

And endless researching online. I began to devise a plan that might help me get control of my drinking - without permanent abstinence.

Tennessee Williams
Based on what I'd learned, I decided to take my first 'alcohol cleanse' in the summer of 2003, about a  month before my book came out. And you know what? It worked.

Thirteen years later, I still take regular breaks from drinking.

All the symptoms of my addiction are gone: I no longer feel shame or guilt about my drinking, I don't carry wine with me everywhere, I don't have angry blackouts. But most importantly, I'm no longer depressed all the time!

Charles Bukowski

I believe many people are at least mildly depressed from alcohol misuse without even knowing it. I also believe the entire syndrome is simply and naturally reversible. Because that's what happened to me. 

At the time I devised my plan, I didn't consider sharing it with anyone. But it has helped me so much, I just published a book about it. It's called CONTROL YOUR DRINKING: WITHOUT A.A., REHAB OR QUITTING FOREVER. 

Control Your Drinking Without A.A., Rehab or Quitting Forever

Like Knapp's classic, CONTROL YOUR DRINKING is part memoir, part textbook. It contains all the latest addiction research - including concrete evidence that regular 'breaks' from drinking can improve not just addiction, but many other aspects of your health and life as well.

I've learned a lot about being sober part-time over the years. So the book is full of tips and tricks to help make cleansing easier and more enjoyable for people who - like me - have spent most of their free time drinking over the years.  

The book also carefully and clearly explains why you feel depressed all the time, whether you're drinking or not.

And what to do about it.

The Algonquin Round Table
If you're concerned about your drinking - or know somebody who could use help - please check out CONTROL YOUR DRINKING: WITHOUT A.A., REHAB OR QUITTING FOREVER.

Thank you so much for bearing with me while I've been editing it! I've missed you so much!! I'll be back to my writing blog very soon! And I have a new book coming out about my experience publishing two books with big New York houses! Because getting published is nothing like you'd expect! If you're prepared for it, you'll have a much better chance of succeeding as an author!

By the way, I brought three small bottles of sparkling wine to my indie author photo shoot last spring too. Only this time, I didn't hide the bottles in my bag.

I shared them with the photographer and makeup artist!

At my indie author shoot. (Mostly!) sober and much happier!

Thanks again for checking in! Here are links to the books!

CONTROL YOUR DRINKING: Without A.A., Rehab, or Quitting Forever

DEVIL MAY CARE (That author photo was for this novel - Simon & Schuster/Atria 2003)

THE WITCHES OF ASHFORD PLACE (My first indie release in August 2016)

Sheri's photo credits: Upper (c) Helen Tansey; lower (c) Vanessa Heins.