Drinking to Distraction

That blog title should get just about anyone’s attention.

Continuing the theme of writing about what I like, I offer a book recommendation for today’s blog. The gold standard of books concerning alcohol addiction and subsequent rehabilitation to an effective life is Carolyn Knapp’s memoir Drinking: A Love Story. Drinking to Distraction was written after Knapp’s memoir.


Why would anyone read two books in one week about alcoholism? Who knows? Both books are well-written; I like good writing.


I started and finished reading Drinking to Distraction, written by Jenna Hollenstein, in two hours. This book is short: about eighty pages. Her story is not dramatic: she didn’t drink and drive and kill someone; she didn’t wake up in bed with a strange man after a knockdown night of drinking; she just got tired of using alcohol to ease her anxiety in social situations. Hollenstein gradually decided it was time to stop drinking. She recognized that she drank to cope with her empty life when she was home alone in her apartment. She drank every night and her drinking continued for ten years. All of her friends drank excessively. That pretty much describes a formula for addiction with no easy escape.


So what sets the book apart from the average addiction memoir? Hollenstein’s discipline is extraordinary; she recovers her life from the ash heap of addiction with very little outside help.


With a gentle nudge from her therapist, Hollenstein opted to dry out in out in an outpatient rehab setting for four weeks. Afterwards, she tried AA; she left AA because it didn’t work for her. Hollenstein struck out on her own and used the process of introspection to conquer the hold addiction had on her. She carefully redefined her values: she replaced couch time with physical exercise (running) to distract her from hitting the bars after work and to reduce the time alone at home. She read (and initially ignored) a book on meditation before she decided to quit drinking. She recalled from that book that meditation helped people live more simply and calmly. She worked hard to learn how to meditate. Her description of her first meditation session is classic: she never gets control of her monkey-mind; she can’t even sit still for ten minutes. Hollenstein looked up the author (Susan Piver) of the meditation book The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Pilver and Hollenstein both lived in Boston so Hollenstein called up Piver and went to her office to learn the discipline needed to meditate. In her quest to stay sober, Hollenstein explored Zen meditation, and incorporated those ideas into her life. She practiced tremendous self-restraint by mindfully forcing herself to avoid the triggers that drove her to drink. When she could consciously slow down her response to those triggers, she gained the control she needed to resist her temptation to drink.


My take away from this book is that it is possible to conquer alcoholism and establish a meaningful life through thoughtful self-examination and through tremendous self-discipline. AA didn’t work for Hollenstein; she found a more effective way to get control of her life by taking control of her mind and reprogramming it to not respond to temptation. She became the author of her every next moment.


The book is well-written, short, and might just help an alcoholic find a path to a more effective life. I hope a female friend who is an alcoholic can find inspiration and direction in Hollenstein’s text. It is worth reading just to observe the power of Hollenstein’s determination.


Oh, and did I mention she quotes Shakespeare in her text? Always a plus.


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