13 thoughts on “The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath

  1. Unlike other books we’ve read in the semester, Intoxication and Its Aftermath directly incorporates outside research and I appreciate Leslie Jamison’s attempt to combine personal narrative and research into a larger story. However, it wasn’t effective. While I enjoyed the information on the War on Drugs and The Shining, the majority of the research and Jamison’s subsequent explanations of their meaning felt like reading what I imagine our final essays for this class is like. It was dry, the transitions from narrative to research could be harsh and I found it laborious to get through. I haven’t read the books or authors Jamison mentions and she never made me care to. I would have preferred just Jamison’s personal narrative about her intoxication, relapse and recovery.

    In looking at reviews of Intoxication and Its Aftermath it seems like others struggled with Jamison’s inclusion of research as well. In a New York Times Review, Dwight Garner notes that Jamison adds little new insight to the discussion and as the reader “you frequently feel as though you’re reading filler; mental sawdust.” In a Washington Post review, Nora Caplan-Bricker admits the lack of narrative power or chronology of the biographical portions can be confusing or even frustrating.

    I am also curious as to why Jamison decided to structure the book linearly like she did. Early on, Jamison asks the question on whether recovery can be as entertaining as the downfall itself, but as the reader you don’t see her recovery until at least halfway through the book. Which makes it feel like “just another addiction memoir” that she’s trying to avoid. In Writing My Wrongs, Shaka Senghor makes a conscious effort to distinguish his story by flipping between jail and his upbringing, and even so his time in jail is the main focus. I would’ve liked something similar in Jamison’s book. Or at least something other than a linear timeline.

    On a sentence level, in addition to italics and rhetorical questions voicing inner thoughts, I noticed Jamison used a loat of long sentences and repetition of words/phrases. I thought this was effective in conveying the length of her journey towards sobriety and the cyclical nature of both her drinking and path to recovery. Like Jamison wanted to drink heavily and her path to recovery wasn’t linear, her sentences wind and amble and she repeats parts of herself. The most frustrating aspect of Jamison’s writing was her use of the em dash. I love a good em dash. Jamison uses it so judiciously in Intoxication and Its Aftermath that even after three chapters in, I became fed up and it became the only thing I could see. It feels like every sentence in this book has an em dash in it, which is distracting from the points Jamison is trying to make.

    Intoxication and Its Aftermath is not my favorite. Everything about this book wants you to slow down and pay attention to it. From the length of the sections to the length of the sentences. Which is fine, but it also feels like missing the forest for the trees.

    Q: Maybe this is just me, or my millennial showing, but did anyone else think Jamison was slightly romanticizing her drinking in Iowa by talking about how she drank all the time and paid her half of rent on a bakery salary? Which runs counter to the idea of disproving the myth of great drunk writers in Iowa? Maybe Iowa is just really cheap to live in, but still.
    *****************
    New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/02/books/review-recovering-leslie-jamison.html

    Washington Post Article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/will-getting-sober-deaden-a-writers-inspiration/2018/03/28/ba1d086c-1d93-11e8-ae5a-16e60e4605f3_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7f26165c365e

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    1. Your critique is well taken. What do you think she could have done to incorporate the research more seamlessly into the book? Was there anything useful about the stories of other writers drinking?

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  2. I’ll be honest, this blog post was hard for me to write. It was difficult getting through the book knowing the events that happened only a street over from me. My thoughts are all a bit mismatched and jumbled at the moment, so I apologize.
    I read a few essays from Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams in my undergrad, and I really enjoyed how she was able to capture such emotion and herself as a character simultaneously without becoming sentimental. I believe she did a similar thing with The Recovering, utilizing elements of literary journalism intertwined with her own narrative to both distance herself from the text and draw us closer when she wanted to make a larger statement about the road to recovery in the midst of identity politics.
    I think Jamison was most successful in the way she braided historical, social, and political contexts with her own personal narrative. By first establishing the image of the “troubled male writer,” the one who stays up all night in his study, sipping gin and stumbling over perfecting his manuscript. I believe this image paired well with her descriptions of the Iowa Writer’s workshop, where she first puts us in a culturally different space. Illustrating the community around her, the workshop climate, and the different bars allowed the reader to experience the ways in which stepping into a different space can affect the character within it. On page 35, she writes, “The appeal wasn’t just about intoxication – as a portal or a bandage – but about the alluring relationship between creativity and addiction itself.” She moves on to talk about the Old Drunk Legends who were all men, illustrating the myths surrounding writer’s addiction and the images we have of them. As she creates this image alongside her own story as an upper middle-class white woman, the reader is able to understand the manners in which her own story is not always visible in the larger scope of what we see as addiction. She returns to this idea in her “Humbling” section, where she talks about the Big Book of sayings in AA meetings, and how her own story plays into the ideas of what we see as an “addict.”
    I also thought Jamison was skillful in how she portrayed memory as a metaphor. There are often times where there are gaps in her own story, either due to her memory or a blackout. In a craft driven choice, she decides to use these moments as portrayals of darkness in her narrative, where the lights almost seem to “go out” in her brain. She writes of her “shards of memory” and how she couldn’t “remember inviting” the drunk cousin of her addiction to these stories. She calls her memory “a pile of scraps, sodden and souring” in Chapter 7. By equating her memory to a metaphor, she skillfully places the sensory details of her addiction, the AA meetings, and the image of her want and need as a monstrous thing as a companion to the more journalistic sections of cultural and political context.

    A question: Who was the audience? It’s a question I am always interested in, but particularly for this book, as a narrative of recovery and addiction from an upper middle-class white woman.

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    1. A couple more thoughts as I read other’s reactions to the book:
      How did the addicted artist (often, as she explains, a white male) play out for other people? She draws several different writers in as examples of the “troubled creative,” “Raymond Carver and John Cheever tire-squealing through early-morning grocery-store parking lots to restock their liquor stash; John Berryman opening bar tabs…” These were less “journalistic” like in her examination of recovery in Infinite Jest on page 529, but still worked for me as a lens into this stereotype.

      How is she using movement in the book? For me, the sensory details and metaphors worked well as a thread through the text, but I also thought she was using her physical movement as another layer of the body in addiction. This is not only limited to her own body at times, but also at the beginning of page 417, as she crashes her friend’s car into the wall.

      Thinking about what Kasi said in terms of setting up a “thesis” for the more journalistic sections, I thought it was interesting that she was not only looking at specific images of addiction socially and politically, but also looking at images of addiction in the media, through film and text. As mentioned, it does feel like she is doing literary analysis of these portrayals, and I found it powerful weaved in between her personal story.

      “It’s a strange type of double vision to rewatch certain moments of my own life with the subtitles of biology playing underneath, like watching a thriller once the trick ending has been explained. I can understand sniffing lines of coke off a boy’s coffee table as the activation of a receptor that blocked dopamine reuptake, so the dopamine stuck around longer in my synapses. But I felt that blocked dopamine reuptake as the surge of my own voice. It was the sloughing of a snakeskin, the shedding of fear” (173).

      I also found this an interesting and powerful section as she is dealing with memory, and how those events and images change over time. How does she create a closeness as a narrator or character by doing this?

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    2. I think the quote here about the connection between creativity and addiction is the key to reading the book. It’s almost as if she wrote it for creative writers. You almost have to be familiar with the writers and the myths about the writers in order to appreciate the full range of the book. And to understand the supersized reputation and role University of Iowa plays in the world of creative writing.

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  3. Within the first chapter of Leslie Jamisons’s The Recovering, I noticed 2 things: her integration of research and the way she discusses her past selves.

    Let’s start with research. This book is, more or less, a giant braided… memoir? I really appreciate the way Jamison weaves her story with those of other writers and with more factual information about addiction and alcoholism specifically. Keeping my eyes peeled as a writer, I could see the moves she made – when she transitioned from her story to research, how she worked her own story back in, how she brought research back up chapters later to keep that thread strong.

    One of the threads that I found myself the most connected to was that of the “haunting” writers of Iowa. I loved the way Jamison introduced them as a hallmark of place, beginning with Denis Johnson (22). There is a sense of place to this thread through the farmhouse parties, the cornfields, and the bars. There is also the sense of placing oneself in literature, finding writing that you can root yourself in. Jamison uses this longing to tell us what she was reading and being influenced by throughout her alcoholism, but also gives us a sense of what’s missing. She specifically brings up many narratives of addiction – both on the page and in the lives of writers– only to tell us that she doesn’t see herself in these. Jamison quotes Eavan Boland, “I want a poem I can grow old in. I want a poem I can die in” and follows it with her own, “I wanted a story I could get sober in” (297). This is, clearly, the story that Jamison is writing. She is both telling her story and carving a space for herself and others like her to fit into.

    Part of this weaving is the way Jamison seamlessly slips into her past, dissecting it as she goes. This stood out to me immediately. With Writing My Wrongs, there was a noticeable tone of “I’ve changed now, I’ve seen the light.” And while I don’t doubt Senghor’s transformation, I think Jamison had a much more complex take on herself. I’m partial to this, because it is my personal philosophy that I honor past versions of myself as their own person, which means being able to explore yourself as if they were someone else. I think Jamison really accomplishes this, and I admire it. One of the most striking moments of this, for me, was when she recounted the relationship she had with the man who couldn’t taste. Jamison writes, “At the time, I felt sorry for myself. Now I look back and feel sorry for him, with this girl showing up at his place to cook her rubbery chicken and demanding his compliments in return, then sobbing in his bathroom, clearly wanting something from him, but what? Neither one of us knew” (55). Jamison gives this man from her past a lot of consideration. She is able to recognize the pain she was in, but also understand that she took a toll on someone who was important to her. Jamison may sound like she’s cutting herself down in this passage, but she ends it with a leveling revelation. She pities this man, but she also brings it back to the confusion that consumed both of them, even if it was because of her.

    If I hadn’t been looking for it, I think I would have sped through this book without noticing just how careful Jamison was in her weaving, which seems like the point, in a way? Ultimately, I admire the way Jamison went about telling her story, and I think she was very effective in finding stories, a tradition, to lay her own experiences on.

    Some questions I have:
    Did other folks find Jamison’s integration of research to be smooth? Were there any spots where it was a little too heavy-handed? Would you consider writing something like this, a longer or shorter work, based on Jamison’s example? What kind of research would you work into your own story?

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    1. I’m glad you mentioned sense of place, and that might be something to focus on either in discussion or if one of you is interested in investigating use of sense of place in your final paper. I think the quote here you highlighted “I wanted a story I could get sober in” is really important; I wonder if she also wanted to WRITE a story she could get sober in, especially since she tells several stories of writers who wrote the recovery stories but did not manage to stay sober. What is the role of both reading and writing in healing and recovery?

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  4. I knew from early in the first chapter that I would have a lot of say about this book. I was absolutely enamored with Jamison’s writing from the first page. Having noticed the use of repetition when she was talking about each of her first times, I underlined each time she wrote “The first time.” Later, I kept noticing her coming back to these first times by comparing the nature of her current positioning with addiction to these first times or by bringing up the idea that she (and the others she writes about) is continually seeking a feeling like that first time. I think this is a true testament to not only Jamison’s ability to maintain the use of important ideas and experiences throughout her narrative but also the strength of her weaving her narrative with the narratives of others. Also, I feel that keeping these threads going throughout the book helped to show the universalism of an addict’s experiences, another extremely difficult task to keep up in a book of this length that Jamison executed wonderfully.

    There were two things I was most impressed by—and therefore paid the most attention to—in this book. The first is the way that Jamison weaves her narrative with those of other writers and close, personal friends (or partners) and also with historical and/or scientific evidence to help explain what she’s talking about. When including the stories of other writers, historical context, and scientific information, I often got a “literary analysis” or “lit review” type of vibe. It seemed like each story or writer Jamison brought into her book was picked apart and explained with intentionality. In these moments, I started noticing “thesis statements” all throughout the book. Ex: “The arc of Blueschild Baby stages conflict between various narratives of addiction—addiction as repressive political rhetoric, addiction as social rebellion—but it never fogets addiction as bodily reality…” (171). Jamison then takes quotes from the text and information from research and/or interviews to drive her point home, to support her argument. How she was able to take a more academic style of writing and seamless combine it with traditional memoir writing was astonishing to me.

    The second thing I was most impressed by was Jamison’s ability to turn herself (and often others) into a dynamic character. (I also noticed how addiction becomes a character in itself, but I don’t have enough time to write about that.) Whether it be through scene; dialogue; sharing her worries, wants, and fears, or reflection, I saw that she was able to place herself as a character in the foreground or the background with ease, again seamlessly moving from memoir to review/analysis. Likewise, she is intentional with the amount of information or detail she uses in talking about or showing us others, bringing them in or out of the story in whatever ways work best to advance the narrative and the reader’s understanding of addiction and the process of recovery. What’s more is that Jamison then makes the other people she talks about a part of herself, representing how understanding them had helped her to understand herself. For example, on page 112, Jamison mentions interviewing a clinician “who described addiction as a “narrowing of repertoire.”” Later, on the same page, she states, “the compulsion to use overrides normal survival behaviors like seeking food, shelter, and mating. It’s the narrowing again: this, only this.” This incorporation of others into the self is another great example of how Jamison universalizes the experiences of addiction and recovery. I’m sure it was a tricky task to show the differences in each individual’s experience while also highlighting the ones they all share, and I think Jamison did a wonderful job of that.

    ***
    Some other thoughts:
    • Revisiting my brief mention of Jamison’s use of scientific information, whether it be specific studies or interviews with medical professionals, I wonder if the inclusion of the science behind intoxication and addiction helped the reader or the writer more. Does this put things into a new perspective for the reader or allow the writer to better articulate a point? Maybe, both?
    • In the book, Jamison categorizes much of her experience with addiction and recovery; she even categorizes some different stereotypes/personas of addiction, such as the genius addict, the crack mother, and the unrepentant addict. I noticed that this went hand-in-hand with her frequent use of lists in the texts.
    • Jamison also frequently uses simile and metaphor throughout her book, especially when explaining the physical feelings of intoxication and addiction. Some of these fell flat for me, but overall, I feel like this was a wise decision as it helps readers who may not have experienced these feelings to relate to and understand on a more visceral level.
    • In addition, Jamison also uses wording commonly related to drinking in other contexts. For example, she says, “it was also about the buzz I got in my gut from the guilt and thrill of imagining what might happen” (132). In the same way that she was able to make the words, thoughts, and ideas of others a part of herself, I found that Jamison was able to effectively convey the ways her addiction became a part of identity by using this wording to describe feelings and thoughts outside of the actual intoxication.
    • I was very impressed by the clear and unquestionable relation of the content of each chapter of the book to its title. As someone who struggles with titling things, I was a little jealous of the simplicity and ease the titling of each section seemed to carry.

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    1. I’m glad to see you thinking about how Jamison portrays herself as a character by presenting her hopes and dreams and fears. She also does a pretty good job, I think, of showing the deep conflicts within her. She’s not a likable character, I would say, most of the way through the book, and that’s because she takes the risky approach of not trying to make us like her. I’m wondering how that worked for folks.

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  5. Renee’ Drummond-Brown
    The Recovering Intoxication and Its Aftermath” By: Author Leslie Jamison
    10-21-2018

    Author Leslie Jamison’s book “The Recovering Intoxication and Its Aftermath” depicts a history of alcoholism, drug abuse and recovery. Jamison’s literary voice explains the differences in chapter 3, pg. #61, of unfair treatment per race, per class, male vs. female, in how society (as a whole) classifies and views individuals with substance abuse issues. Her voice echoes the prejudices in American society…she expertly writes:
    “Male drunks are thrilling. Female drunks are bad moms. White addicts get their suffering witnessed. Addicts of color get punished. Celebrity addicts get posh rehab with equine therapy. Poor addicts get a hard time.”
    Through her weighted memoir she skillfully personifies that addiction is a social issue rather than just one’s personal problem. This personification is addressed by the author on page 449, as she writes
    “Any ethically responsible vision of treatment needs to include a much broader array of options, including medications…as well as therapeutic approaches…”
    Her narrative is highly engaging and weighs heavily on educating the reader/masses by abstracting from the Alcohol Anonymous (AA) perspective throughout the chapters in her book. The various perspectives are well documented from others experiences as well and skillfully crafted by the author writings.
    This book mirrors self-awareness of addictions and the author strategically utilizes tools used to cope with one’s obsessions found in AA’s steps. Some of those steps can be seen on the various pages below:
    Step 1 depicts admission on page #111 the author notes what is written in the diary “My shame about drinking wasn’t mainly about embarrassment at what I did when I was drunk; it was about how much I wanted to get drunk…”
    Step 2 depicts prayer on page #303. The author writes “Got down on my knees to pray even though I wasn’t sure what I was praying to…don’t drink, don’t drink, don’t drink.”
    The author’s shared experiences are well documented themes of obsession which enabled me to better understand the severity of addictions through her literature. She writes from a place that reflects and addresses physiological, economical, mental, environmental ills of society. She lured me in her narrative when she spoke of clichés that held truths of experiences. She wrote “I knew a man in meetings who spoke…in clichés, like a patchwork quilt of phrases sewn together in jagged veers of thought.” The author then pens his various clichés on p.316; the clichés rang poetic thoughts to my ears. It somewhat reminded me of Joy Castro’s powerful statement about her writing from that jagged, smashed place of edges.
    Jamison, who is now 8 years sober, illustrates in this book abuse, recovery and sobriety full circle. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her memoir and will definitely gift it to others as I know it can definitely help.

    Questions/Statements:
    1. Does anyone agree with me that this brilliant author’s book can be viewed as an educational tool that speaks volume to a wide range of audiences?
    2. Because author Leslie Jamison lends her voice from a personal perspective this further adds validity to her credibility. Do you agree?

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    1. You are the first to mention her use of AA. I’m wondering if you and others felt it was effective–it was obviously how she got sober so it makes sense, but she does include in the afterword a discussion of other methods (specifically MAT) that go against AA principles. Something to talk about in class maybe.

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  6. One of the first things I noticed upon starting The Recovering is the chapter titles. The roman numeraled headings starting with “Wonder,” and run the gamut with concepts like “Lack” and “Thirst,” ends with “Homecoming.” It brought to mind the Kubler-Ross grief cycle, though twice the size at sixteen chapters. This brought me to the idle wondering if Leslie Jamison was related in any way to Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and writer, who has written extensively on bipolar disorder, and the “artistic temperament,” both from the area of memoir and scholarly work. (I knew this from discovering Redfield Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind after my own diagnosis as Bipolar II at the age of 22.) This curiosity became less idle when Leslie mentioned that her grandmother had two children with manic depression. I had assumed it was Leslie’s father and estranged aunt Phyllis, but it turns out Redfield Jamison is also Leslie’s aunt.

    I found this familial connection especially interesting, and a road in on a text that I initially was very resistant towards. While not attempting to compare their individual texts, both Jamison women have written about the effects of addiction and mental illness on artists, Leslie with this book, and Kay with Touched With Fire. Before identifying this family connection, I at several points felt Leslie showed some obsessive-compulsive tendencies through her writing. Many parts of her personal narrative left me feeling heavily overwhelmed, a barrage of rapid-fire descriptions that never seemed to stop coming – even after Jamison got sober. We’ve spent many discussions this semester talking about what writing choices are deliberate, and I’m sure Jamison is no exception. Her pacing and descriptions, particularly in her early days of drinking, going from party to blackout to stolen Chardonnay alone in her bedroom highlight Jamison’s spiral into alcoholism. It was overwhelming.

    It is jarring, initially, when Jamison transitions to the history of addiction, and the “War on Drugs” in America, but much like almost every other book we’ve read, it is welcome. Craft-wise, I feel like The Recovering is more of a combination of Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Westover’s Educated, than M. Evalina Galang combining the personal and political in Lola’s House. The journalistic history provides removed context for Jamison’s personal narrative, and the others who share her disease of addiction.

    Like Tara Westover, Jamison changes the name of many who were close to her on her journey to sobriety, as well as indivuals whose stories she shares. Unlike Westover, Jamison shares this detail in the Author’s Note at the end of the book, along with a detailed description of her research. The Author’s Note is followed by over twenty pages of endnotes. The decision to include these notes (and bibliography) at the end gives Jamison, and in turn her own personal story of recovery, greater credibility than if the book were to just end with a simple endnote of thanks and acknowledgment.

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    1. Oh, interesting discovery about that familial connection, given they have both written about a form of mental illness and artistic temperament. You may be right that her own mental illness shaped her voice. I know at times I felt exhausted by her need to analyze her relationships constantly in such detail. Perhaps that level of personal analysis appeal more to those who enjoy such things!

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