Out in the Open

Can you ever truly be done with an addiction?

For several years, Leslie Jamison struggled with addiction to alcohol. She's sober today. But getting to that point was a complicated journey.

Leslie Jamison talks about the subjectivity of 'rock bottom' and how quitting drinking was a repeated act

Leslie Jamison, author of The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath (Beowulf Sheehan/Little, Brown and Company)

Leslie Jamison believes the truth about most addictions is that you have to say "I'm done" multiple times.

Jamison stopped drinking in 2010 and has been sober for eight years.

"Hopefully, I'll stay sober for many more years," she told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Jamison says it took several times of having to quit over the years to get to where she's at today.

I was basically just counting down until everybody would leave and I could just get even drunker without having to worry about anyone seeing me.- Leslie Jamison

"[O]n one level, it only gets to be the moment when you say, 'I'm done' for as long as it lasts...So, it's a really important part of the process to talk about how that feeling of 'doneness' can repeat itself."

From feeling 'fun' to 'claustrophobic' 

Jamison describes the evolution of her drinking in her twenties as going from something social and fun, to "something much more claustrophobic, much more me drinking alone...before I went out so I would already be drunk, drinking alone after I came home because I wanted to keep getting even drunker until I passed out."

"It became something much more secret and furtive...that I felt increasing amounts of shame about," said the author of the new book The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. 

Jamison describes her last night of drinking, back in 2010, as a fairly normal night, like any other night she and her partner had people over.

"I was basically just counting down until everybody would leave and I could just get even drunker without having to worry about anyone seeing me."

It wasn't a moment of big explosions of big fireworks. I wasn't in jail. I hadn't crashed my car. But, I just felt like I didn't have anything left inside of me to keep needing this thing so much.- Leslie Jamison

Eventually, Jamison took a bottle of whiskey to another room, alone. Later on that night, her partner went to check in on her.

"I was just sick of pretending like things were ok. I was sick of pretending like I was managing the drinking...And I just wanted to show him, I had this impulse to show him the bottle of whiskey, come clean about how overwhelmed I felt."
And, so, she did. She showed him the bottle of whiskey she hid behind the couch, like she hid it so many other nights before when he'd walk into the room.

The subjective nature of 'rock bottom'

For Jamison, her 'rock bottom' wasn't how we stereotypically envision it, as having lost everything. While drinking heavily, she received a degree and became a successful writer. That's why Jamison stresses the subjective nature of what the term can look like in a person's life and why one might say, 'I'm done.'

Jamison said it feels different quitting this time, partially because "I've given life a real chance to show me what it can be like sober, which is not to say that it's always been easy…"

"Having the opportunity to be surprised by life has made this experience of being 'done' feel different from those earlier times when I think I only stayed sober long enough to experience sobriety as a kind of white knuckle deprivation."

Listen to the full audio of Leslie Jamison's essay for OITO on the complications of saying 'I'm Done' with addiction, adapted from her book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. 

Leslie Jamison reads an essay about addiction and the truth about stopping drinking. It was adapted for Out in the Open from her memoir, 'The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath'. 6:52

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Done and Done".