QUITTER: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery –

July 7, 2020 – There are many ways to recover from alcoholism, a key message of “Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery,” and even more ways to write about it. Barnett’s account of her climb from hipster wino to memoirist emphasizes the relapse stage. Her challenge was to transform the chaos of a chronic, relapsing brain disease into literature without wearing her reader out. One can stomach only so many descriptions of warm hair-of-the-dog chardonnay.

Like many addicted people, Barnett grew up with a high level of what researchers call “adverse child experiences.” She didn’t know her biological mother for decades, and she was temporarily raised by grandparents in rural Mississippi, where she became an insomniac at age 6 and tried to master tough-girl skills, including how to kill a man with a pen if she had to (an upward jab through the Adam’s apple).

Uprooted to live with her father and stepmother in suburban Texas, she took her first drink at 13. She lost her teenage best friend to suicide and suffered sexual harassment early in her journalism career, a time when “I didn’t know the first thing about paying my bills on time, talking through a disagreement without storming out the door, or which color of wine was the one you drank cold.” Through it all, she portrays herself as a Type A overachiever who could hang with the boys both at the bar and in the bedroom. Until she couldn’t.

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