The topic of women and alcohol is a fraught one. Earlier this year, a Hong Kong city official claimed that if women don't want to be raped, they shouldn't drink so much. Nonfiction accounts such as Gabrielle Glaser's Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — And How They Can Regain Control and this month's Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston tackle the topic from a sociological outlook, but women have long been telling their own stories about hitting rock bottom, and continue to do so.
'Drinking: A Love Story' by Caroline Knapp
The gold standard of recovery memoirs, Knapp’s 1996 memoir explores her life as a high functioning alcoholic with searing clarity and wisdom. With blunt honesty, she details the ways she managed to fool her coworkers and family, and often herself, into thinking her drinking was the same as everyone else’s — casual, simple, not a big deal. Its shift from “normal to necessary” is one she explores along with anorexia, dating, and, eventually, sobriety.
‘Little Black Sheep: A Memoir’ by Ashley Cleveland
Grammy winner Ashley Cleveland explores her long descent into alcoholism, which keeps her in its grips even after she becomes a mother of two, driving drunk with her daughter in a car seat. Though raised going to church, she rebels as a teenager, and, especially in college, finds the ease of access to drugs and alcohol keep her returning to using over and over, impeding her fledgling music career at every turn. Between her divorced parents’ homes, her mother’s secret drinking and her father’s belief that “alcohol was a foundational part of civilized living,” the seeds are sown.
‘Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism’ by Martha Grimes and Ken Grimes
In this dual memoir, bestselling mystery author Martha Grimes and her son Ken Grimes reveal their differing approaches to both alcoholism and recovery, as well as varying knowledge and access (Ken started smoking marijuana in ninth grade, while Martha didn’t even know to be alarmed at his red eyes). In short essays as well as several conversations between the two of them, they share their own stories and philosophies — Martha’s of going to an outpatient rehab center and the solitude of the writing life, Ken’s of going to 12-step meetings and therapy, and working as a high-powered book publicist. With both sober more than 20 years, their perspectives may be instructive to families navigating addiction across generations.
‘Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed’ by Glennon Doyle Melton
Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle Melton shares her story of winding up pregnant at 26, thus upending the chaotic, addiction-laden world she’d been used to and ushering in her new sober life. This memoir in essays includes an open letter to a friend on her first sober morning, in which Melton encourages, “This is the best day of your life, friend… Because you have been offered freedom from the prison of secrets. You have been offered the gift of crisis.”
‘Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk’ by Heather Kopp
Kopp thought her Christianity would save her from the depths of alcoholism. She hid her problem like she hid the bottles around her house, but eventually enters treatment. There, she confronts her fear of sober sex and other ways she has to reconnect with her husband. Her humility when forced to confront the reality of her drinking, as well as grappling with her son’s struggles with sobriety, speaks to readers struggling to balance faith with recovery.
‘Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety’ by Sacha Z. Scoblic
In an often humorous tone (that there’s a chapter called “Escape from Bitch Mountain” tells you a lot), Scoblic explores being a late-’90s journalist at The New Republic, indulging in a “rock-star life” full of happy hours that turned increasingly problematic. She conceives of “My Drinking” as “an ill-behaved child I carried around everywhere.” She assures her friends “But don’t worry, I’m still fun!” and from there indulges her relapse fantasies, reassesses her take on religion, and figures out how to still be fun amidst her hard-drinking colleagues.
‘Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power’ by Marya Hornbacher
Pulitzer Prize-nominated Hornbacher, whose first memoir, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, caught the world’s attention, explores recovery from the point of view of one who does not believe in a God or feel a connection to a Higher Power. Hornbacher concludes that the Twelve Steps are “a pathway to spiritual experiences.” More spiritual inquiry than traditional memoir (though she does include some of her own personal story), Hornbacher’s tackling of topics such as self-knowledge, the moral self and spiritual action in the world offers assurance and support to those in recovery who are atheists, agnostics, nonbelievers, or questioning their belief systems, that “we do not walk here alone.”
‘Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Discovery and Self-Discovery’ by Jennifer Storm
What happens after rock bottom? This is Storm’s second recovery memoir, following Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America. Storm, who started drinking at 12 and attempted suicide at 13, here details the reality of the “pink cloud,” a useful postscript to the typical recovery memoir narrative. “Anyone who tells you early recovery is easy is full of shit.” Dealing with the first year of recovery and beyond, Storm explores sexual abuse, coming out as a lesbian, therapy, and the ongoing process of making peace with herself.
‘Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood’ by Koren Zailckas
Zailckas, most recently the author of the novel Mother, Mother, highlighted the issue of teenage drinking with Smashed. Though she doesn’t identify as an alcoholic, her extremes of alcohol abuse helped alert readers to the pressures young women face to drink, the ways alcohol is marketed to them and how drinking and sex are so often intertwined (as but one example, a visiting beer promoter at a campus bar gets her to kiss her best friend, then posts the photo online). Zailckas writes of the allure of sorority hazing, and why some girls crave “this type of humiliation by intoxication.”