August 30, 2012

Sacha Scoblic talks ‘Unwasted’ and the differences in Twelve Step language

By Jennifer Matesa look at her — tiny preppy 30-something redhead with clear skin and shiny smile — you’d never guess that Sacha Scoblic’s personal guru is Hunter S. Thompson and that in college, and in the early days of her career, the goal toward which she worked the hardest was drinking colleagues and friends alike under the bar.

Scoblic (a former editor at The New Republic and Reader’s Digest, and a contributor to The New York Times’s short-running blog about drinking) uses this disjunction between her appearance and her experience to her advantage in her memoir of recovery, focusing on the sober part of her story—her trudging process of getting “unwasted” and learning to enjoy a “lush sobriety.”

Renew spoke to the author of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety about addiction memoirs, the difference between AA and the Twelve Steps and how she realized she was an alcoholic.

Renew: You talked once about how Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story is the bible of addiction memoirs. I wonder how you came to the conclusion that you had a story to tell about this problem that’s age-old and that already crowds the bookstore shelves.

Sacha Scoblic: It had to do with the other memoirs that were out there that I think inhibited me from getting help sooner. Because in my mind you weren’t a drunk until you looked like Caroline Knapp or James Frey. And I didn’t look anything like that. I still had my relationship, I had a mortgage; I felt like on paper I looked really good. And so I wasn’t face down in the gutter, and I thought you had to be in order to be an alcoholic.

I also had another misperception based on some of these books and the whole kind of addiction genre, which is weighted heavily toward the before picture: that you had to be physically dependent, that you had to be like Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas and wake up with the shakes. And I could go days without drinking … as long as I could really binge.

Renew: How do you feel about being open about your AA membership in the press?

SS: Yeah, that’s been tricky. Has it resulted in any blowback in your meetings?

SS: Um—not yet! I talked with someone in the program, before I wrote the book, someone who I think of as ultra-orthodox. She’s really by the Big Book. And I asked her what she thought. And she said as long as I said “Twelve Step” and not “AA,” I was in the clear. And so I did that in the book, thinking that I wanted to have as big a tent as possible.

But I’m an alcoholic—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put that together. And my personal feeling on it is that it’s a distinction without a difference — saying “Twelve Step” when I’m an alcoholic is OK, but saying the letters isn’t? — To me, it feels just silly. So I didn’t do it in the book, because I feel that the book has a purpose beyond my own personal politics, and that it’s valuable certainly beyond my own issues with anonymity.

But it was something I thought a great deal about. I talked to my father, who’s been in the program a long time. I would certainly never relay stories.

Renew: I wonder if you can talk about seeing sobriety as a choice. And also why, as journalists, we’re so skeptical about this faith thing? I call it The God Thing on my blog.

SS: Journalism is ideally about unearthing the truth. And this is not a truth that can be unearthed in a tangible way. So right there, there’s a conundrum. And I think it’s a genuine mystery to me—I don’t claim to have a relationship with God, per se, but I do believe there are powers higher than me. And I for sure do not know it all.

I know that that’s easy for people to say, but I feel it. When I ran the New York City marathon — I didn’t think I’d pull it off. I knew if I were going to, I’d have to obey every rule. And I discovered that by obeying every rule, I actually had far more freedom. If I obeyed the rules, I could make it through a long run, instead of dehydrating or getting a migraine. And I think that was the sort of thing I used to resist. Now, I like these anchors that are markers in my life that keep me on the straight and narrow. So I did to some degree find a faith — because I had a new sense that, “I did this, and I didn’t think it was possible; what else is there that’s possible?”

Renew: It translates to recovery. They quite often say, “She did what she was told,” or, “She DIDN’T do what she was told to do.”  So, in a way you’re saying sobriety is equivalent to freedom: if you follow some guidelines, you actually have more freedom.

SS: That’s right. It’s the great irony. I mean, when you’re out there without guideposts, that’s not freedom; it’s chaos.

To read more from the conversation with Sacha Scoblic, visit Guinevere Gets Sober.

Jennifer Matesa is freelance writer, essayist and author of two nonfiction books, including Navel-Gazing: The Days and Nights of a Mother in the Making, an award-winning memoir of her pregnancy. She runs the popular blog Guinevere Gets Sober, which covers addiction and recovery issues in the culture.


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