Why an Alcoholic like me shouldn't write a Memoir

By J. A. Wright 09/14/18
J.A. Wright

Perhaps you were once the type of alcoholic who drank and used drugs the way I did: 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 drink. You may have convinced yourself that you were just a social drinker and could have been successful, like me, 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 Angelina 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, many 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 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 like me 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 eager to tell anyone who would listen all about it.

The idea of writing a memoir came to me soon after I left 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. Perhaps a novel would be a better way to tell your story. It was for me.

I published a novel that in many ways resembles my own story, but only after I'd given up on my memoir plan. It was the day my sister called to tell me that while she’d enjoyed reading the draft chapters I’d sent her, she was sure that I’d confused the circumstances of my marriage breakup with the divorce of Nikki and Victor on The Young and the Restless. She was right, and it suddenly became crystal clear that my lack of memory was going to make it impossible for me to finish a memoir.

My memory while drinking was never very reliable, seems I'd been a blackout drinker from the get-go, even though I didn’t have a name for it until I got sober. I now understand why I sometimes woke up in strange places with no memory of how I got there. It was scary, and while always grateful if I discovered I wasn’t hurt or naked, those moments of gratitude were quickly replaced by feelings of confusion, despair, and shame as I tried to piece together the missing hours and find a way to get home.

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 give up on writing a memoir. But if you struggle to recall what actually took place, a novel may be the way to go. 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"


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