There is footage of me as a middle school girl in Los Angeles that aired nationally in the late ’90s. In the clip, which was part of a Candid Camera gotcha segment, the comedian Richard Lewis and I sit alone at a long rectangular table in an unused room on campus, a map of the solar system hanging behind us. He tells me he has analyzed me and determined I will grow up to work as a manufacturer of waste disposals. While in front of Lewis — a tall self-assured man, telling me who I could be — I shrug, as if to say, “Seems reasonable.” My frame is cowed, hands in lap, lips pursed in consideration of the news, eyes dead, a little sad. I bow to male authority. I look as though I’m folding in on myself.
When Lewis leaves, however, my entire body unlocks. I make an animated face of disbelief, and later tell a friend who visits me in the room where I’ve been cloistered by producers what Lewis said. I do so with an admirable amount of gumption.
In the beginning, that unlocking is what drinking felt like. I took my first tequila shots as a freshman in high school, only a few years after that video was shot, to put myself in that supplicating state around boys, but also to access that salty girl, the one who came out when I could no longer feel the energy of male power in the room, pressing into my throat. I didn’t go into manufacturing, but I did become a writer and an academic, which meant I was always surrounded by those who used substances to find their way in or out of their bodies. By the spring of 2020, now a wine mom, I was eyeing an expensive online program for those who wanted to “rethink” their drinking.
I applied for a scholarship to the program on July 2, just missing the window for Dry July, but it was fine, I had a birthday coming up anyway! I was on unemployment, having lost work in the pandemic, so I requested as much financial assistance as possible. I got word a week later that I would receive a 75 percent scholarship for the program. This meant I would only be responsible for paying $70 three times over the course of one year, instead of the nearly $1,000 annual price tag paid by top-tier members who are unfunded. I planned to stop drinking after that birthday.
I found the progressive, for-profit recovery program after buying a popular book that took a feminist approach to addiction. The book drew on research and work that has been happening in addiction and recovery spaces for years but used jaunty language and a personal story to make brain science and concepts like harm reduction colloquial, accessible, relevant.
I read the book in a matter of days. I could feel the dread that had always circled around the prospect of quitting peeling off me. The program I joined soon after had been founded by the book’s author and had a website that was chic and modern. It did exactly what the book suggested sobriety culture needed to …….