Why an Alcoholic Like Me Shouldn't Write A Memoir

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 a memoir 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 was 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 a bad relationship breakup 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 always grateful if I discovered I was wearing clothes. 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.

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