"Sober Stick Figure: A Memoir”
By Amber Tozer
(Running Press, $24)
Comedian Amber Tozer is 39 years old. She is funny, profane and drop-dead honest. A recovering alcoholic, Tozer walked away from drinking eight years ago, and now she has written a book about it.
I picked up “Sober Stick Figure: A Memoir” (Running Press, $24) because alcoholism has run in my family, and because of recent news about the prevalence of binge drinking among young people.
“Sober Stick Figure” might be the funniest book about alcoholism I have ever read, thanks in part to Tozer’s hilarious self-drawn stick figures (for a taste of her work, go to ambertozer.com). Her book is a worthy companion to Sarah Hepola’s “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” and Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story.”
According to a recent University of Washington study, both heavy drinking and binge drinking are on the increase nationally, in large part due to rising rates of drinking among women. Nationwide, women showed a much faster escalation in binge drinking than men, with rates rising 17.5 percent between 2005 and 2012; men’s binge drinking increased 4.9 percent (Binge drinking is defined as about five drinks for men and four for women in two hours, according to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
I asked Tozer how she came to write her book, and how quitting drinking in a booze-suffused culture works for her.
Q: You’re a comedian; until the book came out you used your Twitter account (@AmberTozer) to tell your story. How did that turn into a book?
A: I think I’m very lucky. I wrote a joke about needing a job on Twitter and a literary agent responded and asked, have you ever thought about writing a book? We started brainstorming -- I said, when I write about sobriety, I try to keep it funny. He said, could you illustrate it? I said I could barely draw a stick figure. He said, yes, you could draw stick figures!
Q: Despite drinking a lot for a long time, you managed to remember quite a bit of your drinking years. How did that work?
A: I’ve kept journals most of my life, but the stories I included in the book were very emotional points in my life. There were a million things I don’t remember. I did remember the ones that really made me think.
Q: Binge drinking has been around for a long time; certainly when I was your age. What makes it different for today’s young women?
A: I think it’s so socially acceptable. Everyone is a little bit more open-minded and less judgmental. Fifty years ago, if you were a drunk girl, it would have been shameful, now, it’s, ‘who cares?’ The world isn’t as strict, parents aren’t as strict, in a good way, things are more loose and open. I think that’s great, but for people who can’t help it or don’t understand alcoholism, it’ll end up pretty bad.
Q: I was struck with how pivotal alcohol was to your social life.
A: Drinking is a lot of fun for a lot of people. Social drinking is a great thing and brings people together, but the percentage of people who are alcoholics, nobody is talking about that. It’s not an open discussion ... a lot of quiet shame happening.
Q: Here’s a quote from your book: “When I was sober, I was sort of serious and cranky. I knew that if I just had a few drinks in me, I’d be more likable, or more importantly I’d FEEL more likable.” What’s the connection between heavy drinking and social anxiety?
A: I think most alcoholics are uncomfortable and have a lot of negative obsessive thoughts, so drinking calms you down. The horrible part is that once you are addicted to the booze, for me, I couldn’t even walk into a place without having a couple of drinks. You’re so self-obsessed ... I think there’s definitely a connection there. But I also know people who have social anxiety that are not alcoholic.
Q: What is the essential difference between a person who can stop after one drink and one who can’t?
A: The difference is alcoholism. Alcoholics have the phenomenon of craving. Once one drink enters your body, it takes over. It’s off to the races.
For non-alcoholics, I don’t know what it feels like. I’m obsessed with non-alcoholics, I wonder: What do you feel after two drinks? They say they get tired, or dizzy, or they hate the way they feel the next day. But they have common sense.
Q: I think some people expect that everything will change when they stop drinking. How did that work for you?
A: A lot of bad things go away immediately. Bad choices when you’re drinking, feeling hung over.
But for me, the root was warped perception and negative thinking. That was still there. The booze actually helped me with that until it turned on me.
It’s very difficult to know that you still feel that way when you stop drinking. You are feeling looked at, or judged, or not good enough, or not nice enough. Or just having this belief that I was a bad person. Obsessing over simple things. Why aren’t they responding to my email, did I do something wrong, do they hate me?
Q: One of the saddest parts of your story was that you lost a lot of your friends who still drink. Or as you say in the book: “Good luck with not drinking! Want to go to a party with us where all we do is drink?”
A: That was the most painful part of getting sober. They weren’t upset with me, but it was a mix of wanting to protect me, and them drinking a lot without my judging them. It was hard to stop hanging with those friends so much. Some of my friends, all I did was drink with them. They quickly went away. Other friends, that I did other stuff with, they stayed friends. (TNS)
By Mary Ann Gwinn
The Seattle Times