Amber Tozer Sober Stick Figure
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Amber Tozer Is Officially a Sober Stick Figure

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Amber Tozer is Officially a Sober Stick FigureStand-up comedian, Twitter maven and AfterParty contributor, storytelling performer and podcast guest Amber Tozer thinks sobriety is hilarious and we should all be really grateful for that. I recently sat down with Amber to discuss quitting drinking, delusions of grandeur and her new memoir Sober Stick Figure (Running Press, release date May 31, 2016) a story of recovering from alcoholism, accompanied by a whopping 256 illustrations created by the author herself. The stick figure drawings and Tozer’s free-of-fluff, irreverent voice are the perfect equation for an oftentimes dark but utterly open narrative of her life leading up to giving up booze, and of course the (mostly joyful) aftermath. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

MP: At what point did you feel comfortable being open about your sobriety in your writing and on stage?

Amber: Well, it’s funny because I tried to get sober before—like many, many times—and I was really private about it. So I think this time felt different because I almost felt like I knew I was done so I was pretty open about it right away. And I think as a writer, what I write about is what’s going on in my head. And so I was pretty open about it right away because I couldn’t help myself. But it was interesting because the times that I did try before in New York, I was in secret about it. This time felt so different that I had to talk about it, if that makes sense.

MP: How did the idea for the stick figure illustrations come about?

Amber: Well, Peter Steinberg, my agent, found me on Twitter. I tweeted a joke about needing a job and he was like, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?” I had some loose ideas but they weren’t really solid pitches so we were talking on the phone and brainstorming and I mentioned that I was doing a comic book and he said, “Oh do you illustrate?” and I said, “I could draw stick figures maybe?” And he was like, “Oh that’d be funny, a book about stick figures” and the next day he emailed me, “I could sell a book called Sober Stick Figure. It’s like Diary of a Wimpy Kid but for adults,” and I was like, I could write that. I tried a few pages out and it wasn’t that great at first. I was sort of skimming over the darkness and he was like, “This is good but I want you to dig deeper.” So he really helped me. Then once I got the first chapter out of the way, it sort of flowed.

MP: Do you think that making the memoir funny and coming from the perspective of a comedian somehow made the story easier to tell?

Amber: Yeah. I loved the balance. I loved knowing that no matter how dark the stuff was that I was writing, that an illustration would lighten it up.

MP: And the writing, too! It wasn’t just the illustrations that lightened it up.

Amber: Well, I think sobriety is hilarious. I think it is the most hilarious thing anyone could ever, ever go through. It’s just this awakening and this magnifying glass on the ridiculous life that you used to live and then going through the feelings of getting sober is so dramatic that you have to start laughing. So, I don’t know, I’m thankful that it turned out funny because it is dark and I think hopefully it’s a new take on writing about sobriety.

MP: So you talk about—and I related a lot to this—moving to New York and wanting to be an actress, that sort of aspiring-to-do-great-things instinct. Do you think that’s a common alcoholic trait?

Amber: It might be. I feel like we have a tendency to have delusions of grandeur. And if we’re drunk enough all the time, you have enough confidence to follow through. So I think so and I think a lot of artists are addicts because we’re so sensitive and over-analyze stuff.

MP: We’re constantly having an existential crisis.

Amber: Yeah. We think way more than the normal person and I think we get relief in expressing it. And so I do think being an alcoholic and trying to live your dreams is connected.

MP: Is there anything you included that you regret including?

Amber: All of it (laughs)…it’s not that I regret putting stuff in; I want to change how I wrote it, like, oh this paragraph seems rushed, just little tweaks that are driving me nuts. But I am a little concerned that I might upset a couple of people, even though I changed their names. And I was really worried about what my mom would think when she read it but she’s okay with it and very supportive of everything I wrote.

MP: How do you feel about breaking anonymity and talking about AA? Was that something that you struggled with or were you like, “It’s my book, I’m f*cking talking about it?”

Amber: I’m nervous because I’m worried, what if I relapse, you know? I try to be careful and say that I’m not a spokesperson for the program but it changed my life.

MP: I think you talked about it very gracefully and respectfully.

Amber: Yeah. I was nervous but I also think that it’s important that people should know because when I was struggling, and I found out someone was in the program, it planted seeds in my head, you know, Augusten Burroughs or even the producer that I wrote about. Once I knew that he was in AA, it really made me think. So if I could plant a seed in someone’s mind that maybe a couple of years down the road will help them, I think it’s worth it. But I also want to let them know that I’m not an expert. This is just what my story is.

MP: You wrote, “The insanity of wanting to stop [drinking]and wanting to ask for help coupled with my denial fueled a type of neurosis that made me feel like I was a prisoner to my own thoughts. I was self-centered, obsessed with trying to drink like a normal person, and not being completely honest with everyone. I felt fucking crazy, like I needed to be admitted to a psych ward.” I know this will resonate with a lot of alcoholics. Why do you think that we’re like that and what makes us finally deal?

Amber: I think you’re like that until you surrender, until you stop and admit that you’re like that. I didn’t know I was like that until now; I couldn’t have written that then. So I think, for me, alcoholics are like that because we’re mentally ill; it’s like an illness and then hopefully enough pain will make you surrender and then you just have to utilize another part of your brain. I think when you’re like that, you’re not aware that you’re even thinking. It’s like you are those thoughts. So, you’re not thinking like, “Oh, I’m having a bad thought,” you’re thinking, “I am this horrible thing,” and it’s more than just a thought, it’s your world. And I just think it takes a little bit of work to not be like that, even if you’re a normal person.

Sober Stick Figure is set for release on May 31, 2016 by Running Press.

Photo courtesy of Amber Tozer; used with permission.

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About Author

Mary Patterson Broome has written for After Party Magazine, Women's Health Magazine Online, AOL, WE TV and Mashed. She has been performing stand-up comedy at clubs, colleges, casinos, and festivals for over a decade.