Tag Archives: Alcoholics Anonymous

I’m A Loser

Beatles Loser

This article is used with the author’s permission.

Dear Reader,

I was feeling like a loser for a few days. Couldn’t seem to shake the feeling and I couldn’t figure out what was at the root of my distress. It wasn’t a new feeling for me. There are things that haunt a person periodically — feeling like a loser is one of mine. Loser: out of my league, losing my edge, feeling like a failure, these are my personalized definitions.

Whenever loser becomes part of my identity I work hard to hide it — even from my husband. Because if I tell my husband, he tries to cheer me up — that part would be okay — but when I’m feeling bad, then my husband feels bad, too. He worries about me. I figure why have two of us feeling miserable. “This too shall pass.” So instead, I walk hand-in-hand, alone with Suzanne, trying not to let anyone else know.

“I feel like a loser.” It’s definitely not an opening line that leaves a very good impression. Looking back, I can’t think of one single time when it would have been in my best interest to have extended my hand and said, “Hello, I’m Suzanne Beecher, nice to meet you. I feel like a loser today.”

On the other hand, I recently watched a movie and in one of the scenes there was an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, and it got me to thinking that maybe hiding something makes a person feel worse. If you’re not familiar with the AA meeting format, whenever anyone stands up to speak, the first line they deliver is, “Hello, I’m (Joe, Jane, or Julie, whatever their name) and I’m an alcoholic.” I’m not sure why that protocol is followed in the meetings, but it felt inviting. So when I got up this morning and looked in the mirror, the first thing I said to myself was, “Hello, I’m Suzanne Beecher and I feel like a loser.”

Hearing the words, suddenly my “loser” line wasn’t as powerful as when I’d kept it hidden away. Saying the words out loud took the sting out of them, and surprisingly my self-proclamation didn’t set a negative tone for the day. Instead it made my day easier. In fact, by the time I went to bed, the reflection in the mirror felt different and I was so relieved.

“Hello, I’m Suzanne Beecher and I don’t feel like a loser anymore.”

Thanks for reading with me. It’s so good to read with friends.

Suzanne Beecher
Read-It-First@EmailBookClub.com

Read-It-First is a service that provides excerpts from new and upcoming book releases via e-mail. (It’s like an e-mail book club.) You can sign up at:

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Against the Wind

In the Rooms: A Novel by Tom Shone (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 342 pages)

She probably only dated snowboarders with a rap sheet as long as their arm, the cheekbones of Viggo Mortensen, and a penchant for whittling driftwood into small but meaningful tokens of their appreciation for Life’s Bounteous Gifts.   I failed on both fronts.   I had neither misbehaved with sufficient abandon nor reformed myself with enough zeal.   I was just trying to get home without being tripped up, or found out, just like everyone else.

This debut novel might have been entitled Dim Lights, Big City as it is a reverse  image of Jay McInerney’s book and film Bright Lights, Big City.   In McInerney’s story, a young man turns to drinking and drugs to evade the memories of  his dead mother and an estranged wife.   In Tom Shone’s novel, protagonist Patrick Miller turns to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as a way of shoring up his sagging career as a Manhattan-based literary agent.

Miller, who grew up in England (like his creator), has been shaken up by relationship problems – his girlfriend is bitterly honest about his flaws – and this has affected his ability to attract successful writers to the firm he works for.   And then, suddenly, he finds that his favorite author in the world – one-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Douglas Kelsey – is back in the Big Apple after spending years hiding out in the artists’ community of Woodstock.   Miller impulsively follows Kelsey when he spots him one day out on the streets of the city, and learns that the trail ends at an AA meeting in a church.

How is Miller going to get to speak to the reclusive Kelsey, a modern-day J.D. Salinger?   Well, simple, he will just pretend that he has a drinking problem and begin joining the meetings “in the rooms” of NYC.   But, actually, it’s not so simple because as he carries out his plan, Miller finds that he’s now lying all of the time to the two sets of people in his life – to his co-workers, he insists that he’s not a heavy drinker and does not have a problem (they think he’s in denial); to his new fellow AA members, he insists that he can’t handle his liquor or his women (oh, so he’s co-addicted to sex, just as they suspected).

If things aren’t complicated enough, Miller is soon attracted to Lola, a young woman he meets at one of these meetings – a woman who serves as a trusted liaison between him and the respected author – and they begin to get physical.   But, Catch-22, the rules of AA prohibit them from getting close to each other for a minimum of a year – a year based on mutual sobriety.   Eventually, Miller is not quite sure what he wants and just as he’s becoming addicted to Lola, his ex-flame comes back into his life.

If all of this sounds a bit glum, it’s not as told by Shone.   The novel is quite funny, as my wife can testify since I read no less than 8 or 9 lengthy excerpts of it to her…  Readers will identify with Miller as he’s a want-to-be nice guy who makes mistake after mistake, even after he’s decided mentally that he’s going to get his act together.   It seems that he just can’t win, as life keeps throwing unexpected changes his way.

Shone makes the telling especially interesting with many insights into both the book publishing world and AA.   While his characters are sometimes critical of the 12-step process, they’re also positive that the program works.   Here’s the ever-cynical Kelsey on Bill (Wilson) of the Big Book:   “Well, Bill’s no Steinbeck.   That’s for sure.   There’s nothing original to any of it.   He filched the whole thing.   It’s just religion’s greatest hits.”

The more that Patrick Miller learns about AA, the more he wonders if he may indeed have some problems.   Whether he drinks too much or not, virtually every AA member that he encounters tells him that he spends too much time inside of his head.   Miller is so busy analyzing life, and trying to find the right path and rules to follow, that it seems to be passing him by.

The true charm of In the Rooms, is its conclusion, in which our hero must make the right choices – the exact right choices – to prove to himself and others that he  is, in truth, the nice guy that he’s always wanted to be.   He’s helped along in this by what he’s come to learn “in the rooms” and so he comes to see that – ah, yes – it works!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Sharp, funny, and ultimately touching…  Recommended for readers of Nick Hornby and Joshua Ferris.”   Library Journal

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Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life

“I have gotten things from the [sobriety] program.   It forced me to look at the unexamined parts of my life, to acknowledge my deceptions and rationalizations.”   So reads an excerpt from Chicago Sun Times columnist Neil Steinberg’s book about a hard-drinking life.   Part of the  multi-step court-ordered recovery program he went through (after slapping his wife and getting arrested for domestic violence during an apparent drinking binge) hinged on being brutally honest.   Likewise, I will be honest in this review.

I very much wanted to very much like this book – to find something here that was deep and meaningful, something that would make me not only rave about this story but also recommend it to others.   But, Steinberg fell short.

In 1998, another prominent newspaper writer produced a book called Getting Better.   In that book, Nan Robertson wrote about how she thought she had gamed her program of recovery, fooling all the medical professionals and counselors with her high IQ, telling them what she thought they wanted and needed to hear.   But they saw through her perfect student routine (in the words of Bob Dylan, she “only got juiced in it”), shaming her into truly adopting a new life.   Such is true life and true honesty.

Steinberg’s memoir is a good story that moves along without too much difficulty.   Even so, it was neither “a terribly compelling read,” nor “hysterically funny,” nor “a universal essay on human frailty and resilience,” as the book cover purports.   It is simply the story of a reporter who drank too much for too long until the legal system gave him no choice but to stop – nothing more, nothing less.

The great take-home lesson of this book is the same one found in Getting Better.   One counselor said to Steinberg that he was to always remember that he is “no better, no worse than anyone else.”

To his credit, Steinberg admits to the sin of ego.   “Those who have been around me longer are cooler…   Something in me must turn people off – ego, I suppose.   You see a guy stuck on himself, no matter how he struggles to hide it…”   Bingo!   Lesson learned.

Plume, $15.00, 272 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.drunkard 4

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