Dec 16

“The Wine O’Clock Myth”: Lotta Dann

Recently published The Wine O’Clock Myth: The Truth You Need to Know About Women and Alcohol is the third book New Zealander Lotta Dann has written about alcoholism. The first two were more personal, the memoirs Mrs D Is Going Without and Mrs D Is Going Within. As she has publicly stated, Dann drank problematically for 24 years and has now been sober over eight years.

Her Twitter self-description: “I am sober. I write books and blogs, promote recovery & run the community website livingsober.org.nz.”  

The Living Sober site tells us more about Dann: “Mrs D is the name Lotta Dann gave herself when she began anonymously blogging in 2011. Through her long-running blog, Mrs D Is Going Without, Lotta discovered the incredible power of online support for people quitting drinking.”

“Why did I write this book?'” asks Dann regarding The Wine O’Clock Myth (in her pinned Tweet). “Because the pendulum has swung too far and our alcohol saturated environment (which glamorises and normalises booze) is not only harming people and costing our society so much, it also isolates and stigmatises people who are struggling.”

From the publisher of The Wine O’Clock Myth:

Written through the lens of her own story and her work in the field of addiction and recovery, Lotta explores the privileged position alcohol holds in our society, the way the liquor industry targets women and the damaging ‘Wine Mum’ social media culture. She reveals the damage alcohol is causing to women physically, emotionally, and socially, and the potential reasons why so many women are drinking at harmful levels. She talks to a number of brave women who share detailed, intimate stories about their personal relationships with alcohol—stories that are at times brutal and heartbreaking, but also inspiring and heart lifting.

Of course, Dann herself has a story. Whereas her 2014 Mrs D Is Going Without “is an honest, upfront, relatable account of one suburban housewife’s journey from miserable wine-soaked boozer to self-respecting sober lady,” her later Mrs D Is Going Within is more about the challenges of maintaining sobriety.

As stated by Dann in an interview with Jeanna Thomson, Writers College Blog: “There’s a saying – ‘putting down the drink is just the beginning’. Once the dust settled and I began to feel very strong in my sobriety, I realised I needed to do some ‘next stage’ work on new tools to help me deal with life. All my years of steady alcohol use had left me with very few strategies.”

Additionally, from the publisher: “Despite outward appearances, three years after getting sober Lotta is struggling. She’s often on edge, battles to cope with the busyness and constant upheavals of life, and is eating sugar like crazy to deal with tough emotions…The truth is, Lotta’s life-long drinking habit has left her as a fledgling emotionally. She’s slowly accepting that she needs to do some more work on herself.”

And that she has, enough so that Dann’s newer book The Wine O’Clock Myth, perhaps most relevant to all those women out there in earlier stages of realization, was able to be written.

Jul 31

12 Steps of “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far…”

The film is primarily a celebration of the 12 Steps. David Edelstein, Vulture, regarding Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

More insightful than riveting, the film is doggedly focused on the work of recovery, and Callahan’s unending quest to be real with himself—because as he comes to understand, only then can he begin to live for other people. Steve MacFarlane, Slant

The first of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. (See previous post.) This and the 11 others form the basis of the AA program, which real-life cartoonist John Callahan (1951-2010) attends in Gus Van Sant‘s new Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, based on Callahan’s memoir.

Why won’t he get far on foot? Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) became a quadriplegic at 21 following a car accident. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “His party buddy, Dexter (Jack Black), was driving when their powder-blue VW bug hit a lamppost. The fact that Callahan’s hedonistic partner-in-crime escaped without a scratch initially gnawed at him and it took years of counseling to achieve acceptance.”

A.A. Dowd, AVClub, adds that this, however, is not the main theme:

Don’t worry, Don’t Worry isn’t some tearfully inspirational tribute to Callahan’s triumph over his disability. It’s a tearfully inspirational tribute to his triumph over alcoholism. Based on the artist’s memoir of the same name, which heavily chronicled his battle with the bottle, the film believes so deeply in the AA process, in its value and necessity and effectiveness, that it could reasonably be retitled 12 Steps: The Movie. (There’s a whole montage devoted to step nine, with Callahan embarking on a rather literal apology tour.)

Step Nine, by the way: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

AA meetings are actually a considerable part of the film. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times:

Generously holding court at these meetings is Callahan’s sponsor, Donnie, a rich, world-weary gay man played by a terrific Jonah Hill, all but unrecognizable with his long hair, thick beard and magnificent wardrobe. The movie doesn’t overdo the comedy of Donnie’s trust-fund Jesus look or his extravagantly marbled estate. It’s hard to overstate the sheer affection Hill pours into this characterization, distilling fey playfulness (he calls the people he sponsors ‘my piglets’), droll cynicism and soulful intensity into a mix of philosophical wisdom and practical advice. Tough love never felt so palpable.

David Edelstein, Vulture, on the AA quasi-realism:

A film like Don’t Worry…can rise or fall on those AA group-therapy sessions, and these are the best I’ve seen. They’re actually not formal AA events, though…Unlike regular AA meetings, these have ‘cross-talk’ — i.e., lots of interruptions and opportunities to vent, and Van Sant evidently encouraged a spontaneous flow. No less than Kim Gordon plays the ex-suburban housewife and Valium addict who tells a story about wandering her neighborhood buck naked…A first-time actress, the 36-year-old musician Beth Ditto, all but takes over as the large and lovably extroverted member of the group.

A clip below that features Gordon and Ditto in an improvised scene:

And how does it all turn out for Callahan? Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times“’Maybe life’s not supposed to be as meaningful as we think it is,’ a fellow addict says during group, perhaps realizing that self-absorption can be an even tougher habit to kick than booze. Like most of us, Callahan, by movie’s end, is not quite there yet.”

May 09

“The Family Fang”: Based On the Novel

There’s an illuminating moment late in Jason Bateman’s richly captivating film of The Family Fang, when the unorthodox patriarch played with a sardonic glint by Christopher Walken says to his adult offspring, “You think we damaged you? So what! That’s what parents do.” That’s close enough to a key to this smart, tart adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s best-selling 2011 debut novel, which thumbs its nose at the cliches of the over-trafficked dysfunctional family genre to dissect the sometimes lifelong quest of children to understand their parents in ways that are funny and bittersweet, poignant and often bracingly dark. David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Kevin Wilson‘s The Family Fang was chosen a “Best Book” by Amazon when it came out, and the following is a brief plot description from their review: “For outré performance artists, Caleb and Camille Fang, everything in life is secondary to art, including their children. Annie and Buster (popularly known as Child A. and Child B.) are the unwilling stars of their parents’ chaotically subversive work. Art is truly a family affair for the Fangs. Years later, their lives in disarray, Annie and Buster reluctantly return home in search of sanctuary—only to be caught up in one last performance.”

Maureen Corrigan, NPR, adds to this:

The Fang parents aren’t faring so well, either. Historically, most of their performance pieces took place in shopping malls, where a ready audience of shocked onlookers could always be found. But these days, so many folks wall themselves off with earbuds and iPhones that the Fangs’ recent spectacles have fallen flat. As Caleb Fang laments, ‘People have become so stupid that you can’t control them.’ Camille agrees. ‘They are so resistant to any strangeness that they tune out the whole world. God, it’s so damn depressing.’

In The Family Fang film version the parents are played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett. And then there are the adult kids: “Baxter (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Nicole Kidman) have spent their lives in survival mode. She’s an actress and recovering alcoholic reduced to topless scenes in B flicks; he’s a failed novelist with writer’s block,” notes Rex Reed, New York Observer

Andrew Lapin, NPRrelates important developments:

A Fang reunion in their sprawling upstate New York home is quickly followed by the sudden disappearance of the parents, and the discovery of evidence pointing to a serial killer’s handiwork. Annie is too smart to fall for that trick, and starts piecing together any shred of evidence that they faked the whole thing. We’re too smart to fall for it too, and yet the mystery of the Fang parents becomes oddly engrossing, or at least more so than the soul-searching it prompts in the children. Kidman’s character succumbs to an implausible belief that she can somehow change her parents’ essential natures until they’re all a normal family, instead of a gallery piece.

The trailer helps illustrate Baxter’s and Annie’s experiences as children:

Whereas Kyle Smith, New York Post, pans The Family Fang as one “long therapy session”—as though that’s a bad thing!—plenty of others are happy with the translation from book to screen. Rex Reed, New York Observer, for example: “There’s nothing predictable about any of the angles, and [David Lindsay-] Abaire’s script reveals a surprise around every corner. The message is that if you’re in control, the chaos in life will happen around you, not to you. The performances are kinetic and fascinating.”

Mar 30

“Krisha”: A Family-Affair Addiction Story

If Krisha’s about more than just putting its audience through one woman’s crucible of atonement, it may be about the limits of forgiveness. How many second chances does a loved one get, especially when they refuse to either change or explain their behavior? Because we share her perspective, it’s easy to feel sympathy for Krisha, fighting for the affection and respect of a family she bailed on. But that doesn’t mean we have to ultimately cave to her emotional appeals. That might be the movie’s most powerful achievement: It literally puts us on its protagonist’s side, then dares us not to abandon it for the other one. A.A. Dowd, AV Club

Indie film Krisha is a family affair in more than one way. First, of course, there’s the (somewhat fictional) family whose story it tells. Key words from various review headlines signal what lies in wait: black sheep, recovering alcoholic, dysfunctional clan, grueling reunion, emotional horror show of a family, not your ordinary family-holiday psychodrama.

Second, many of the cast are in fact family. Title character Krisha, in her 60’s, is played by the now highly lauded non-actor Krisha Fairchild, the aunt of the film’s writer/director Trey Edward ShultsAlso featured in key roles are Trey’s mother (Robyn Fairchild) as his aunt, Trey as himself, and his grandmother (Billie Fairchild).

A couple other interesting facts: Krisha’s character is based on actual kin (though presumably not anyone who’s in the film), and both Trey’s mom and dad happen to be therapists in real life. But as Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, reassures, “…(T)his is more than a writer-director’s therapy session in the guise of a narrative.”

The setting is Robyn’s home in Austin, TX, at Thanksgiving. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter: “Within the bustling home…relationships gradually come into focus. Key among them for Krisha is her strained connection with her son. Well played by the director, Trey is adamantly closed off to her, especially when she tries to bridge the gap.”

Tricia Olszewski, The Wrap:

…(H)er extended family is huge, including a few 20-something guys, two brothers-in-law, an infant, and her Alzheimer’s-afflicted [for real] mom…

Despite telling herself to ‘chill,’ Krisha, a clearly deeply wounded woman who claims to be a former alcoholic, becomes increasingly anxious and returns to her guest bathroom frequently to pop pills and eventually chug some wine. ‘She’s a little jumpy,’ someone explains. ‘She lives by herself.’

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “You know, watching, that Krisha — nerve-racked, heavily medicated, aware she’s on eggshells — will eventually be at the center of a disaster…And you know that when it all goes down it’s going to hurt.”

On Krisha Succeeding As a Family Drama and Not Being a “Therapy Session”

Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter: “…Shults never indulges in therapy-speak; whether angry, sorrowful, deceitful or confessional, each word is alive, not designed to deliver a message.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “Remarkably…the film sustains its intense commitment to emotional and psychological realism even as everything goes to hell.”

A.A. Dowd, AV Club: “Such aversion to easy psychoanalysis is one way that the film avoids becoming a generic recovery drama, even after an element of addiction is introduced. Intangible cast chemistry is another.”

The trailer’s below:

Jun 29

“Blackout” Drinker: Sarah Hepola’s Memoir About Recovery

As I inched into my 30s, I found myself in that precarious place where I knew I drank too much, but I believed I could manage it somehow. I was seeing a therapist, and when I talked to her about my blackouts, she gasped. I bristled at her concern.
“Everyone has blackouts,” I told her.
She locked eyes with me. “No, they don’t.” Sarah Hepola, Blackout

Why this particular quote from Sarah Hepola‘s recently published Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget? Because as a therapist I recognize it as a fairly common scenario—the denial that precedes an altogether different discovery about one’s drinking and its effects.

As Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, comments about the perceived normalcy of certain patterns of drinking, then adds, “But what’s cute in college and socially acceptable in your twenties turns ugly in your thirties. There are those who drink the book club wine, then go happily home to bed. And there are those, like Hepola, who follow it up with a six pack or two of beer…”

Hepola, now 40 and a Salon editor, has a lot to say about her history of blackout drinking. The quote at the top and the next couple are from a book excerpt in The Guardian.

What is a blackout? Contrary to popular belief, an alcohol-related blackout is not the same as passing out. Rather, it’s when you forget what’s happened to you: “the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings come with trapdoors.”

Behind the scenes of a blackout: 

The blood reaches a certain alcohol saturation point and shuts down the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for making long-term memories. You drink enough, and that’s it. Shutdown. No more memories.

Your short-term memory still works, but short-term memory lasts less than two minutes, which explains why wasted people can follow a conversation from point to point, but they will repeat themselves after some time has passed – what a friend of mine calls ‘getting caught in the drunkard’s loop’. The tendency to repeat what you just said is a classic sign of a blackout, although there are others. ‘Your eyes go dead, like a zombie,’ a boyfriend once told me. ‘It’s like you’re not there at all.’ People in a blackout often get a vacant, glazed-over look, as though their brain is unplugged. And, well, it kind of is.

Blackouts, by the way, come in different sizes, as it were. There are, for instance, “brownouts”—a fragmentary type; there are en bloc ones, a full-scale loss of memory for a significant period.

Felsenthal summarizes some details regarding Hepola’s drinking episodes: “She might tumble down staircases, expose herself publically, hijack a dinner party with emotional histrionics—but she wouldn’t find out until annoyed friends reported back to her in the morning. Why did she once wake up in a dog’s bed at someone else’s house? Why did she regularly wake up in the beds of strangers?”

On Hepola Quitting Drinking