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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New Story of Alcoholism and The Toll It Takes To Get and Stay Sober

Summer SecretsSummer Secrets by Jane Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometime in the 60's I remember seeing an article in the paper about the singer Lillian Roth being found passed out in the gutter in front of the London Terrace Apartments where she was living in New York City. I'd grown up right around the corner and when I mentioned it to my Mom she sadly told me about this woman who'd been an alcoholic and written a book about it called I'll Cry Tomorrow in 1954. And now several years later, after having become sober, her she was drunk lying face down in a dirty gutter in front of a fancy apartment building. I went out and got a copy of the book and it was such a harrowing story about a talented woman unable to leave alcohol alone.

Around the same time as I read the book a movie with Jack Lemmon, a favorite of mine, and Lee Remick was released. The Days of Wine and Roses had a beautiful but sad theme song written by very popular Henry Mancini and it won the Academy Award. But the story was not beautiful--it was harrowing and sad and tragic. Two beautiful talented people who marry but because they are raging alcoholics ruin their lives and marriage.

And then, in 1994, another beautiful couple, this time popular Meg Ryan and new comer, Andy Garcia, fall in love --When a Man Loves a Woman--again with a memorable sound track--this time a desperate crying dirge by Percy Sledge--and they, too, become the victims of the wife's uncontrollable affair with alcohol.

Now, here comes another story of that disease. This time, it is a young English woman who is a social drinker--like all the other friends who work with her. Drinking, getting drunk, one night stands, black outs, all very normal and laughed about. But when the rest of the world moves on into marriages and families and control, she continues the pattern of the young single swinging woman. It is the same harrowing story once more. She meets a man, they marry, they have a child, they divorce. AA meetings and the AA steps to sobriety cycle throughout. It is harrowing and so unbelieveable and yet so real.

The story is told through the voice of Cat Coombs----such a really nice woman but one with so many insecurities and with an addictive personality. The reader is on the same roller coaster as she and the friends and family who keep hoping that this time sobriety is here to stay. If there is one sure thing that comes through in this book as well as the stories that came before, it is that sobriety in an alcoholic is NOT a sure thing. It requires work and vigilance. The first step on the slippery slope into that gutter is never far away.

In the prologue, Cat finds an old bottle of vodka hidden way in back of a kitchen cabinet. She is feeling tired and lonely--two of the danger modes of HALT---hungry, angry, lonely, tired. She sits and holds the bottle and her story begins. At the end, like Meg and Andy, things with Cat and her ex-husband, Jason, seem to be on the mend and life for these two recovering alcoholics looks rosy. Like the little girl, who asks Jack, will Mommie ever get better? and he responds, I did, didn't I? ( But--that isn't true--the alcoholic is never better--well maybe better but not in the sense of cured), perhaps Annie's parents will BOTH be better. What is never told the reader, however, is whether Cat dumps that bottle of vodka or if she succumbs to just one small sip and heads back.

Lillian spent 18 YEARS sober and then fell off the wagon and was never able to climb back on. She spent 15 more years blacking out, falling in gutters before she finally succumbed to a stroke. So, what did Cat do with that vodka--one hopes that as before she tossed it away and not back and that she had one more day of sobriety as she moves on to the next and the next and the next--but one never knows. That's what it means to be a recovering alcoholic--an alcoholic--one never knows but one must always keep trying.

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