Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

9780143126508m Drunk Mom: A Memoir
by Jowita Bydlowska

I was contacted by the author’s publicist a few months back with a request that I read and review this book, a memoir of alcoholism.  “Sure,” I said.  “Send me the book.”  The book arrived in the mail, and it sat on my night table, merged with the pile of other to-read books on my night table.  It took awhile for me to get to it, partly because that to-read pile never, ever shrinks, and partly because I sort of dreaded reading a memoir about alcoholism because alcoholism has profoundly impacted my own life – I knew this book would strike some painful nerves for me.

That Bydlowska, a Polish transplant to Canada as a teen, had a drinking problem was not news to her.  She had confronted her alcoholism in her twenties and achieved sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous for a number of years.  Then at her best friend’s bachelorette party, the bartender asks her “Just soda?” when she orders her usual non-alcoholic drink, and suddenly, her defenses against alcohol evaporate in an instant.  So begins her relapse.  Shortly after, she discovers she is pregnant – the morning after a drunken binge – and manages to stay mostly sober for the duration of her pregnancy.  But when her son is born, Bydlowska quickly descends into full-blown alcoholism – and it isn’t pretty.

On these pages she recounts the horrors of experiencing blackouts on a regular basis – of coming to with mysterious bruises and injuries and no recollection of how they occurred, of giant blank spots in her memory, of hiding bottles of vodka in her baby’s diaper bag, of her “mental map” of liquor stores, of drinking until passing out while caring for her son, of researching how poisoned her breast milk was after indulging again and again – and of the lies she repeatedly told herimage boyfriend, her friends, and most of all, herself.  It is a sad tale of an addict’s capacity for delusion and rationalization.

As she dissolves into full-blown alcoholism once again, she throws frequent barbs at AA.  She attempts a “harm reduction” group, which rejects the label of “alcoholic” and attempts to teach moderation in drinking.  She goes into inpatient rehab when her son is less than a year old.  She makes deals with herself about her drinking.  She makes promises.  Nothing, of course, works.  All the while, I’m reading, often with my fists clenched, thinking, “You stupid bitch.  You pathetic loser.”  Because, you see, I’ve had too many alcoholics in my life, and my sympathies tend to lean towards those around the addict, and less towards the addict who is wreaking hell on everyone around them.  And yet, I was secretly rooting for her.  I couldn’t help it.  When finally, “limping on my broken toe, I march all the way across town to an AA meeting,” I pumped my fist in the air, going, “Yes!” with tears in my eyes.

Obviously this book will stay with me.  Bydlowska is a gifted writer, and though the subject matter is not pleasant, she writes with clarity and utter honesty, with a thread of dark humor running through the whole thing.  Ultimately, this is a story of hope and possibility.  I hope it acquires a huge readership.

You can find out more about Jowita Bydlowska here.

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

RUTA_WithWithoutYou_tr With or Without You: A Memoir
by Domenica Ruta

Here is yet another memoir about addiction and destructive love – this time between a mother and daughter, the author being the daughter.

Ruta grew up in Danvers, a town outside of Boston.  The only child of a drug addicted single mother who got pregnant at the age of twenty, already well down the road of addiction, Ruta’s mother claimed to have loved her daughter so much that she immediately got clean and sober the moment she discovered herself pregnant.  Whether she actually stayed clean for the duration of her pregnancy is unknown, but she was back in full swing popping pills and snorting coke before her daughter was out of diapers.  Some of Ruta’s earliest memories are of syringes, blackened spoons, straws, and dinner plates with remnants of white powder clinging to them scattered casually about their run-down house.  It wasn’t long before Ruta dipped her toes into the cesspool of drug abuse herself – at her mother’s urging; Ruta popped her first Oxycontin at the age of ten.  By the time she was midway through high school, she was snorting “Oscars,” dropping acid, smoking copious amounts of weed and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.  Through all of this, Ruta and her mother teetered on a seesaw of love and hate; theirs was a classic toxic relationship.

Somehow through all of this, Ruta managed to do very well in school and earned a scholarship first to a boarding school, and then to a small college in Ohio.  She continued to spiral out of control with her addiction, however, and involved herself in several dead-end romantic relationships.  Her mother became more and more an albatross around her neck, and finally, Ruta cuts all ties with her mother – a difficult and painful, but utterly necessary undertaking.

Finally, Ruta is ready to face her own addiction – and the pain and resentment she’s carried around her whole life at her mother’s neglect, trashy life, and failure to protect her from being raped repeatedly as a child by an uncle – that he was a pedophile and had a “thing” for Ruta was an open secret in the family.  She joins a twelve-step program, and after a few false starts and relapses, she finds herself clean and sober, hopefully for good.

Ruta is a gifted writer, and her descriptions and recounting are so vivid, I felt like I could picture it all in my mind’s eye.  A lot of her story resonates with me – the toxic mother who had to be excised, the filthy childhood house, the feelings of loneliness, and addiction – though not my own.  I found myself feeling angry as I read;  although I could relate to the author herself, I also felt disgusted at her spiral into addiction.  I guess I’ve just had too many addicts in my own life to dredge up much compassion.

Very readable, but I wonder why we haven’t grown tired of these types of stories.  Shitty childhoods and addictions – the market is flooded with these memoirs.  Very well-written, but nothing new.