How Writing about Sobriety Helps Keep Me Sober
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How Writing about Sobriety Helps Keep Me Sober


This post was originally published on June 27, 2014.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”  – Joan Didion, Why I Write.   

I, too, write because, with the penned exploration of myself, I’m able to better understand how I function and why I see life under a certain light. I seem to have a clearer idea of the origin and evolution of each and every feeling after I have run them through writing. Actually, the more I practice this principle, the deeper I seem to get to its essence. So I began to think about if this was true specifically when it comes to my writing about sobriety.

I write about sobriety a lot. Does this mean that I am more likely to stay sober? In other words: Does writing about alcoholism, drugs and recovery keep us clean?

I’m not talking about fiction, when we write about characters that are drinking, using or fighting battles to stay sober. I’m talking about recovery-oriented prose—real shit. Characters have excuses, and always a new story to tell; I don’t, as my excuses have run out and my story is the same old same old. During the beautiful and fascinating fiction-writing process, characters become my best friends, lovers and family. They feel so real on the page and yet they don’t really exist; I care for them, but I’m allowed to play with their actions without any genuine concern for what happens if they fall. When it comes to non-fiction and real recovery, however—to being naked on the page without the excuse that “it’s just a novel”—there are actual responsibilities to face.

My sobriety is the most tangible thing I’ve ever experienced in life. And had I not gotten sober and placed recovery even before my writing, I wouldn’t be here sharing about it.

I started thinking about the tradition of anonymity, and on the fact that I might break it, even before getting sober. My addiction and alcoholism were never really a secret. I started writing before getting sober, although I have never publicized my method or the exact moment recovery started. But with sobriety, everything shifted for me and my writing became actually authentic; before, my words were an intoxicated bundle of anger and sadness. I didn’t think my stories carried a message, let alone a healing one. And I certainly didn’t believe that this message would eventually help me on black days.

But I believe not only that there are terms and conditions that a sober writer must take into consideration and undersign but also risks. I feel more responsibility to be wary of the empty bottles, lies and wide array of narcotics around since taking this role on. I have to practice what I preach. The act of writing about recovery doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m exempt from relapses, mistakes or temporary amnesia about what’s prescribed for people like me. And this is the danger when transparency becomes a tool.

As the argument goes: what if I relapse and someone who’s attempting recovery reads about this, then concludes that sobriety doesn’t work? But I’ve never claimed to be any sort of expert or example; I am just someone who mulls over these issues in written form. I’ve actually relapsed since I started doing it, simply because I wasn’t doing the work recovery demands of me. I am far from perfect. For me, sharing my heart with recovering alcoholics on paper is less of a job and more a process of reminding myself what my nature is and ideally being of service to readers across the country (or, who knows, across the street). I hope I’m helping readers by giving them honest chronicles of the (at times) struggle of the daily stone-cold sober life.

The past two months have been the darkest in my sobriety. I seem to be in a familiar and painful corridor that isn’t really giving me much hint of a light. Yet I write. And it helps me as much as making coffee and setting up chairs. I’m not typing these words to show my wisdom and boldness but to help me find a way to bring in the light. Writing about sobriety certainly isn’t something I believe should be carried around as some sort of trophy or badge of honor but something I’m allowed to do.

It is through writing for and with other alcoholics that I’ve found a role in a chaotic society I always wanted to escape. I don’t feel like I’m speaking from a podium as much as experiencing what it’s like to be a worker among workers. For me, every time I share about sobriety on the page, it’s not so different from when I’m at one of my regular meetings—those that keep saving my ass—where people know my name as well as my darkness and my light.

And so, to answer the initial question: Does writing about sobriety help to keep me sober? I say yes. It’s a wonderful tool on those days when I don’t love myself enough yet feel a certain responsibility to those who read me and those who have asked me to write. Isn’t that what happens when you commit in the rooms or agree to help a newcomer? Perhaps it is all about caring, one way or another. It leaves me less of a choice and more room for feeling better when I’m in doubt about the next wrong or right action. It’s taught me that I am someone who cares and that helps—a lot.

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About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.