Non-fiction(-ish) stories of living (and dying) as an alcoholic?
June 26, 2017 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I want to read something to help me connect with what my sister went through in her last years. She was an alcoholic who died in her early 40s. She struggled most of her life with depression, and I knew she had a substance abuse problem, but I didn't even nearly understand the depth of it until she was gone. Nonfiction accounts are preferred. I am not sure what I want, other than just a look at what life might have been for her (physiologically, emotionally, financially, socially, etc.)
posted by AgentRocket to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I'm very sorry for your loss of your sister. That sounds heartbreaking and very difficult for you as the one left behind.

Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story has been recommended several times on the blue.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:44 PM on June 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Drinking: A Love Story is the only one I can think of where the author dies, but for me, the one that hits closest to home is Parched: A Memoir.
posted by lyssabee at 4:25 PM on June 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

To add a tiny bit of shape to my blob of a question: stories where the person doesn't rebound from the mythical "rock bottom" are ideal. That's the part that messes with you: I was trained to believe that there would be some identifiable deepest point of the hole, from which she could start to climb out. I think she just got there, and stayed there, and then she was gone.
posted by AgentRocket at 4:25 PM on June 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Caroline Knapp didn't die from alcoholism. She had lung cancer after she got sober.

I'm sorry about your sister.
posted by lyssabee at 4:32 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're also interested in films, you might check out My Name Was Bette, though it's quite harrowing.
posted by dizziest at 4:33 PM on June 26, 2017

I know it's hard to deal with, but the survivors mostly write the stories, and it's not that different, it's a lot of luck. Most don't make it. It's like reading about plane crash survivors, they all hit rock bottom and for the ones that made it it wasn't because they were special.
posted by bongo_x at 4:33 PM on June 26, 2017

The Lost Weekend is a classic novel, not nonfiction, but the author was an alcoholic who eventually committed suicide. I think it could really give you an idea of what she might have gone through. I would call it unsparing and brutal in its depiction of the desperation of alcoholism. The movie based on it threw in a happy ending where the main character is cured, but the novel isn't like that.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by FencingGal at 4:36 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

The biography of Jason Molina (an amazing cult songwriter who died at 39 in 2013 of liver failure) just came out. The whole thing isn't about alcoholism as it's a music biography but the last few chapters show how brutal alcoholism is.

here's a song for you from his masterpiece 'the magnolia electric co.'. Alcohol took all that away from him (and us).
posted by noloveforned at 4:52 PM on June 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

(and if you don't want to spring for the full molina biography there's a long chicago reader article that covers a lot of it in less depth)
posted by noloveforned at 5:10 PM on June 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been reading Sonia Sotomayor's memoir My Beloved World, and in the early chapters she goes into a lot of detail about her father, his alcoholism and his death in his 40s.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:15 PM on June 26, 2017

I am so sorry for your loss. Personally, I loved Lit, one of Mary Karr's memoirs. It's the only one I've read. While she survives, a famous, now-dead author with whom she had an affair did not survive. And she mentions one or more other people who she met at AA meetings or elsewhere who also died. Merely FYI, many AA meetings are open meetings that welcome non-alcoholics to attend. I've gone to a few as a member of Al-Anon, the 12-step program for the friends and family of alcoholics, to help me understand better the many alcoholic and addict loved ones in my life.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:17 PM on June 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

The film Leaving Las Vegas shows the depth of despair and drinking more & more intentionally till death. The drinking is extreme, violent really. Watching it gutted me, a sibling died of alcolism and the circumstances were different, but watching a troubled, decent man decide to give in to that kind of drinking made me very sad. I'm sorry about your loss.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 5:20 PM on June 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

Blake Bailey wrote The Splendid Things We Planned, a wrenching memoir of his late brother Scott, whose early promise (good looks, charisma, intelligence) turned into what one reviewer aptly called "an addiction story without the comforting dramatic arc of recovery."
posted by virago at 5:30 PM on June 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

This piece by Dave McKenna on Jennifer Frey might be what you're looking for. (Previously.)
posted by minervous at 5:43 PM on June 26, 2017

Jack Kerouac's late novel "Big Sur", which has a considerable amount of memoir leavened in to the fiction, I think, is a pretty sad look at the endgame of alcoholism.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by thelonius at 5:44 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's more bleakly funny than strictly bleak, but A Manual for Cleaning Women is a collection of short stories (called auto-fiction, e.g. fiction that draws from autobiography) by Lucia Berlin that might be up your alley. It's not all alcoholism-related, but there's plenty in there, both as centerpieces to many stories and as incidental asides to others. It's also the kind of book you can read slowly, story by story, over weeks.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:22 PM on June 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Coming back to add a link to this review of The Splendid Things We Planned. It's a plain-spoken book with flashes of gallows humor and quietly expressed but very real grief. I liked it a lot.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by virago at 6:26 PM on June 26, 2017

This is not a perfect answer to your question, but the whole second half of the "big book" of Alcoholics Anonymous is personal stories of people who have recovered from alcoholism. Lots of them came close to the end. Large chunks of lots of these stories will describe what life might have been like for her as an active alcoholic.
posted by TurkishGolds at 6:30 PM on June 26, 2017

I really like Nice Girls Don't Drink. It's stories from women in recovery but each one includes tons of insight from the women into what their alcoholism has been like. It's an interesting perspective in that they're recalling their feelings from a place of stability, not distorted by the effects of intoxication.
posted by bendy at 6:30 PM on June 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

A book I read a long time ago on the last days of Dylan Thomas really made an impression on me, how horribly sick he was but as soon as he could crawl out of bed he went back to drinking. There have been lots of alcoholics in my family, reading that convinced me I could not become one because the few time when I was young and got really drunk I could not stand being sick, so cut it down and then out for the most part.

I am so sorry about your sister, I saw an uncle go that way in his 50s and it was heartbreaking.
posted by mermayd at 6:58 PM on June 26, 2017

Came here to also suggest "Leaving Las Vegas." The book is worth reading too; it follows the movie pretty closely, but for some people (like me) reading is better than watching/listening, and it's refreshingly honest about the outcome. (The author died shortly after selling the movie rights, and his father said that the book was his suicide note.)

(My boyfriend went that way at age 29. I can't stand it when, as you say, people keep suggesting that there's always an identifiable hole to be climbed out of.)
posted by Melismata at 7:02 PM on June 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Leaving Las Vegas by John O'Brien.
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn (highly recommended. Memoir, much about his drunken father)
Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg. His drug was crack, but still relevant.
The Night of the Gun by David Carr. Must-read.
Blackout by Sarah Heppola. She addresses alcoholism from a women's viewpoint, and does it very well.
posted by old_growler at 8:45 PM on June 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood does not result in the author's death. She does not ever hit "rock bottom" either, though, and swing around into total reformation mode with chiming bells and seeing the light and so on. It is a pretty detached, somber narrative. The author claims she never was an alcoholic, just a binge drinker, but I found this story profoundly unsettling as to how it is people, especially young teenaged girls, first turn to drink and then slowly let it take over their lives.
posted by Crystal Fox at 11:29 PM on June 26, 2017

I second The Night of the Gun, which portrays both people who died of alcoholism and people who didn't.

I'm so sorry for your loss
posted by third word on a random page at 12:53 AM on June 27, 2017

Leslie Jamison's The Gin Closet is about a young woman's relationship with her estranged alcoholic aunt. It's fiction, but based in truth, and reads that way.
posted by gennessee at 3:34 AM on June 27, 2017

Seconding Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.
posted by theweasel at 7:21 AM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cherie Currie, lead singer for 'The Runaways', wrote a memoir called 'Neon Angel'. In it, she describes how her father drank himself to death. Tragically, one of the last things he said to her was that he could have quit drinking, but did not want to badly enough. Currie later describes how deeply addicted to cocaine she became.

Walter Tevis wrote a fictional novel called 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'. Ostensibly about an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth in search of water for his planet, Tevis later admitted that the protagonist's loneliness, alienation, and disorientation were directly inspired by his own alcoholism.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:37 AM on June 27, 2017

I read a newspaper article about "wet houses," basically hospice for non-functional alcoholics, several years ago and it really stuck with me - not sure if it was this one, I remembered it being more detailed: At St. Paul ‘wet house,’ liquor can be their life — and death but it's a little glimpse.
posted by mskyle at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Faithful by Marianne Faithful

A Drinking Life: A memoir by Pete Hamill
posted by jacobean at 9:48 AM on June 27, 2017

Also, three movies:

Days of Wine and Roses
The Lost Weekend

The main characters are basically all alcoholics and these movies portray their lives and relationships with others, both alcoholics and not.
posted by bendy at 7:28 PM on June 27, 2017

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls shares the impact her father's alcoholism had on their family.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:49 PM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older How to move from social work practice to policy   |   Is either of these an ash tree? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.