Does Recovery Kill Great Writing?

As I emerged from alcoholism, I had to face down a terrifying question.

Comments: 180

  1. I was one a grad student at the U of Iowa. I found it odd that with all the great musicians in history who had syphilis and tuberculosis that none of the music grad students wanted those diseases. The Writer's Workshop folks all wanted to destroy their livers to be like their heroes, but not the hemorrhoids like Chekiv and Hemmingway. Impairment doesn't make art!

  2. A sober writer is so more interesting than a drunk one...kudos!

  3. She doesn’t touch on what bores drunks are.

  4. But that point shines right through in these prose.

  5. Aren’t there any successful writers who never drank or didnt have a drinking problem?

  6. Off the top of my head: Dave Barry, The guy who does Dunesbury, Arthur C Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Shakespeare.....etc

  7. Bottom Line: Addiction, any kind, booze or pills wants you Dead. Period. End of Story. Can't write anything when you are dead. Stay sober.

  8. Well, this brilliant piece certainly proves the answer to its title is “No!”

  9. She can still write :).

  10. Rambling, too many adjectives. Glad she’s sober, though. Probably the hardest thing a person can do.

  11. What a timely and important piece, nothing flatlined here, just juicy depths, and a well documented case for keeping the cork in it, and finding creativity without booze.
    And a wee poem..
    Alcoholics Lament

    Red cheeked posies
    pocket full of
    poor, poor me's
    Can I fix it
    If it pick it
    let it bleed
    let it bleed

  12. If recovery killed great writing, maybe it wasn’t so great after all. There is still so much hooey about the Hemingway/Hammett/Mailer machismo school of “truth through alcoholic self-destruction! The true self is the artist, not the medicated, numb and pretentious one. Is it your image of yourself that is great or do you think great writing is more important than saving your life? I’d rather be a sober typist than a Jackson Pollock wrapped around a tree after a wild drunken drive sent him to his maker in his youth.

  13. WOW. Just wow. And thank you for this.

  14. Illuminating and important. Thank you.

  15. Elmore Leonard is proof that sobriety can increase output and quality.

  16. Dom't worry -- this is not great writing.. and it is boring.. That said. Alcohol is often used to treat mental disease e.g. bi-polar disorder. My friend the bipolar, formerl acoholic potter/ceramacist/clay artist did her bery best work when she was on her meds for bipolar disorder... and no longer drinking. when she was in a manic state she did nothing at all.
    We all justify everything. We do not think in the broad picture. I'ts hard. There is lots of tension..
    What was the author treating with the alcohol?? loneliness, boredom, speeding thru the long unplanned evening hours?? I find that time impairs me -- thru the course Of the day different things happen with mood and everything else (eating habits, discipline, thought) and with the time of years and decades.. We change as we grow old.
    I like a bit of alcohol, in the evening.. It helps relax me.. I never really liked being drunk... or high. But then people have accused meof being naturally high and a Pollyana despite whatever sad things happened in my life and which invaded my dreasm... Alcohol=b;ockimg out??

  17. Are you drunk now?

  18. There was an interesting book published in the 1980s that chronicled the declining talent of the "holy trinity of modernist drunks" -- actually the quartet, because Eugene O'Neill was included with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner -- as alcoholism took its toll on their minds and bodies. There's no question that the quality of their work declined as they grew older and their addiction deepened.

    Booze and other drugs may help a young writer express him or herself. But there's a law of diminishing returns. You get older, you get more boozed up, your mind weakens and your talent, such as it was, goes away. The other overlooked point in this essay: are you a good writer because you took the right courses and attended the right workshops, or do you actually have talent? You may have attended the Iowa Writer's Workshop, but that doesn't mean your prose will live for the ages. Maybe you're just a troubled drunk who likes to write.

  19. The book is "The Thirsty Muse" by Tom Dardis. Very well written.

  20. Cold but very possibly true. Does she get extra credit for mentioning "Infinite Jest"? There is a slight stench of Iowa Writer's Workshop elitism in her story. Maybe it could be a drinking game. One shot for every time she references Iowa.

  21. Fantastic!

  22. Such an insightful article. It hit home hard. Thank you.

  23. Can an author of alcohol-soaked imagination write brilliantly in self-disciplined sobriety, having banished the practice of drinking from his/her life?
    Cf. F. Scott Fitzgerald

  24. As a recovering alcoholic (28 years sober) this was an excruciating read. When I got sober at 26 yes my identity was tied to drinking but thankfully not as profoundly as this author. My god. Where do you go when the drinking is gone and you have *nothing* else? Terrifying. Very brave to write about it. Good luck and hugs.

  25. First of all, if you wrote this sober then you need not worry about your creativity. This is a compelling piece. The other thought I had is that asking if sobriety will allow you to write as good of stuff as you did drunk is the wrong question. instead, I suggest you ask, "Who cares?" It doesn't matter a bit what other people think. it matters only what you think and feel...about yourself. Sobriety for me is peace. "Smile, breathe and go slowly." - Thich Nhat Hahn.

  26. Thank you. Something that I think that I forgot, stumbling around Iowa City chasing the mantle of "great drunken writer" and worshiping the truly great drunks, is that the tortured, ecstatic writer is just as much a tired trope as anything else, even though I thought that being tortured and drunk and ecstatic somehow made me special.

    Also, I wonder if Wallace had any idea that his novel would become as addictive as any of the substances that appear in it?

  27. Gorgeous essay. Kudos.

  28. The cheeseburgers at George’s are not anemic. They are delicious.

  29. Mmmm,
    “Maintain Anonymity at the level of press, radio and film”
    Seems a shame that value is not pressed enough.
    It has its merits, not only for you, the writer, but for those who follow.
    I am sure on many levels, that seems unnecessary but that is exactly the reason why.

  30. Lovely article. The novel of booze-infused chaos is better appreciated by the timid & young; once one has led a life, liquor lit is unmasked as cliched & tedious, and the reader longs for the deeper, subtle truths of stories of the single-entendre.

  31. Love the pseudonym.

  32. The idea that an altered state is required for creativity is akin to believing you play tennis better after smoking cigarettes. An altered state makes you think you write better, nothing more. The fact that some supremely talented writers still produced important works while drinking is a testament to the depth of their talents. Many more artists have been diminished and reduced and found themselves unable to produce after ravaging themselves and their bodies.
    I have yet to find a piece of writing about a drunken stupor that is worth the time to read it. I am, however very interested in stories about the wrecked lives of those poor souls encumbered by having dealt with a loved one or partner whose addictions threaten to take them both down the tubes.
    In order to truly craft a drama, the protagonist has to evolve within the story. In stories that celebrate addiction, the protagonist has often made the choice and is stuck in it. And there-in lies the truth nugget so aptly described by the older sage in the front row. When your audience tells you "This is Boring", best to hop out of your addiction groupie swoon and realize he has a point, but addicts are hopelessly self involved. And that is never a good place to be when your entire job as a writer requires empathy.

  33. If only America could become as honest with itself as this author has. We shout of freedom and liberty and always have. But it is a shallow howl. It doth protest too much.

    This is what true freedom and liberty looks like. It is personal and specific and yet unifying with a greater Whole.

    The illusions that only the tortured have access to truth and that sustaining the torture produces lasting truth are beautifully exposed here as well.

    Well done.

  34. Thank you for this brilliant soul-baring essay . . . demonstrating that sobriety cannot extinguish creativity. A lot of what the drunken holy trinity wrote and were revered for plays today as boring, self-indulgent blather. As students, anything they wrote seemed profound—or at least worthy of careful study—because we were told unequivocally that this was so. In hindsight, and with an awareness of addiction’s toll, it’s possible to sense the fog of delusion and desperation that shrouds their creativity and diminishes their relevance.

  35. Thank you for this article, it's brilliant and a light.

  36. Tinker, tailor, sailor, housewife, executive, the next door neighbor.... through the lens of literacy the truth is revealed in the following statement.
    Powerful writing - continued success in all endeavors.

    "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."

  37. Thank you so much for this article. I just celebrated my 31st year of sobriety through the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I spent many drinking years living off the myth of the tortured, drunk artist, having received an undergrad degree in painting from a school out west. We all justified out drinking through the tough and outlandish life of the creative drunk; even my professors lived the lie ---- the age of Rothko, Pollock and DeKooning still fresh in everyone's mind. After sobering up at the ripe old age of 26, I returned to grad school and earned my MFA at a school in Brooklyn NY, and it is where my creativity and life as an artist really began. I dropped the drunken posturing, and for the first time was able to develop a language through paint which is still with me today. AA saved my life, it gave me a life and it taught me how to enjoy that life. Please continue on your sober path; do not be seduced by the lies. Alcoholism is a deadly disease, always has been, always will be. Sobriety, clarity and hope is what gives life meaning. Thank you again.

  38. Just keep enjoying Life 101, ODAAT!

  39. congratulations and keep going! You are so right!

  40. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. Thank you from the bottom of my recovering heart.

  41. Excellent piece..well researched full of true insight that I’m sure didn’t come’s really refreshing to see a writer who has emerged out of the looking glass and is able to articulate a territory few arrive at much less hit the nail on the head..thank you

  42. Beautiful piece. Brought me back. Thank you.

  43. First off, Leslie, congratulations on your sobriety. That's a huge accomplishment; in my opinion, a greater one than any of your writing.

    I spent the first fifteen years of my life watching my mother die of alcoholism. Perhaps that's why my college friends--and all of my friends since--know me as a teetotaler. I've never been attracted to alcoholic writers, which, I'll admit, has limited my reading list considerably. But I've also not been interested in authors who spend their creative years chronicling their tormented lives (which strikes yet more books from my list).

    I was taken aback by your closing statement: "The lie wasn’t that addiction could yield truth. The lie was that addiction had a monopoly on it." In my observation, addiction and truth do not belong in the same sentence, aside from the contrast between the two. Addiction leads to beliefs, often powerfully strong, but almost always wrong. That's the essence of addiction: lives warped and strangled and, often, snuffed out, all for the chase of beliefs and delusions that feel absolutely compelling, but bear no basis in reality and are horribly destructive to the afflicted and those around him or her.

    I enjoy writers whose output occurs in the world as it is, not as seen through the haze of drunkenness. The world is endlessly interesting, inspiring, beautiful and tragic. I want a writer to take me to those places with a clear eye and an insightful mind. I'm sure you'll do that as a sober person.

  44. And cheers and blessings to you, Hammond, and to your mom and family.

  45. Beautiful writing! I applaud your interpretation of intoxication and sobriety. Mental clarity and all of its challenges versus the escapism of getting high and the perceived creativity that comes along with it. God bless you and keep up the extraordinary great work!

  46. Brilliant! Spot on. How many times I've grieved for the zen-like peace that only appeared after a couple of shots. Years and years and years of drudgery offered in the name of recovery and well-being. I never thought that dull repetition of steps and promises and the platitudes and the creepy mantra of "Keep comin' back" could be anything more than itself.

    And now you demonstrate that the life we live after our last drink can be the exciting one; or at least that's what you want. I love that you've pursued "sobriety as jet fuel." I'm sure it's there. I didn't give these many sober years for a dull, empty knapsack of "once was."

  47. This piece is brilliant. Of course booze and drugs just mask the terrible anxieties and conditions that lead us to drink in the first place. Recovery over time reveals the real person underneath one onion layer at a time. Most of us are afraid that we will be empty at bottom, but we never get there, and over time we begin to discover reasons to not drink, to stay sober, to even desire sobriety. Leslie Jamieson perfectly articulates the whole journey for me.

  48. What you have written touches all of us who had believed torment is "a prerequisite to beauty." Thank you.

  49. Well...this is a very long story. As both a writer and someone in recovery, I felt this article would speak to me. On the whole, it suffers from what many stories in the rooms suffer from: the speaker being in love with their own story. Recovery is about getting away from "self" and becoming part of something greater. It is about having a spiritual awakening. Once this happens, all things are possible; including yes, writing. Recovery is not about meetings. It is about using the steps to build a new foundation for your life. Many circuit speakers spend the first 45 minutes of their hour share talking about "what is was like" or how they drank. THIS IS BORING. It is not the most interesting part of their story - recovery is. The writer eventually gets there, but this would be a more powerful testament if she could weave what it means to LIVE in recovery earlier in this piece.

  50. This appears in a great newspaper that depends on writing that is accurate, timely, and disciplined. The memes "wrap it up" and "get to the point" come to the "non-academic" mind. Also what Steve Jobs often said: "product must ship" and be "insanely great."

    IMHO, hardest task for the writer .. is to just write. Not drink (much) .. produce copy. Not perfect copy, but some copy that can be edited later. Write.

    And IMHO, academia is an easy place to hide, drink, and be "the great novelist" -- how many films have had the teacher-cum-novelist? In the world of "Mad Men" and Times Square, "publish or perish" is not a meme, it is freakin' reality.

    Finally -- the costs of alcoholism and heavy drinking are equal to 50% of a PPACA. Think about that. And why the U.K. National Health Service, teetering on bankruptcy, flatly told holiday hooligans that "NHS does not stand for 'National Hangover Service.'"

  51. Likely that 'getting away from "self" ' is the message of all -isms, from Buddhism to Catholicism to Communism ... etc (except, of course, Narcissism).
    Recovery required not just from toxic substances but from whatever toxic thought patterns and behaviors we indulge ourselves with.

  52. Thank you for this comment. Leslie also seems to have forgotten the bed-rock notion of anonymity.

  53. Thank you for sharing a part of your journey. The line that recovery is “jet fuel” speaks loudly and clearly to me. This was simply unimaginable years ago when I believed that the occasional turn of phrase that came out of my drunk haze was going to be obliterated forever. I remain stunned that I am sober. I remain equally stunned that alcoholism is so cruel that it robs you of the belief that life can be, if not fun, then at least productive and creative. Thanks so much for your work. I wish you peace and further creativity as you go.

  54. Thank you for sharing your life in this beautifully written piece. I can relate. Your quest to discover people who came before and reading through their archives/notes and the finished products was brilliant. And you found your nugget of gold. I appreciate your search and sharing with us your own life wisdom.

    The fear of 'I will be boring. I will feel boring. I will not feel 'alive'. I will not entertain. I will not know what to do, how to be, I will not have release after tension (which lives in every cell in my body)', etc. is always there. I will not have fun. I will not control my irritation with others, etc etc etc.

    I don't print out articles. This one is an exception. This one I will use for more than one read. Thank you again and good luck in your career and life and writing.

  55. If you can't accept yourself totally you will live in fear. You might stop drinking but you will find other ways to shut yourself down, and your life will continue to be boring. To change try insight therapy or Buddhism.

  56. Thank you for your research debunking the "tortured artist." (It's high time someone exploded that myth.) This exquisitely (and soberly) written article is yet another case in point. Bravo, Leslie!

  57. There are many examples of great writing that debunk the tortured artist myth. This isn't one of them.

  58. This was amazing and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing.

  59. Thanks. I needed to read this this morning. What an amazing sentence - There might be a place for people like us. If we can all find that little piece of hope.

  60. Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist master, drank himself to death, but sometimes he told the truth. He used to talk about living without hope and fear. You have got to accept reality as it is and not try to soften it. If there is no hope there is nothing to fear. Just get totally real and your life becomes wonderful.

  61. He was right. This is really boring and I had to stop about 1/3 of the way into it. Maybe you figured it out before the end but in case you didn't I will tell you. There is nothing as strange and awesome as reality.

  62. Yup. Agree. This is really boring. I cannot fathom reading a whole book of this. Nothing more boring than a drunk who fancies his/her tales of drunkeness are interesting.

  63. Real life is incredible if you are able to swallow it whole. If you are afraid of yourself you live in fear, so you need to dull your consciousness and it feels boring.

  64. Horsed for courses.

    Not everything written or read is relevant for everyone.

    Read a few handful of comments, and you'll see that for those of us in or near recovery, it's relevant....and meaningful.

  65. The bravest, most insightful, most artful gathering of ideas I’ve read in many many months. Bravo. Bravo!

  66. On brother. If you really want to know something about substance abuse and it's affect on writing, read what Stephen King has to say on the subject. King himself has years of experience in writing under the influence and concludes that the best thing to ever happen to his writing was to shake off his addictions. If any great writing ever does occur under the influence, it occurs in spite of the intoxication, not because of it.

  67. Clearly a man could explain it better than a woman could. Clearly.

  68. A great article, reminding me that recovery had to happen for me to accept that life is mostly ordinary in all its glory.

  69. Thank you for sharing your story with such honesty and bravery. I do want to emphasize recovery from addiction Is possible without going the 12-step route and the approach to treatment is evolving from a scientific and medical perspective.

    AA is essentially a peer support group that some people find helpful and even essential to maintaining their sobriety. However it is not an evidence-based medical treatment or a substitute for the ongoing mental health care needed by the large majority of those who suffer from the co-occurrence of severe drug and alcohol addiction.

    AA was created by sufferers in response to a vacuum of treatment options at the time and for decades after, ultimately giving rise to a 12-step based rehab industry. The field of addiction medicine has a long way to go but moving forward the approach to treatment must employ evidence-based approaches that encompass the full scope of mental and physical health needed to recover. This does not mean AA has no place in recovery, only that it is no longer the ‘only’ answer for those suffering from addiction.

  70. The evidence, and I'm part of that, is that AA has helped more people stop drinking than everything else combined. Yeah, I hear talk about other scientific based programs, but it's always and only a vague reference.

    I also understand that addiction to many different substances benefit from use of transitional and 'drug' use for treatment to soften the initial cravings. Ultimately few believe replacing one drug with another solves the problem of addiction to allow the type of life improvement recovery done in AA.

    Ultimately AA has (in my language-understanding) three legs to the stool.
    1. Objective self examination
    2. Getting in touch with a higher power
    3. Help others

    Guess it's not a coincidence that those actions match the 10th, 11th and 12th steps of AA where it's our goal to live.

    NO ONE can be hurt by doing the work espoused by AA.

  71. I found that Smart Recovery was most helpful. Based on rational emotive behavioral therapy and cognitive behavior therapy.

  72. Robert, I would beg to differ on those who relapse. Your saying, as I have heard others say, that if the program is worked "correctly" and "daily" precludes relapse and the obverse that those who relapse were invariably not "working a good program" amounts to victim-blaming. Sure there are people who return to drinking who did not take sobriety seriously or were not cautious about situations in which they placed themselves. But addiction and the hold it has on people is complex.

    The original commenter IS wrong if the implication is that AA may not have some evidence-base.. It does work for some. By the same token, AAs have not been warm to study. Some of this is because of the anonymity of the program and the desire not to identify publicly, and of the expectation that members are rightly not study participants. What's more the definition of "member" is fluid as is the web of cause and effect. Attend some meetings but then stop? Attend for a while, become sober, stop but eventually drink again? Attend some meetings, become sober and stay sober?

    Also Chip, your statement that AA has helped more people than all other approaches combined lacks empirical basis. We just do not know--for all the reasons cited above and many others. Merely because it helped you, Robert, me, others does not translate into hard numbers. We do have good numbers nor comparative data know, which is really OK--as long as we do not claim it is "the only game in town."

  73. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is not just writers who struggle with this transformation and the loss and, if we are lucky, the eventual joy of sobriety. No one talks about the joy of waking up healthy, your energy, the surge of attention and detail and, yes, even creativity! I look forward to your book.

  74. If being sober actually guaranteed energy, good health, and joy, there would not be such a relapse rate. But for most people what happens is: they notice for the first time that sober people have problems too, without a way to blur reality.

  75. Recovery doesn't seem to kill self-absorption.

  76. You told my story. But way better than I could have. Thank you.

  77. Leslie Jamison's piece is staggering - the most genuine, brilliant writing I've seen in The New York Times.

    There were too many lines I wanted to quote in a comment, but the one I picked perhaps has the most public service impact for people suffering from any kind of addiction - the moment when Ms. Jamison realized it was time to stop drinking. It was not at rock bottom, as we hear all too often - it was when:

    "Quitting seemed like the only way I would ever arrive at a life where drinking wasn’t the thing I wanted to do most when I woke up."

    Beyond Pulitzer-worthy, Leslie Jamison recreates what the Pulitzer Prize should be awarded for - absolute genius.

  78. I'm fascinated by the different responses to this piece. I found it dull, lifeless, and repetitive. Nothing really new or noteworthy to share; just another personal story of substance abuse.

  79. Pulitzer?

    "Absolute genius"

    Did we read the same piece of writing?

  80. Every addict will chase any self-serving sophism to justify their own logic. Never forget that novels are purely and simply ideas. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you stylistic affectation. And it's a catastrophic mistake to believe that sobriety will destroy creativity; though certainly a change of conciousness can be the necessary break our brains need. If you run out of ideas you haven't read enough of the right books and have certainly misplaced your affections. Allowing ourselves to be weak is among the greatest crimes against humanity.

  81. I would say no. Though some people struggle to find a sober voice in recovery. I would point to songwriters and musicians that have had very productive careers in sobriety. Steve Earle, Jason Isbel, to name two modern singer songwriters have done their best work in recovery. As a "small time writer" who is currently dealing with substance abuse, and still shaking off my own "lost weekend" this essay hit home, and I really appreciate it.

  82. I wish you the best and no more lost weekends. And if you lose one or two or more still, keep trying. Not having lost evenings, or days or longer is so-so worth it.

  83. The alcoholic writer is part of the romantic mythology of genius; we don't hear about sober writers but they surely outnumber the alcoholics. Alcohol is a deeply cruel penalty one pays for buying into what appears to be liberation of powers. For those of us who can't handle it, it is a coruscating sentence to erosion of dignity and honor in favor of degradation and servitude.

  84. Thank you. I am in recovery for over 47 years and have attended and continue to attend a 12-step meeting and have 17,408 of abstinence. Next month I will have 36 years without a drink but have not attended AA or needed any help in stopping my drinking. In my estimation, I stepped up to the line but did not cross it in April 1982. If I have one drink today, my compulsive/impulsive wiring will only have me want MORE. it would be "AA, here I come"..

    My difficulties with refined sugar and flour are a continuing battle but lately I'm on the positive side of the food addiction. Attend a 12-step program for that emotional disease too.

    Your piece is so deeply and well written and exposing and will help many who struggle with addiction. That is most wonderful and so giving of yourself. Kudos.

    Facing Life 101 daily is a great challenge and equalizer. Placing questions that takes deep and long thought could be a self-imposed roadblock.

    Why even ask the question?

    For me, what works for me on a daily basis is of most importance, I don't need the intellectual approach to confirm or answer my query.

    Just doing the right thing daily allows me to go on and be a wonderful person.

  85. The “part of himself capable of something besides self-concern: “His own hope was to forget about himself and think about the others.” “ THIS is the beginning, not the end.
    The author’s belief is well taken: experiencing life, observing life, moment to moment is the point of it all. Practicing a 12-Step program of Recovery from alcoholism helps us also to avoid being solitary prisoners of our judgmental nature. It permits us to enjoy the calmness and freedom that a conscious life offers.

  86. Leslie,

    Come back to our town...

    You'll be pleased to know that your obscenity-shouting heckler has departed to parts unknown...

    Not seen in years...

    But perhaps you'll be less surprised to see that others have taken his place.

  87. I wish you continued success in writing and sobriety!

    "Infinite Jest" is full of unforgettable passages and wildly creative fantasies, but it's also a mess of a book. Mary Karr's memoir "Lit" offers a more honest and searing account of alcoholism/addiction (and of Wallace's life.)

  88. We hear a lot these days about issues surrounding opioid drugs and the so-called opioid crisis, but my guess is that alcohol affects a lot more people.

  89. If it were discovered today it would probably be made illegal. I use the stuff, but have no illusions about how toxic it is to the human body.

  90. Yes, but it makes other addictions worse and vice versa.

  91. In the late 1990's multiple drug companies enthusiastically pushed opiates as being drugs that could alleviate pain and do so without causing addiction. They said that if people were in physical pain, their bodies could not get addicted to a substance that previously throughout all of history had been highly addictive.

    Chronic Pain is one of the leading reasons for why people don't go to work, but not only that, it's obviously a miserable way to live.

    Doctors wanted a way to treat their chronic pain patients.

    Along came OxyContin and the rest is history.

    To date, this year - 64,000 people have died because of the opiate crisis.
    People who are addicted are often regular people just like you. They are employees at banks, they are college students and teenagers, they are parents, they are doctors.

    In pretty much every town, there is a way to score opiates, just like there is a way to buy alcohol.

    The opiate crisis is different in that these drugs were marketed as being "safe" while the drug companies fully knew they were anything but. There has been little punishment for all the lost lives and suffering.

    Alcohol, on the other hand, at least at this point in our modern times - everyone knows the dangers. No one has ever prescribed alcohol - no insurance company covers a bottle of vodka.

  92. While many attribute their sobriety to AA, I do feel that a word of caution is in order. Many people do not realize that violent felons are court ordered to attend AA (and have no obligation to identify themselves). Some AA attendees have suffered physical, emotional, and financial abuse at the hands of people they met at AA.

    Anecdotally, the handful of people that I know personally who are highly active in AA display many traits associated with Cluster B personality disorders. Gossip, codependence, emotional abuse, romantic predation have the potential to run rampant in AA because many in the fellowship simply cannot see those behaviors for what they are.

    This article points to things I've observed in addicts - narcissism and self-obsession. Alcohol becomes the central drama in the addict's life - first as an active alcoholic, then as a person "in recovery" (a process that AA says never ends). The person never actually matures into a life that isn't centered on consuming or abstaining from alcohol. Their identity (and often their social life) revolves around recovery in the same way that it once revolved around alcohol. While sobriety is of course a noble goal, I believe it should lead a person to a more whole, fully realized existence than the tropes of recovery offer.

  93. A recovering alcoholic would respond that sobriety is worth these risks. Sobriety is not a "noble goal"; these people are literally trying to not _die_.

  94. Anna, I wish some in AA were more honest about this. AA is not a paradise; members in the fellowship are not saints. Sponsors are not priests nor psychologists. Beware those that act that way AND do not demand that of a sponsor. Some do warn others--especially younger women--about "13th steppers" who prey on newly sober women.

    But it shocks some AAers that they can be compelled to testify about things heard at AA. It is amazing what SOME members reveal about their own unpunished behavior. Especially in early sobriety, some are more vulnerable and take too literally the admonition to listen, follow directions (should be about what works in sobriety not about every aspect of one's life), and always to say yes to helping other members.

    I believe that recovery is multi-faceted and only one aspect, albeit integral, to my self-identity and self-perception. I am more than sober, I am, but not solely: a parent, spouse, employee, family member. More than that I am" me," with all that entails. I have learned a lot about myself in sobriety but AA is not my only teacher. Therapy helped; loving relationships helped; studying, reading, self-reflection helped; education and another degree helped. Yet sobriety and these others are interwoven. My sobriety improved some--such as relationships, and was essential to others-such as another round of grad school. All these avenues enhanced my sobriety and prevented pathological over-reliance on the fellowship as a sole source of identity.

  95. Dry up. pun intended.
    AA has worked for me for 34 years and I still go to carry the message.

  96. The tormented artist is a legend the derives from both romanticism and high modernity. There is a condemnation of a more bourgeois kind of art as superficial and ultimately false. But I wonder. Are the middle class sensibilities simply going after other emotions - ones less suited for stories of personal anguish. I'm thinking of ones like honor and nostalgia. The kind of stuff V. Wolff so vigorously condemns in Meredith or Galsworthy. For me, these writers are dealing in fundamental emotions and thoughts - just ones not populater with the strum and drang set. Nabokov said the the mind of the philistine is stocked with conventions. Perhaps there is such a thing as the authenticiy philistine, with his own neat and orderly set of conventions.

  97. What? You mean I don't have to smear manure on my face to write about the barnyard?

  98. Alcoholism isn't a choice sometimes writing can be the same. The difference is the first can kill you while the other has the ability to heal.

  99. This is a great piece and I will read it again.
    I wonder if getting sober when you're young-ish helps you avoid some of the brain destruction / decay that long years of abuse might make permanent.
    And make writing well impossible.

  100. shhh....

  101. Was it Hemingway who brought to the masses the legend of the
    writer drunk?

  102. This is a good piece ,
    But the truth is drinking is boring.
    It makes people stupid, or aggressive or maudlin. I lived with an alcoholic whom I still love but I could not live with him.
    He is 80 and still drinking.

  103. As I'm concluding my own take on drinking, a bar monologue which takes place in a bar in Brooklyn I noticed in the writing of Ms. Jamison allows me to see the difference of going to a bar (as I have been doing for years) and just staying with friends in a bar which is the point of my own writing, not that of Ms. Jamison take on being an alcoholic- yes the distance of both is quite short. it. Sure, alcohol is a catalyst for good thinking as Bukowski would have agreed but great writing (not mine) always sparks regardless of recovery or not "great writing"

    The bar where I congregate in Brooklyn allows us to talk, talk about? Well, we try to find the answers to endless themes including, for instance, caves as our first habitat, poverty around the world, food, dinosaurs, potatoes, Kerouac, Hemingway, Goya, guinea pigs as food, Peruvian ceviche, lemons, peppers, bourbon, tequila, fútbol, football, movies, death, Andean chicha beer (and how in parts of the Peruvian jungle, human saliva still activates that chicha fermentation process.) porticos in art, human relationships, drunken cherries in vodka, and bullfights....”

    Why we went to the bar? It was for other reasons, yes, to reassure ourselves of our own existence and mortality. The bar in that context was a kind of library that answered our personal endless questions...

    I appreciate the writing of Ms. Jamison. I am sure we will talk about it tonight at the bar here in Brooklyn.

  104. There is a story by Harlan Ellison "I have no mouth and I must scream". The story I barely recall but that title says it all for me. People described my drinking as you describe yourself Ms Jamison. But that was not me. There was no joy in the intoxication or enjoyment of the substance though I dutifully played acted as it there were as I knew I was supposed to. There was only the promise that if I drank enough when I woke up the deep dark indescribable unnameable pain would be less.
    How I eventually came to overcome that pain is another aspect of recovery that few speak about. The fraudulent recovery programs run by people who use their professional training and access to personal info to manipulate and abuse the clients in aid of keeping the money flowing and exerting false power over them.

    The happiness of repetition and uneventful living is lost on anyone still trying to kill the pain or find whatever joy they think they are getting from mind altering substances.

  105. For the record I am not referring to the Betty Ford clinic style programs, though I suspect they have a similar rate of corruption. I am referring to the programs that are in every county of this nation that the local courts send people to for DWI and other alcohol and drug related offenses.

  106. Oh, how I love that phrase: "the happiness of repetition and uneventful living." Could anyone not an alcoholic ever understand the intense joy I get from doing the dishes sober? Or grocery shopping without that terrible battle to avoid the booze aisle? The satisfaction of creating a stable, pleasant home for my children has filled my later years. Could this, too, be a form of art? I never could write drunk, so every story I finish is a gift, too.

    I don't mind the drunkalogues. They are comforting in their way. In receiving these stories, we bear witness to the unique sufferings of unique people, an act that can be transformative for both speaker and listener, writer and reader.

  107. Beautifully written, however, since the main focus of this essay is still alcoholism, it doesn't seem Leslie Jamison has moved on to another topic just yet. I understand the romanticizing of substances, I used to do that as well, but at a certain point, the 'adventure' becomes boring. When there is no real connection (even to yourself) there is no real story. In my personal opinion, the best writers are those that can make something completely ordinary and mundane into art. Anyone can write about crisis. It takes a genius to write the next Mrs. Bridge.

  108. Wow, intense and I was hooked straight into the story as a Writer myself, though addicted to daily caffeine. I find it absolutely perplexing that people can write on alcohol, when I cant even find the keyboard if it keeps shifting position all the time. I find caffeine gives me a psycho-active high which I prize above all. But, don’t get me wrong, I love alcohol, but its just for going out when I have to deal with the Bourgouise who bore me to death. If I want to hook up with a woman, alcohol is my best friend letting me talk in infantile speech to match hers. Without alcohol, my loathing for other humans is far greater than my own self-loathing. It is indeed a paradox, but for me to write and keep the plot flowing, all I need are dangerous levels of caffeine which push my blood pressure till I can feel my heart thumping, and not my character’s. Blast, but I do enjoy this lurid peek into the drunken author’s fertile mind. But certainly not my modus operandi.

  109. I think you meant bourgeoisie, Psyword. And if you need alcohol to deal with them--whom you find boring, humans--whom you loathe and women--whose speech seems infantile, I would re-look at my relationship with alcohol.

    Try meeting women without the alcohol lubricant, on caffeine if you must. You might find them less "infantile." In fact, try meeting women outside of a scene with alcohol involved at all. It might be more interesting for you and them and you might find your warped opinion of women being challenged.

    As for loathing others, not sure what to say here. Nor what to say about your self-loathing. Neither alcohol nor caffeine will solve these. Self-reflection and maybe some other help might help, though. Hating oneself or hating others is not a good nor healthful approach to life.

  110. The fact that you declare you are a “Writer” with a capital “W” tells me you are NOT a writer. Maybe you should try banking.

  111. Spotted the Incel

  112. Thank you. I've printed your article and will share it. My AA women's group includes intelligent, passionate, funny, insightful people who perceive every little bump in life's road. It's no wonder that we were drunks--we couldn't bear having so many thoughts and feelings, so much anger and depression, so much rage, rebellion, and love/hate. The wonder of sobriety is that our group can support our daily survival as we face life with eyes wide open, seeing it all and reacting to it all, with no anesthetic.

  113. This is a great essay. I haven’t read much on this topic but I know about it firsthand. I got sober 15 years ago, at age 27... initially it was a struggle to let go of that tortured artist image.. but, really — how well was it serving me? I was drunk, simultaneously cocky and full of fear, unable to take action toward my goals, and isolated. Recovery has been a complete adventure— raw, challenging, wild, expansive. It’s not all roses; it’s not a life I would have chosen, but in the end it’s what I needed to stay alive. So if I’m a lesser artist for it, *oh well.* I’ll take life anyday. But in reality, getting sober supported my creative and professional development. It demanded I learned to ask for help...that I learn to pay attention..that I learn to respect and advocate for myself. It healed so many parts of my wounded psyche and spirit. I’ve been way more productive and successful in recovery than I ever dreamed of while drinking, and yet that success has been in another artistic field than I imagined. This is sort of the magic of surrendering your idea of how you think things should go and getting in touch with what is actually emerging for you (Step 3). It’s a good place for an artist to be. The image of the tortured drunk artist is old hat. It’s like the hippies or the beats or some leftover from the Nirvana days of 90s grunge — it belongs to a bygone era and was cool at the time but when I see it today I kind of cringe a little inside. Our culture has evolved.

  114. Exactly!!!!!

  115. Right now -- at this very minute - someone is sitting at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and telling their story - which goes something like --

    "...I had dream of being a successful writer - and romanticized the ideal of Jack Kerouac - and wanted to be just like him -- so I bought an old car - packed up a few essentials - my notebooks - grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels (or Stoli, or Wild Turkey) - and headed out across the country to write the next great American Novel --

    Four years later -- after lots of driving - nights spent in small-town dingy bars too numerous to remember - getting in fights - getting arrested -- getting rolled - coming out of blackouts having no idea where I was, whom I was with, or how I got there - one-night stands with strangers - and many, many bottles of Jack Daniels -- I realized that all I had was an empty notebook - and the realization that I was - and am - an alcoholic..."

    The best observation I can make about Ms. Jamison - (who's last name bears an ironic similarity to the name of a popular brand of whiskey) - is how fortunate she was to walk into her first meeting at the tender age of 26 -- because for many others, it can take almost twice as long -- if they ever make it at all...

  116. Sorry. All of that drunk writing is self-indulgent navel-gazing, and it tends to be praised most by intellectuals and critics similarly afflicted, and it does not produce works of great enduring meaning.

    Rage, now--that's a great writer's fuel, and when well-channeled into words and not self-destruction or the destruction of others, it can produce breathtaking stuff.

    Now, it's true that there's a huge market out there for the self-flagellating "memoir" of a life hardly lived yet. So really, I may not be giving the best financial advice here--only that of fine craft.

  117. Very good. People who want to be addicted are afraid of something in themselves. More than likely it is rage. Rage is wonderful if it is constructive. It needs to be impersonal. Be angry on behalf of others.

  118. Great writers need not be fueled by rage, any more than they need not be fueled by alcohol.

  119. A rock and roll talent I knew who died at 46 from a tumor, also had fear that his love of music would 'change' when he stopped smoking pot. It did change he told me...he could actually hear his own music for the first time! Addiction is the normalization of aberration. Addicts thus live oxymoronically, a horrible state of life. I am still sad my friend died; I am happy he died sober, and remember that his band's best gigs were done clear-eyed, and funky!

  120. Don't miss "Lit" by Mary Karr.

  121. Took the words right out of my mouth. Mary Carr's "Lit" is the hands down best description of a new person navigating the first three steps of AA. Her poetic prose is delectable, her bald faced honesty is inspiring.

  122. There's a paradox to Leslie's piece, and to AA philosophy as well, that warrants further consideration, and that's the paradox of turning past substance abuse into present identity. The "talk therapy" model of AA meetings centers on craving, past behavior, and triggers--on the inhabitance of states of addiction over most else. And the bait-and-switch of AA can be dangerous. A chemical dependency or desire run amok gets cast as "a spiritual malady," for which the only cure can be an exhaustive inventory of self. How ironic that AA often extends the solipsism inherent to addiction through a process of continual self-exhumation and repentance. This model inarguably works well for some, and saves some lives, but can also prove lethal. There's little room in AA for criticism of AA. David Foster Wallace, though a fine model for recovery literature, makes a poor case for AA long-term, having committed suicide in 2008. The connection of suicide to AA is a strong one, and the 4th step often becomes a way to victim blame--many come to AA with histories of trauma, and the 4th step asks them to consider their roles within such trauma. The Calvinist thread that runs through the core of AA philosophy often locks people in a perpetual struggle of repetition compulsion, and a fixation on the endless internal calibration of desire. Rilke said it best in his Letters to a Young Poet: "One must be so careful with names anyway; it is so often the name of an offense that a life shatters upon."

  123. If you want to quit a habit it's better not to think about it much. A struggle can perpetuate itself. Once I went to a 12 step smoking meeting and heard the most horrifying story from someone whose life had gone totally to pieces because of quitting, but he was proud of himself for staying in remission.

  124. "The connection of suicide to AA is a strong one."

    Really ?!Given your representation, how do you account for the millions of
    AA members who have not committed suicide ?!

  125. Jane's post was by far and away the most cogent and revealing comment. I would note that any good AA group is constantly emphasizing the need for alcoholics to get "out of themselves" by doing other things for people, people in recovery, people still using, etc. There definitely is something to consider, "...self exhumation and repentance.."

  126. What’s keeps me sober through the occasional mild urges to drink is the thought of having to suffer through more AA meetings. After about 1 1/2 years of bad coffee and endless monologues, I developed my own moral (not spiritual) code and means of regular self-examination.

  127. I write. I don't drink. Just socially. Can take it or leave it.

    Before I started writing and had other creative pursuits, I noticed a "type" of wanna be writer. Usually a guy, but not always, who wanted to be a writer and played up to the "drunk" in it. As someone else commented we make up/push our own stories about ourselves and writers literally have free reign and or a sense of "obligation" to make it epic and interesting and, by this point in the trope, filled with alcohol. One of these guys gave me a supposedly work of genius book, "A Fan's Notes" by one Exley. I couldn't finish it. A story about a drunk writer written precisely for drunk writers. Naturally in literary circles it's a classic. Self fulfilling prophecy there.

    I wrote in my journal one night. "Drunk writers are such pussies (The women too). They don't even have the guts to choose something illegal. That you can't buy in a store. That's 'sanctioned' already. At least Burroughs had some real guts."

    My favorite writer is Charles Bukowski. Most drunks like him because he was a drunk. I like him because he was a misunderstood Saint. I could care less when he writes about drinking.

  128. The language of this essay feels like English spoken by an alien race. Extraordinary.

  129. I’m alcohol , drug free and in recovery almost 33 years and I’m totally stunned by how great and interesting my life is most of the time . Things I never thought would interest me I find fascinating ! Even the crummy moments are revealing . I thought getting sober was a punishment , a sentence to be endured . It’s not !

  130. Of course your story is dull and mundane - all of our stories are. It is the telling of our stories that renders them unique. Thank you for sharing yours.

  131. AA ain't the only road to recovery. Try Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT). Actually backed by science and evidence!

    That therapy got my life in order--and helped me be a better writer and person.

    PS: The first half of this piece was an indulgent slog, but I'm glad to author is sober and attacking the enduring myth of the alcoholic artist.

  132. It was in Iowa City at the Workshop that I learned how very deep my own urge was "to get drunk, by myself, with no one watching." Truly I can say there wasn't a line in this piece that didn't resonate for me, that didn't bring back for me the lost hours I have spent drinking In Iowa City, Cambridge, New Haven and many small New England college towns. It so goes with the territory that it is difficult to believe, or even hope, that one can live and work sober among the aspiring artistic class.

    I wonder that Jamison didn't mention John Cheever whose drinking in Iowa City was legendary, but whose late sobriety was chronicled and perhaps even won in his journals and final novels, Falconer, a truly great work, and What a Paradise It Seems, a slighter end cap. The sublime is always a chord in Cheever's work but it is only when it ceases to be gin fueled that it, for me at least, acquires a deeper reality. In Cheever's case, his sobriety allowed him to live more completely his homosexuality, the suppression of which no doubt contributed greatly to his unhappiness and drinking. In his life we can find a different sort of answer as to whether recovery in fact disenables art making. Perhaps we can say that both art and drink attempt to express the same exquisite pain.

  133. I went to my first AA meeting 28 years ago and haven’t had a drink since. I can really relate to what Wallace says about AA in that it’s corny slogans etc. seem superficial but can actually lead to profound transformation. I hated to go to meetings at first, but I knew I NEEDED to get sober. So I put p with it all and went to meetings regularly for a number of years. I am now retired, but had a somewhat successful career as a creative artist. I once heard “talent” described as an increased ability to absorb the world around you. I think there’s at least some truth in that, and that sobriety has increased my ability to nurture any talent I might think that I have.

  134. Well done Ms. Jamison! I myself am one who entered a new way of living via "the rooms" 13 years ago at age 27. If there's one thing I would add, while I still regularly attend meetings, I feel one must not see them as the solution, but part of a recovery program. There are plenty of people who are sober (dry), but have not fully embraced, for whatever reason, the full power of what actively working the steps/program can really do---lead to a very joyful, spontaneous and purposeful life! I also have been inspired by reading about the lives of various artists who have gotten sober and have had immensely productive and creative output after the fact!

  135. Thank you

  136. A brave, honest and stunning piece. As a drinker, and a writer, I read it with great interest. As a survivor diagnosed with an especially deadly form of cancer 16 years ago, I read it from another point of view. I did some writing after my diagnosis. But the periods of not writing got longer and more frequent. I know I’m supposed to hate the not-writer in me, but I can’t. Something has crowded the writer out. Life, I think. Just life.

  137. I didn't write for many, many years after getting a B.A. in creative writing. I've never been an alcoholic or addict but I realized my lack of writing was due to health issues which are still here but now I'm not letting them stop me.

  138. I get that. For some of us, writing aggravated ego while sobriety dissolved it. This is not everyone's condition, but I do think some people should have turned away from a craft that requires much solitude and interiority. As they say in the room: one's mind is a dangerous place-- don't go there alone.

  139. I need a drink . . .

  140. I wish that authors and the press would not violate AAs principle of anonymity to make a buck.

    AA Pamphlet on Anonymity:

    At the public level of press, radio, TV, films and other media technologies such as the Internet, anonymity stresses the equality in the Fellowship of all members by putting the brake on those who might otherwise exploit their A.A. affiliation to achieve recognition, power, or personal gain.

    Anonymity Letter to Media from the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous

    "In addition, and perhaps less understood, our tradition of anonymity acts as a restraint on A.A. members, reminding us that we are a program of principles, not personalities, and that no individual A.A. member may presume to act as a spokesman or leader of our fellowship. If an A.A. member is identified in the media, we ask that you please use first names only (e.g., Bob S. or Alice F.) and that you not use photographs or electronic images in which members’ faces may be recognized. "

  141. Not everyone chooses a life of anonymity. Some choose to speak out about their life. There are MANY paths to recovery, not just one. You can't expect everyone to follow your ideals.

  142. It seems that the author is "dry", but is not sober. She wrote of attending meetings, while she well knows that it is a violation of the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous to "exploit her AA affiliation to achieve recognition, power, or personal gain" , yet she made the choice to do exactly that.

    It seems that she attended the meetings, but did not work the steps. In fact, she wrote that in her 3rd attempt at sobriety, she attended meetings for the first time.
    She said nothing about working the Twelve Steps , or about the BIg Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Her choice to quote from the AA inventory that Berryman completed in a hospital is that much more disturbing. I can't imagine any argument that the author could make, in defense of her publishing the most private writings of an author,
    written in a hospital, including references to bed-wetting and uncontrollable .

    Of course, the New York Times should not have published that which the author should not have submitted.

    This is very disheartening.

  143. This is hugely important, but all the AA members mentioned here were public about their membership. Members have the right to break their own anonymity, but not to out others. Jamison is maintaining AA protocol.

  144. You may mention that John Berryman's poetry is on such a dense syntaxic plane of rarified air, that it is virtually unintelligible. So what else did he write? Recovery, Delusions, etc.?
    Does Foster Wallace fair much better? At least he gave us, "Ten supposedly fun things." these are not your Steinbeck, Hemingway writers?
    I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And I am pretty sure it wasn't drunk, drugged, or stoned scribblings. Getting old is the best program for recovery. Death and decay have the monopoly.

  145. Mayo Clinic's guidelines for moderate alcohol use are:

    Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Examples of one drink include:

    Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
    Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
    Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)

    This is the science behind drinking. Don't kid yourself. Alcohol is harmful stuff.

  146. This essay inspires me to read everything Leslie Jamison has written. Raw, honest, insightful. And hopeful. Based on this, the answer to the query in the headline is 'No, recovery doesn't kill great writing.' The last sentence is a beacon for any artist struggling with addiction, concerned that their creativity is connected to their chaos: "The lie wasn’t that addiction could yield truth. The lie was that addiction had a monopoly on it."

  147. I feel uncomfortable with all of us reading Berryman’s step work. I guess he must have consented to its inclusion in the archives, but it still makes me wonder about making one’s step work public. It’s supposed to be shared with god, ourselves and another human being, not the entire internet. And not for profit - it’s one thing to make $ off one’s own story; it’s quite another to make a profit off someone else’s.

  148. Nabokov said that a writer's unfinished work should never be exhumed.

  149. As someone who has worked in book publishing as an editor and agent for 40 years, I have learned to identify the signs of an alcoholic writer, and they are not pretty. The first draft of a novel arrives chaotic and incoherent, and when you provide notes to remedy these things and send the manuscript back, the second draft comes back even worse. As does the third. Usually manuscripts are extremely late in arriving. I cannot imagine why any writers thought the bottle was their muse; it is their curse. And then there are the translators who never get around to translating because they are busy drinking, and the editors who take months or even a year to respond to a manuscript. All of them are good at disappearing, and dissembling, but not much else.

  150. This was a great article. I loved it. It grabbed me from the first sentence. I did not know all the writers mentioned but it did not matter. I am glad the writer mentioned “Lost Weekend” which I could not put down.

    I used to drink heavily in the late 70’s but then I slowly stopped until I had completely stopped by 1985. I don’t miss it and I don’t feel any cravings. When I drank I became very familiar with depression, fear and loss of self control. Now those feelings are all gone and I don’t miss my drinking days. I now feel completely in control of my life and can direct where I want to put my energies. I like that.

  151. One must realize yes we must get out of ourselves, give of ourselves but realize our limitations are that we are as they say humans. Respect that because that is the limitation. We can not get all A’s so just be as quiet as you can and work at what you can offer which really isn’t much even if they say so.

  152. This was an excellent article. When I was in 7th grade (or 6th or 8th?) I had to write a book report, and I loved books about WWII, so I took this book from the library called The Thin Red Line, except it was the wrong book. It was a book about an alcoholic, and it depicted alcoholism in a very explicit manner - I remember him waking up in vomit, his family giving up on him, and it was traumatic. I got an A on the report, though the teacher commented to my parents that I had read a book that was too “mature” a subject. I have tried to find that book again, to see how I’d react to it decades later, and could never find it. But it has a lasting impact on me - I knew never to find any comfort in an addictive substance. And maybe it was not too soon for me to read such a book, as my teacher thought. Better to learn about such matters in enough time to know the downside of what too many people (and advertising and movies and TV) depict as fun.

  153. Thank you for this long read of the day! Incredibly enlightening and I find myself in your story in many parts. I would precursor this with a trigger warning though due to the first couple of paragraphs. Although I didn't feel an urge to drink after reading it, I remembered so vividly my first drink and the way they drinking made me feel when it was good (because as you know there are many bad days with alcoholism).

    To the point of the post itself, I thought my creativity was going to disappear when I went sober as well. I was worried I would never write again. Instead, I find many points of inspiration in my life in recovery. I commend you for telling your story with us.

    Thank you!

  154. Just what I needed to read at this moment. Thank you. The truth of it is that your actual audience is always much smaller than your readership, but the effect on those few is always more meaningful than the number of clicks or books sold.

  155. i know the power ,the poetry ,the beauty and the grace of the prose of Denis Johnson. It has been my guide as much as The BIg Book or the other thousand recovery / spiritual tomes on the bookshelves of a certain type of recovering addict. Jesus' Son elevates the landscape, the desperation and the sobriety, to the level of art. With the ears to hear it , it casts a spell that lifts the heart and soul out of the banality of the a drunkalogue and into the miracle of all that is life . It rescued me.

  156. What a riveting read. I feel I've learned a great deal by reading through this piece. I've always felt that unflinching honesty is the hallmark of great writing. This only reinforces that belief for me. Thank you.

  157. Excellent commentary on the Apollonian-Dionysian split. As a 10 years in recovery I appreciate it in particular.

    Giving short stories to my writers group, they were most interested in the grisly tales of a bottoming out. An experience I knew well and fictionalized. It was easy to do, being an alcoholic, and the crowd went while. That short story became a novel. I found myself half-way through having to face questions like: "Is this a recovery novel or a novel that has recovery in it?" Important question. I chose the latter. I did a major edit that removed the exposition of recovery and made recovery more of the experience of characters in the story.

    No one likes a prescriptive novel. If people want to get sober, they can read those sober manuals. If they want to read good writing, they'll read something more core to the human experience (or should). Something more core to the human experience could include the experience of recovery, but the transaction doesn't work the other way around.

    Just thoughts here. Prompted by this through-provoking piece. I've had many similar points--both literary and personally--with the author. I hope she reads this. If she does--thank you.

  158. Jamison rightly notes that the lineage of American writerly drunks is "composed almost entirely of males." All the more reason to rejoice in the late glorious Lucia Berlin (see her collected stories "A Manual for Cleaning Women") who composed some of the funniest, saddest, most trenchant stories about alcoholism in the English language.

  159. I regret the time I'll never get back after reading this piece. Nothing original here, just another 'I got clean and sober ... it's still all about me!" boring piece. plus: Echoing Sean "I wish that authors and the press would not violate AAs principle of anonymity"

  160. For herself: She did not violate anonymity; she self-disclosed. Completely ok.

    She should have been more careful, perhaps, in describing members of AA--who could be identified from her words.

  161. I can relate to so much from this article, as someone who glamorized and idolized the Jack Kerouacs nd Allen Ginsbergs and Ken Keseys and William Burroughs and who has written a handful of Addiction Horror novels. Loved it, and yes, I'll be reading the whole book. This following passage rings true after 25 years of sobriety:

    "The manuscript bore out some of my worst fears about sobriety: that it was destined to force you into a state of plotless tedium, a string of empty evenings, a life lit by the sallow fluorescence of church-basement bromides rather than the glow of dive-bar-neon escapades. I was afraid that loving the drunk story best meant some part of me still wanted to keep living it. And of course, some part of me did."

    But then I move on and cling even harder to this passage.

    “All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them,” he says. “I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”

  162. I'm a moderate-but-regular drinker who has always found alcoholic memoirs and stories highly romantic. I think this stems from envy on my part--truly serious drinking represents a wild abandon I've communed with but have never had the stamina to pursue full-time. But as the author points out, figures like Johnson and Wallace illustrate that as long as clear, original observation is going on, even a cruddy basement meeting can be mined for good writing. There should definitely be no stigma attached to being a sober writer, and my love for boozy stories is a penchant (like somebody else's for mysteries or period pieces), not a judgement. One thing though: it strikes me that some of the clarity and liveliness claimed by sober people owes a debt to simply growing older. I still drink, but life grows simultaneously more wry and mystifying with each passing year. Getting closer to the keys to the mystery!

  163. AA is pretty much a cult of people who've transferred their addiction from booze to coffee, cigarettes and endless funny (not so much, though) stories of the awful things they did when drunk, and they armor each other against those awful people in their lives who "threaten their sobriety."

  164. This is a snarky summary of what recovery looks like, yes.

  165. Wrong. Work on your anger, pal.

  166. the piece answers the headline with a loud no. really superb work. thanks to the Times and to Leslie Jamison.

  167. What isn’t delved into here is the artificiality of the writing arts. Post-modern visual artists are happy to proclaim their artifice, but not writers.

    My first serious relationship was with a man who was a seductive acolyte of the Church of the Drunk/High Artiste. Let’s just say he had his problems. But he showed me what art was — its beauty and brilliance. I was inspired. However, I always had reservations about the Drunk Artist. First of all, I cared too much about my body to wreck it. And secondly, I doubted the medium that required such a sloppy sacrifice.

    Writing is artifice. Clever artifice. It is also a recording medium; it can be played and replayed. It is not — cannot be — the truth of every-moment. Writing can artificially represent that (James Joyce), but we never perceive any such thing. Our five physical senses are always filters, no matter how many doors of perception substances pry open. Consciousness is, obdurately, consensus reality. Applying oneself to an art that has structure — or tweaking structure in an original way, is a worthy pursuit, but let’s not get it confused with truth and whatever reality is.

    Writing requires both the skill of the virtuoso and the discipline of the composer. The wheel is never reinvented, it is only reimagined through clever artifice. Confusing artifice with one’s self is a behavior problem waiting to happen.

    The Romantic anti-Hero. Isn’t there another story we can tell?

  168. When I read the word "Recovery" in the title I wondered, "recovery from what?" Oh yes! It's the AA model. It remains the model for recovery from whatever you need to recover from. I see it as the alternative to the top-down instruction model, with professional know-betters, (priests, gurus, doctors, fathers, etc.). this is spiritual individuals as opposed to the materialistic individualism of greed (Capitalism). Telling your story is the key. It's not a panacea, but it's the best thing we've got, and it's free!

  169. I had high hopes for this piece. Unfortunately, I feel like it felt flat, read disingenuously, and over-intellectualized, but that is what I would expect from someone who also attended all Ivy-League institutions as this writer did. I find it hard to relate to as an addict myself. It seems that the writer had never struggled deeply with addiction or it might have read more passionately and less academically. Frankly, I find it sort of insulting to alcoholics and addicts who have struggled many years in the trenches, most gone to multiple rehabs, and taken many attempts at recovery. For her to compare her merely walking into a meeting and then staying sober at only 26, feels like she was more of an experimental or binge-drinker. The only reason she seems to embrace the label is because she romanticizes the correlation between artistry and addiction. Ms. Jamison, let me tell you this. When you're in the trenches with a true addiction like heroin or severe alcoholism and actual encounter withdrawals, you realize how not romantic it is. You're no Denis Johnson and frankly it's a reach to even compare your story to his.

  170. I cannot conceive what dark angel compelled you to rip a fellow sufferer to pieces in a public forum. Her story is a woman's story: Women hit bottom faster than men, and for different reasons. Rape and abortion isn't a part of your story, you say? That makes it different, not disqualifying. The male viewpoint is not the standard.

  171. My concern is - and maybe the book comes to straighten it out - has to do with inner-direction and other-direction; that concern about other drunk writers' writing distracts from #1, which is not even one's own writing, but one's own moments.

    It's not even that writing may follow those moments. Ulterior motives are the disease.

    Incidentally, a person really can write sober. I'm just not so sure you can get sober to write.

  172. The guy in the wheelchair was right.

  173. Thanks, sister.

  174. I do not even believe normal people find success without suffering. The deeper.. the more extreme things are..The better you come out the other side if you intend to. But it's extremely hard. I always thought it was about using the hell creatively, later, because you matured into it. Just kept going. I never felt good enough to "do it now" I postpone things to tweak my process. Get my mind straight, all the time. I'll do anything to pry myself out of the dark part of my mind because it feels like being trapped. I never understood why hold onto darkness. It is a ball and chain. Dissociation is/was my poison from ptsd. I'd just worrying about getting to a place without extremely self-disruptive habits. Separation from myself and my experience without the words to express how or why. Unconscious of.. things i don't have words for. I'm constantly finding the words for newer and newer clarity. That's the only goal i have... It never matters if I'm drinking.. or doing drugs. I tiptoe around every aspect of life. Like I'm preparing for some overblown undertaking, watching the creative door through which i plan my escape. Trying to get to the center of myself where everything flows out correctly. So i can be FREE. No fog.. I was always very envious of people who who could simply get into writing, into anything, because they were totally aligned with themselves and their experiences.

  175. I can't help but notice that most favorable comments are from alcoholics in recovery who can identify with your story. To me your piece is boring not because you're sober but because you're too self centered.

  176. The glowing gurgling add in the "poet" bar is not Shlitz. It's Hamm's.

  177. Well written.

  178. Sobriety suits you.

  179. I would recommend alcoholics to try habitually taking less dangerous, sloppy drugs. Opiates and benzodiazepines, in addition with the occasional gram of cocaine and magic mushrooms, to remind your of your happy-go-lucky nature.
    There are several reason why this sounds like ridiculous advice. These drugs are illegal. They kill. Cartels.
    But there are also the positive. Alcohol is a physically devastating drug than heroin that turns many users into total hooligans. Opiates are much more civilised. As long as you dose correctly, you can lead a completely normal life. You will of course be physically addicted. So you need money. If you are a person this is not a problem. If you don't, you are screwed, and you'll spend all your money before food, rent, and your life will be horrible.
    If we legalised all drugs, the cartels would still dominate, of course. But within a legal system that can monitor and regulate. Funds raised in taxes would be a boon to our tax coffers. We need to face that the war on drugs has failed. It's time to be sensible.
    Finally, we need to celebrate the intrinsic value of drugs. Opiates are wonderful mood stabilisers. A line of coke can change an introvert's life. Psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD, used correctly, cause raucous hours of laughter, deep, authentic conversations with yourself and your friends, and you might see a fractal on the side of a mountain that explains the meaning of life - everything - in a way that you would express in words.

  180. You say it’s okay to trade one addiction for another. Benzodiazepines are very dangerous and blot your mind and emotions. There is an opiate crisis now and yet you try and be romantic about it. There is nothing romantic about using drugs to not deal with life on life’s terms. I am a former reporter and recall my first job on a daily newspaper in Connecticut some old timers started slugging at 6 a.m. They did not bother to hide the bottles.

    I am 25 years sober from alcohol and my writing has never been better. The only time my copy got returned was when I was drunk. A disproportionate number of journalists went to rehab. Some refused and got fired. Life is so much better being sober. Many think you must drink in order to write creatively. This is an old wives tale that has proven to be false. I applaud the author in her quest to remain sober. So if you want hide from the world under the guise that it’s fine to take drugs to escape from your life. I prefer to live life with the ups and downs that come with it. It’s called living and not slowing dying.