Apr 02

“The Recovering” by Leslie Jamison: Addiction Aftermath

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison isn’t your usual addiction memoir. It’s about “literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence,” and it’s also about non-celebs dealing with sobriety, and it’s also about the nature of our culture’s racism and classism when it comes to understanding addiction.

And last but not least, it’s also a tale of Jamison’s own addiction struggles, which lacks a bottoming out as extreme as that of most other addiction memoirists. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that she didn’t reach her own low point or decide she sorely needed a better way of living.

Publishers Weekly: “The crawl back up to sobriety is as engrossing as the downward spiral in this unsparing and luminous autobiographical study of alcoholism.”

A book excerpt from New York Times Magazine finds Jamison considering how to tell her AA drunkalog, which is generally a compellingly dramatic story:

But the truer story of my drinking is really a story about tedium, about claustrophobia and repetition. At a certain point, it started to expose itself as something that wasn’t revelry, that wasn’t about connection but isolation, that wasn’t about dark wisdom or metaphysical angst — that wasn’t about anything, really, besides the urge to get drunk, by myself, with no one watching.

“High-functioning” is an adjective that could easily fit Jamison’s alcoholism. Ruth Shalit Barrett, Vulture:

During her early-to-mid-20s, when [Jamison] was in the throes of her moderate-to-severe alcohol-use disorder, she completed her undergraduate and graduate-school coursework, scored a high-powered agent, and published an acclaimed novel. She managed to do all this while rising at 6 a.m. each morning and heading to her job at the Deluxe Bakery in Iowa City…

As to categorization of The Recovering as a book genre, Jamison tells Barrett, “(M)y story is not remarkable enough to fit into any of the sensational or marketplace-proven categories. If it were, it would probably be somewhere between Thrill of the Good-Girl Addict and Surprisingly Successful Addict.” Rather than experience crushing life failures, the main effect of her alcoholism, she adds, “was ‘a deep sense of internal shame’ and ‘years when my work felt stale and thwarted. It just didn’t have a pulse’.”

Initial attempts at recovery, sans AA, didn’t get off the ground. Kirkus Reviews: “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.”

Noted author Andrew Solomon offers his praise for The Recovering: “This strangely exhilarating book is about recovery, but it is more resonantly a book about desire, consciousness, kindness, self-control, and love–and hence a Tolstoyan study of the human condition.”

But actress/author Mary-Louise Parker‘s review is probably the one to beat, pointing out that this book will appeal to non-addicts as well. “[It’s] for anyone interested in a dazzlingly brilliant, uncommonly compassionate, and often hilarious study of human nature…Her writing is unexpected, profound, and perverse–in short, a thrill to read. Best of all, for a writer so gifted at locating the excruciating commonalities of isolation, Jamison manages this greatest feat of magic: when I read her words, I come away feeling less alone.”