Sober Is My New Drunk, by Paul Carr

Sometimes enough is enough, and memoirist Paul Carr exemplifies this maxim. His previous books - Bringing Nothing To The Party and The Upgrade - were tales told from the bottom of a champagne glass. The first book, a rollicking story about how Carr started and destroyed an Internet business, was punctuated by drunken antics that seemed to define the Carr character: part imp, part jerk, and part Lost Boy. The second book, a treatise on how to live in hotels rather than renting an apartment, is really more about drinking too much at all the wrong places.

In short, over time, Carr became his own character and his only job as a writer was to try to remember what went down the morning after the bottles of beer, whiskey, and champagne finally dwindled down to a raft of empties floating in the slush of ice at the bottom of a VIP bucket. Well, goodbye to all that.

His third book - really more of a longer essay - is a Byliner project called Sober Is My New Drunk. It costs $1.99 and can be read in an hour. It is, in short, a step-by-step look at how to stop drinking the Paul Carr way and, although it may not be useful for a majority, in the Venn diagram of people like Paul Carr (plugged-in web users for whom Wi-Fi is a secondary addiction) and alcoholics, the overlap is probably not small. There is a bit more on the topic here, although the essay is worth a full read.

In his first two books, Carr came off as a well-to-do Poe Ballantine, writing from the road to ruin. In this book, he's more of a buddy who has seen and done a little too much and is letting you know how to avoid that road.

His advice is fairly straight-forward and will make some folks uneasy. In his effort to give up drinking he eschewed the 12-step method and basically did a blog post. He posits that, like any worthy project, a statement of intent is needed to follow through. He wrote:

You don’t need anywhere near that kind of audience for public quitting to be effective. Posting on Facebook or Twitter for just your friends to see will have almost the same effect as posting on a blog. If you’re worried about your professional reputation if you “come out” as an addict, you might want to consider sending a group e-mail to a dozen or so people you trust. Believe me, word will get around. The key is for people you encounter on a day-to-day basis to be aware that you have a problem and are trying to fix it. Those people—not a group of well-meaning strangers in AA—are the ones who will be your greatest allies in quitting.

Alcoholism is a difficult subject. Like forms of religious experience and certain health manias, those experienced in the space are often vocal about their methods and dedicated to evangelizing their success. Therefore, it took some guts for Carr to make the recommendations he does. Although some would call his actions irresponsible, I'm more likely to call them brave.

Carr quotes Mignon McLaughlin on his quitting letter: "the chief reason for drinking is the desire to behave in a certain way, and to be able to blame it on alcohol." His essay, perhaps, is a step onto the path of better behavior. But, as a dedicated fan of his various hijinks, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can write with the clarity of a bon vivant doing a little less of the bon and a little more of the vivant.

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    1. Interesting quote from a perpetual drug user; can’t say I agree, from what I have seen with my limited life experience.

      Would it be considered a disease if one habitually stepped in front of moving cars on a daily basis?  Modern psychiatry likely would.

      (Lindsay Beyerstein, you beat me to it.)

      1. My reading suggests that Dick’s reputation as a “perpetual drug user” is overstated.  

        Yes, he smoked weed.  Yes, he did whites.  Yes, “Three Stigmata” is famously based on acid, before Dick tried acid.

        But according to various sources (including ex-wife Anne), his reputation for drug abuse is vastly exaggerated.

  1. The disease model of addiction is flawed, but that Philip K. Dick line is not a cogent critique. If someone has a persistent urge to step in front of moving cars, even though he knows he shouldn’t, you’d call that a mental illness. 

    1. Agreed: persistent destructive behavior is mental illness.

      Although I quoted Dick (and admire his work), I am not personally sympathetic to the idea(s) behind the quotation.

  2. The irony of the Phillip K. Dick analogy is that it’s the very same analogy that is written in the book Alcoholics Anonymous in an attempt to try to help alcoholics understand that their drinking is more than just a matter of bad judgement, that there’s something more going on. 

    “Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.
    On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jaywalking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking, the illustration would fit exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language but isn’t it true?Some of you are thinking: “Yes, what you tell is true, but it doesn’t fully apply. We admit we have some of these symptoms, but we have not gone to the extremes you fellows did, nor are we likely to, for we understand ourselves so well after what you have told us that such things cannot happen again. We have not lost everything in life through drinking and we certainly do not intend to. Thanks for the information.”That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were. But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly any exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.”

  3. “the chief reason for drinking is the desire to behave in a certain way, and to be able to blame it on alcohol”

    Maybe for some. It seems to be a common implicit attitude in English-speaking countries, in particular, but it definitely doesn’t apply to every person, or in every culture.

    Quoting “Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking”, (section “symbolic roles”):

    “When the British, for example, an ambivalent, episodic, beer-drinking culture, go to France, an integrated, wine-drinking culture, they exhibit a tendency to drink wine in beer quantities and display all of the behavioural excesses associated with their native drinking patterns, with the result that young British tourists “are now renowned in France and elsewhere in Europe for their drinking and drunkenness” (McDonald, 1994). In Spain, by contrast, the young males appear more sensitive to alien cultural influences, and have adopted, along with beer-drinking, the anti-social behaviour patterns of their beer-drinking guests.”

    The whole paper’s pretty interesting reading, actually, if you’ve got a few hours to kill.

  4. Being an alcoholic who quit on his own nearly a year ago, I’m really interested to read this book. I’d need to write a book of my own to work out exactly how I’ve managed to do it, I’m just certain that the 12 step program would absolutely never work with me. One thing that bothers me with the 12 step method of quitting is it’s not entirely universal for all addictions. 
    If one is addicted to food, they cannot quit cold turkey, they must achieve a balance of some sort. I understand that alcohol ISN’T needed and there are many who just need one beer to lose all control, so obviously they should give it up entirely. For me, though, it was always the 5th or 6th beer that sent me over the edge… or any liquor at all. 
    So when I say I”ve been sober nearly a year, I actually had 2 beers at a party last weekend, but it’s been nearly a year since I had a hangover or ended up in the hospital or said something unforgivable to someone I care about. Perhaps I’m not an alcoholic, and just a stupid American who was following social norms for too long. 

  5. I destroyed my life nearly completely during college by drinking. My progression over the 4 years was remarkable, going from “4 beers and I’m wasted” to ” A whole case of beer in a few hours and even though I was seeing double vision, I could walk and talk fairly coherenly.” I can even recall how alcohol in my body made me feel: like there was a caged bird inside my chest, and when I drank, the bird got larger and happier. I stopped drinking on May 13th, 1983. I did outpatient rehab for a few weeks and attended AA meetings for about a year and a half. I have never fallen off the wagon, but the Camel-Back-Straw moment came at the last meeting I attended.  A man stood at the podium and said “Hi, my name is Joe and I’m an alcoholic. I have been sober for 9 years, and I woke up this morning thinking about taking a drink.” That was it, I was done. It was just too depressing to watch people stay consumed by drink even when they didn’t do it any longer. Since then, I have tended bar many times, I go to clubs, we often have wine in our home; no problem. For me, I knew that to return to drinking was a death sentence, because all this time later, I STILL remember that feeling when alchohol was in my system. Mine is a physiological issue, but for many it is only psychological and for others it is every mixture in between. There is no System for All, but Bill W. at least took the wheel until I was ready myself.

  6. Treatment of alcoholism is now offered as a specialisation in American medical training. That is not a metaphor or a model. That is a disease. The chemical change is observable, measurable, and irreversible. It cannot be cured but it can be managed. Carr is correct that the key is behavior change. And you will not do it alone.

    1. i think we’ve gotten ourselves twisted around, when we remove self-directed behavior from the equation in labeling things “heart disease” and “addiction disease” (i know that’s not the accepted nomenclature). behavior can be sufficient in the development of a disease, e.g., smoking and lung cancer, but it feels a bit crude to me to say that changes in the body’s structure or function stemming from behavior are diseases themselves.

      as ridiculous as it may sound, giving up responsibility to a disease is very similar to giving up responsibility to god. both of these responses to addiction are ontologically questionable. behavior change is key, and i think it can do damage to the recovery process for people to think that anything other than things within their power are standing in the way.

  7. Great article – thank you.

    NOW – why in heck do all the book links now go to the KINDLE version? Have you tried to get to the actual BOOK on Amazon from the damn kindle link? Ugh. A huge fraction of my library these last years comes from boingboing and all of a sudden it’s gotten stupid. Grrrr.

  8. This sounds like Carr’s first attempt at quiting. It will be interesting to see how his views on addiction change over time.  I understand his need to discount tried and true methods without putting them to the test.  There is always the chance that he could be building a better mouse trap, but it is also possible he trying to reinvent the wheel.

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