On alcoholism and redemption: A review of ‘Dry’ by Augusten Burroughs

Book reviews online are mainly about the content inside the book, they don’t contain that many feelings or quotes, particularly because there is a word limit on what you can publish. I couldn’t decide between the titles “a review of” or “a review on how alcoholism is”, which one was more appropriate for how I intend to write this review.

The first book by Augusten Burroughs that blew me away was ‘This is How’. He mentioned that to be absolved of his past, to no longer be haunted by it, he had to write. Writing was what got him functioning again. And his writing on his sexual abuse, alcoholism, his advertising career, and loss of relationships was very interesting to me because it was watching a person’s life play out, with all its vulnerabilities and natural mistakes and fuck ups.

Even though what he experienced in a few years is probably what I will experience in my whole life- the amount of vulnerability he exposed himself to- while reading, I wanted to shout at him “don’t do that!” or “just do it!!” Even if it didn’t fit into his plans or AA’s plans for him because I wanted to see how his relationships would turn out. But none of us can shout at the author and channel our emotions through a book and anyway everything in that book is a few years old, it is all in the past.

All his books are personal memoirs and I can only imagine how scary but also satisfying it is to see your treasure of a life, filled with so many ups and downs, be shared with millions of other people who are facing the same issues in their lives. It is redemption because it engages other people in your story, and it makes your life larger and longer than it actually is. That the person is not forgotten until everyone else alive has forgotten him. Make art. Make meaning.

I might not be able to identify with alcoholism and bad habits like taking crack or meeting people in bars and drinking for six hours and then meeting very, very wealthy clients the next morning, but I could identify with the sense of screwed-up-ness. It’s the feeling that you have landed yourself in a very bad place, because you made bad choices, and as a result of those bad choices you now have to monitor whatever you do for the next few years very carefully lest you end up dead. And the thing is you don’t really remember how you got to that place, the last few years were a blur. One day blending into another.

My apartment is filled with empty Dewar’s bottles, hundreds of empty Dewar’s bottles. They cover all surfaces; the counters in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator. They are under the table I use as a desk, dozens of them there, with a small clearing for my feet.

Because of the repetition of bad choices, you are now unable to see your internal responses and reasons for making those choices, you are now just repeating the same actions (drinking, sex, smoking, flirting, binge eating) on the surface. Because it is comfortable. It is like an old blanket, you know you have to change the blanket soon- or maybe you can’t even see that you have an old blanket draped around you when you go for meetings- but you just can’t summon the energy to walk across the hallway to put that blanket in the bin and then walk to the department store to get a brand new blanket. That new blanket needs to be broken in, it will take time to drag yourself out of the house, what if you don’t like the new one. “The old one is fine, let me live with it. I am good.”

The bottles fill twenty-seven gigantic, industrial-sized bags. It takes more than seven hours and by the time I am finished, I’m manic and drenched in sweat.

The things we do outside is a response to whatever our mind or heart thinks and is trying to deal with. Burroughs mentioned it in ‘This Is How’. If we can’t quit something or can’t start something, it is because a part of us doesn’t want to quit or start. Like losing weight, if we can’t do it after five years then a part of us just doesn’t want to lose weight. Perhaps because it is part of our identity, perhaps because we prefer eating over losing weight. We are scared of what will happen when we do lose weight, what will everyone say, and we will definitely bounce back because that is what everyone else does. Who are we to be special?

When something is just a socially imposed want and not a true need, we won’t fight for it like we fight for oxygen. Preferring alcohol over staying sober, until one day, there isn’t a choice anymore and you are trying to avoid physical withdrawal symptoms. But there is no beauty in being an alcoholic, it takes away people and things from you. And it might not be possible to get them back.

And yet, what can I say? It seems that you will always think I am asking too much- too much from you. When all I want is your company. Just a movie, just some time. But you’re always busy advertising or drinking or, I don’t know, Augusten. I’m just so tired.

Burroughs has an allergy to alcohol and takes Benadryls so that he can drink. I didn’t know why would anyone do that, I hate getting allergic reactions to anything, it makes me feel like I am less than human. Like my body is so useless and faulty that I need to be on medication for something as common as eating.

But what is common is not what is mine. There is no rulebook that says that this is the way it should be, and I fell through the crack but will get a pat on the back soon. It is just how it is.

I am going to die. If I fall asleep, my heart will stop and I will die. I need to be in a hospital now. I have alcohol poisoning.

The hives have reduced, though my legs are covered in welts, some split and bleeding. But I can tell they have lessened.

Another reason why I read is to know that I am not alone in my screwed-up-ness. No matter what state my heart is in, no matter how uncertain and scared I am, I am certain that there is a book and a phrase out there that I haven’t read, which describes how I feel perfectly. Maybe it is the ‘silence between two thoughts’, or the way some authors can bring across what it feels like to stare a person in the eye for a long time. That discomfort, that trust, there are so many things to look at, why make eye contact?

I grew up in a very strongly Christian environment, and a large majority of churches are still against homosexuality in the current world. A part of me believes that it is natural and should be encouraged just like a heterosexual relationship, because there is no difference. I see two hearts and two souls, two human beings wanting to care for each other. I don’t see two people of the same gender and gender is the only that they couldn’t choose, the only thing that other people see. But homosexuals are equally human you see. They might not fit perfectly into the mould of loving God, if there is one, but they do love each other. And reading about Burroughs and his relationships I have a hope that one day, I will find someone whom I can get along with as well as he gets along with Pighead. Or Foster.

Basically, I am a frat boy at a Nymphomaniac Supermodels Anonymous Meeting.

I haven’t felt this attracted to anybody in my entire life. It’s like every cell in my body is magnetically drawn to him. My mitochondria want to make friends with his mitochondria.

The title of this post includes redemption. What I meant was that reading about other peoples’ lives, leads me to understand that meaning in life is what you are attracted to and redemption is what you earn, according to your benchmarks. The definition of redemption is “the action of being saved from sin, error, or evil” or “the action of regaining possession of something in exchange for clearing of a debt”. I don’t think the first would apply to people who are not religious. There is no sin in their eyes, there are only actions, and consequences if they run afoul of the law. There is no higher deity bestowing palm leaves on them or anointing them with crispy pieces of cow fat.

But the second- the action of regaining possession of something. I was thinking about that ‘something’. It could be the act of being at peace with myself. It could be forgiving the self, allowing oneself to start anew and get rid of the emotional baggage because dead people are laid to rest and that apology was made, or something small- like reaching out to an old friend to do something for him. If you think that there is no redemption in your family life, but you are very interested in volunteering for kids, or making a thousand dollars every day, then that is where redemption lives. It doesn’t need to be for other people, you can be intensely self-absorbed and feel like you have been forgiven, your debts have been paid.

But because of this arbitrary standard some of us are never free. Our parents might not let us go, and our spouses might never agree to forgive. That is when one learns to move on even without other people, because it can be a hateful place if one confuses redemption with validation and approval from other people. Approval is temporary, based on the situation, it might not last for very long. But redemption is wiping the slate clean, it is letting go.

What others cannot do for us, we can do for ourselves. We attach meaning to events and actions, we form our own meaning of what is redemption. And whatever we were truly redeemed for, it won’t come back. Not in that exact form.

Meanwhile, I have discovered a latent talent for nursing. I find comfort in thumping air bubbles out of the IV line before inserting it. I like opening the little sterile alcohol pads before swabbing his arm and the cap of the medication bottle. I feel whole while I count and organize a week’s worth of his pills and place them into the pale yellow Monday-through-Friday plastic pill box with snapping lids over each day.

 

And a small tiny trumpet of comfort is that Burroughs, in his thirties, is so outrageously successful and simultaneously also fucked up, it makes me feel better about where I am. That I am just taking a break from being a workaholic. I am just okay. I am not a nymphomaniac on drugs. I am not dating any nymphomaniacs on drugs. Didn’t murder any either. Good life so far.

The back of it is flat, engraved. I have to swipe my eyes again to get the blur out so I can read what it says.

I’M WATCHING YOU. NOW STOP DRINKING. 

I remove the golden Pighead, palm it and start to leave.

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