Inside the Mind of an Alcoholic - Page 2

By Heather King 01/14/13

Ann Leary's The Good House is narrated by an adorable boozer in deep denial. The Fix's Heather King catches up with her old friend and talks sobriety, relapse, interventions and—what else?—being an adorable boozer deep in denial.

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The Leary family photo via

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Hildy resents her daughters and fires her assistant after they stage the intervention. What’s your take on interventions?

Leary: It seems to me that interventions work only if they happen to coincide with an alcoholic’s own waning denial. Otherwise, the alcoholic is often shocked and enraged at what they see as an attack on their character by those they love most.

Somebody once explained it to me like this: Drinking and the accompanying denial are, for the alcoholic, like a warm blanket. Imagine that the alcoholic is on a busy street in the winter, wearing no clothes, but covered by this blanket. If you come along and whip the blanket off, before they are able to find some dignified way to remove it, you leave them terribly exposed, naked and ashamed. The one thing that offered them warmth and protection is gone. I don’t think many people understand how traumatizing an intervention can be for the drinker.

During Hildy’s intervention, she felt like one of the witches tried in Salem. She knew that her accusers were wrong, but there was no way to prove them wrong, as anything she offered as proof was called “denial.” The experience was not enlightening for her, but offered her only shame and a sense of being horribly misunderstood and betrayed.

I love when Hildy wonders, Is it a blackout if nobody sees you? If a tree falls in the woods…It’s also interesting that she ends up spending a lot of time hiding out in the cellar. Very emblematic of the subconscious conflict of the alcoholic and the subterranean life we end up leading.

I took a little hiatus from my recovery a few years back, and of course, the drunkenness and blackouts returned, but so did the denial.

Leary: Hildy drinks alone at home. She keeps her booze in the cellar and, eventually, it’s just easier to move her little “party of one” down there. I wanted to show her descending, literally, into this warm, dark place that drinking brings us where we alcoholics enjoy allowing ourselves to become just drenched in all the primal urges, longings and feelings that we usually suppress. Hildy feels that she is in her most natural state when she’s in her cellar, nestled between the boiler and the hot water heater, the “vital organs” of her house. She feels at one with the house, just as she used to feel a unity with whomever she drank with. It’s a struggle for her, when she’s above ground, sober, to feel that she really belongs.

As you know, I took a little hiatus from my recovery a few years back. I became convinced that I had jumped the gun when I quit drinking all those years ago and that I probably wasn’t a “real” alcoholic. I told myself that if I ever got drunk or had blackouts, I’d just stop again. So I started drinking, and of course, the drunkenness and blackouts returned, almost immediately, but so did the denial.

I was a mother, living in a small community. Denis was traveling much of the time. So I was very secretive about my drinking. I’d have a couple of glasses of wine if I was out with friends and then, home alone, when my kids were in bed, I’d drink an entire bottle by myself. Sometimes, the better part of another. I’d often wake up without remembering going to bed, but because nobody saw how drunk I was, I would tell myself that I wasn’t really drunk at all. Returning to drinking, was, for me, like climbing down Hildy’s cellar steps. It’s quite blissful going down into that warm place again, but it sucks pulling yourself back up those stairs.

That first year of sobriety, when we were inseparable, was one of the best years of my life. And you and Denis have always been incredibly hospitable and generous to me. So thank you, Ann.

Leary: I recall those days as one of my happiest times as well. Everything was so wonderfully new and strange. Who knew you could have so much fun trying not to drink? Now, when are you going to move back to New England where you belong?

Ann Leary is the author of An Innocent, A Broad (Morrow 2004) and the novel Outtakes From a Marriage (Areheart 2008). Her new novel, The Good House, arrives in bookstores today. Leary blogs at annleary.com.

Heather King is the author of three memoirs: Parched (chosen by The Fix as one of its 10 best addiction memoirs), Redeemed, and Shirt of Flame. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at shirtofflame.blogspot.com

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Heather King is the author of three memoirs: Parched (chosen by The Fix as one of its 10 best addiction memoirs), Redeemed, and Shirt of Flame. She lives in Los Angeles and can be found on Twitter.