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  • Why an Alcoholic Like Me Shouldn't Write a Memoir
Why an Alcoholic Like Me Shouldn't Write a Memoir
Written by
J.A. Wright
September 2016
Written by
J.A. Wright
September 2016

Perhaps you were once the type of alcoholic-addict who drank and used drugs the way I used to: as much and as often as possible. Maybe you got comfortable driving under the influence as well as lying to friends and family about how much and how often you used. You may have convinced yourself that you were just a social drinker and could have been successful, like I once was, at talking your way out of a DUI with a funny story about how you lost your pants.


Then again, you might have been secretly aware that you’d progressed into a problem or delusional drinker when you began to fantasize about finding a knight in shining armor who would whisk you away from your wretched life. So you pursued your dream, dressed up in something Kardashian and hit an upscale bar hoping to make a love connection with Brad Pitt or a Brad Pitt clone, or someone you could easily pretend was Brad. He always seemed to be just across the room and two drinks away from being approached by you with an inappropriate invitation, even though he was usually with a beautiful woman – a woman who wasn’t red-faced and dripping with sweat from dancing solo to Sweet Home Alabama and yelling “Ya wanna piece of this?” to the bouncer who didn’t allow smoking on the dance floor. 

After the fantasy drinking phase grinds to a halt, most of us morph into solo couch drinkers. I hit this stage pretty early after my only girlfriend quit speaking to me because she swore I’d told a bartender she'd do something to him in return for a few free shots of tequila. I don’t remember saying that or recall why I decided to walk down the middle of the highway in my underwear later that night, but I’m sure it had something to do with the Valium and vodka I’d enjoyed earlier in the evening.


Drinking alone at home seemed way less dangerous than going out to bars, and it sure was cheaper. I had fun for a few months until the primary side effect of chugging boxed wine took over. It’s called Telephonitis, and the symptoms kick in after a few glasses of wine or 11:00 pm, whichever came first. That was the magical hour when I’d stop watching TV and begin calling family, friends and former employers to let them know how horrible my life was, although I rarely remembered those conversations.


After most everyone in my family had stopped speaking to me, I did what many people in trouble do and checked myself into a treatment center. For me, this phase of my life was like going through a luxury car wash and emerging clean and shiny – not knowing what to do next, but always eager to tell others all about it. 

The idea of writing my story came to me soon after I got out of rehab. Fifteen years later, I was still working on it and hadn't progressed much, mainly because a memoir requires facts; and I've always been short on those. If this story rings true for you and you’re considering writing a memoir, maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe writing a novel would be a better way to tell your story. It was for me.


I recently finished writing my first novel, but only after I gave up on my memoir plan. That was the same day I received a note from my sister telling me that while she’d enjoyed reading the draft chapters I’d sent her, she was certain that I’d confused the circumstances of one of my bad relationship breakups with the divorce of Nikki and Victor on The Young and the Restless.


She was right, and it became crystal clear that my biggest obstacle to finishing a memoir was my lack of memory. I’d been a blackout drinker from the get-go, even though I didn’t have a name for it until I got sober. Blackouts are strange things. Many times I’ve come to in strange places with strange people, and I was always grateful if I discovered I was wearing clothes and wasn’t injured. But those moments of gratitude were quickly replaced by feelings of confusion and despair as I tried to piece together the missing hours. 


Even now, after decades of being sober, I can’t say for sure that any of the situations I've included here actually took place the way I’ve described them because I really don’t recall. But, I have become good at filling in the blanks in a way that seems reasonable to me. 


Don’t get me wrong; I’m not recommending that all alcoholics and addicts give up on writing a memoir. But for those of us who struggle to recall what actually took place, I think a novel is in order. That way, you can live happily ever after with Brad Pitt and not get a nasty letter from his attorney. 



J.A. Wright is the author of How to Grow an Addict, a novel. http://jawright.net

In Recovery Magazine published a version of this essay in their spring 2016 issue. 


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  • Michelle Cox

    Loved this, Jodi! I always wondered why you choose to make it a novel versus memoir! Now it makes sense. Glad you did, but then again, I'm partial to fiction. ;)

  • Kelly Kittel

    Rock on, Sister...

  • Patti Clark

    Jodi - This is so good. And so tragically humorous! I loved your book - your characters just jumped off the pages. Reminded me of my family and of many of the women I used to drink with!

    Thank you for your courage and your humor. 

  • J.A. Wright

    Thanks very much for reading my essay. I appreciate the support and comments. If I could figure out how to like or comment back I would. 

  • Kay Mehl Miller

    I, too, agree. A novel is the way to go.  I wrote mine in 1980 and put it in the closet. Now, I have retrieved it and am busy typing it into Word, tightening, rewriting where necessary, and, in general, making it the best book I've written.  Why did I wait so long? Because my family could have figured out their roles easily enough and some of what I reveal could have impacted them negatively. Sadly, all who could have been affected are gone. I feel free now to tell the whole truth as I perceive it. Besides, It's a really good story with historical and psycho-social value.

  • Christina Macaulay

    Great voice!

  • Pam McGaffin Promoting

    I agree with Bella. This is very well-written. As well as honest, funny and brave. Congrats on finishing your first novel!

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    This is so well-written. I can't wait to read your novel!

    For anyone wanting to write a memoir who can’t recall details, I suggest you take a look at Susannah Cahalan’s NY Times bestselling memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, which demonstrates creative ways to write about things you don’t remember. It’s amazing and will change the way you think about memoir!

  • Kandace Chapple

    Your reference to Y&R made me laugh! Used to love that show and Victor and Nikki, haha! Congrats on your novel! 

  • Leah DeCesare

    I was drawn to this title because I read Lisa F. Smith's memoir, A Girl Walks Out of a Bar, this summer. It was so well-done - raw and real. She's 12 years sober and it's new this year. Interesting points you make about piecing things together and deciding novel vs. memoir.

  • Dhana Musil Querying

    I love how much you packed into that post! So great. Have you read the memoir 'Drunk Mom'
    By Jowita Bydlowska? She holds nothing back. We are talking black out drinking and dental dams. But I get what you are saying about a novel. I have contemplated it many times.

  • Betty Hafner

    Your combination of raw honesty and humor keeps me reading. Got to pick up this book! Best wishes for its success.

  • Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing. I'll be sharing with the community.