Jamison describes addiction and particularly the dynamic of the female addict, bouncing between her own story and the tales of others who have battled alcohol and mental illness.
The mythic male drunk manages a thrilling abandon —the reckless, self-destructive pursuit of truth —his female counterpart is more often understood as guilty of abandonment, the crime of failing at care. Her drinking has violated the central commandment of her gender, Thou shalt care for others, and revealed itself as an intrinsically selfish abnegation of that duty. Her self-pity compounds the crime by directing her concern away from an implicit other —real or imagined, child or spouse —and funnelling that concern back toward herself.”
― from “The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath”
She highlights and questions when an ordinary craving become pathological…suggesting perhaps this is when it becomes tyrannical enough to summon shame. When it stops constituting the self and begins to define its lack.
“For shame is its own veil,’ Denis Johnson wrote, “and veils the world as much as the face.”
When it comes to alcohol, women lose the battle of the sexes on almost every front. More and more women are struggling with heavy drinking and alcoholism, a disorder that was once believed to be primarily a man’s issue. The disease is in many ways more physically detrimental to women, who, for example get cirrhosis of the liver at twice the rate of men. Even so, they seek treatment less often. The female addict sits in a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, and is afraid to tell even those closest to her the truth about herself. She views herself as a “bad” person needing to become “good,” not as a sick person needing to become well. Many others will view her this way too and it will keep her from seeking treatment.
Addiction is a very patient disease; it lies in waiting, is stealthy and manipulative. Jamison is able to convey the struggles of being in recovery, someone haunted by her past, yet also in some way nostalgic for it.
Our sense of self is never really fixed, yet we tell ourselves one historical narrative, constantly rewritten to make sense of the changes in our lives. It can be all too easy to look back on the person that we “used to be”, with a fondness and regret that are often misplaced
The book highlights the simple truth; that stability is indeed a humble, and messy process which can feel like an immense struggle within a culture that craves simple narratives about addiction and sobriety, genius and madness.