Friday, September 16, 2011
Author Sacha Z. Scoblic
Sacha started as elegance, drank her grace to stone, and ultimately chiseled her way back to sobriety and a life filled with potential and happiness. Like many people, Sacha is an alcoholic. Unlike many people who have written about their dark days, "Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety," is about Sacha’s daily and hourly commitment to sobriety and the difficulties and joys being sober brings. Where most stories end with the commitment to sobriety, Sacha’s begins.
This book isn’t just another memoir about the struggles against addiction. Every word is a journey of passion, happiness, and embracing life. Sacha’s is a story of humanity and humility, told with her razor wit and insight.
Sacha is an accomplished, respected writer and editor in many genres and facets. Her work extends from Reader’s Digest to The New Republic, New York Post, The New York Times, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A wife and mother, she lives in Washington, D.C., where she is the managing editor at the Aspen Institute, a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the columns editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. But most of all she is a woman in love with life and the simple pleasures to be found in every sober breath.
Sacha's Web Site
Q) Why did you write “Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety”?
A) Almost all of the memoirs about addiction seem to focus on the “before” picture—the drunken escapades or drug-fueled debauchery. These books dwell on the lurid and then the narrators magically get sober in the last chapter. But I think sobriety itself is the real story; sobriety has certainly been its own adventure for me—and one worth writing about. So in Unwasted, I get sober in the first chapter (not the last) and then chronicle my life in this new and bright world—complete with outlandish fantasies of relapsing, a field guide to dinner parties, and how I rely on a community of people (who I call my “Wolf Pack”) to help me live a life I can be proud of.
I also wanted to portray the life of an average addict—me!—so rarely depicted in books, television, or movies nowadays. That is, a regular person who quit drinking before hitting Skid Row and who struggles with the new world of sobriety. I think too many times, we are told by pop culture that you’re not an addict until you have lost everything, been arrested, or are at death’s door. But many of us come in from the storm before we end up in those really low bottom stages (which we surely would hit if we kept using). And I wanted to write about that—to give people permission to call themselves an addict before they lose their jobs, their relationships, their dignity. There’s no such thing as quitting too early.
Q) Life is choices. Sobriety is a constant and consistent choice. For a period, you led yourself to believe you could grant yourself "passes" in which you could temporarily fall from sobriety. What finally convinced you it doesn’t work that way?
A) For the first six months or so of sobriety, I still didn’t really believe I’d never drink again. And so I plotted how I might relapse—from wild fantasies about being forced to drink at gunpoint to a more banal desire for an out-of-town work trip that would leave me tantalizingly alone in a hotel. And one weekend that day came: My husband was the one who went out of town, and I was alone in the house. I knew that if I were to relapse, this would be a good opportunity. But a funny thing happened during the previous months of not drinking: I started thinking more clearly. Suddenly, I was grateful for the calmer and more predictable life I was living, I was happier, and I also didn’t want to throw away several months of hard-earned sobriety.
The problem with the “temporary relapse pass” is that it is a lie my addicted brain whispers to me when I am feeling vulnerable. The truth is, as soon as I have one drink—or one sip!—synapses fire, neurons light up, wires criss-cross, and I’m gone. I’ll start rationalizing why I can drink again (it went so well that one weekend...), and the next thing you know, my life is unmanageable, my head is in the toilet, and my family is out the door. And I know this firsthand: I didn’t start out with pure sobriety; I started with all kinds of moderation techniques (no hard liquor, one glass of water for each glass of wine, only on weekends, only if it’s on sale…). You can guess how that turned out. I’m addicted to the stuff and the faster I get honest about that, the quicker a new happiness rushes in—and then I look up and realize, there’s simply no need to fantasize about relapsing, because my life is wonderful just the way it is.
Also, I stopped thinking about never drinking again, and concentrated on just not drinking today. What a load off!
A) Well, I think the recent death of Amy Winehouse proves that addiction isn’t a muse worth having. Besides, any inspiration one claims to get from drugs and alcohol is also accompanied by chaos, institutionalization, and eventually either recovery or death. Hunter Thompson and Edgar Allen Poe were tortured souls; and their personal stories each end very badly. Was their art worth dying for? In the end, addiction isn’t so fascinating a muse—as artists like Jim Morrision, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse found out when they were each booed off stage in many of their last performances. That’s no longer art; that’s not the result of inspiration.
I wonder why we don’t ask more often what would have happened if all those artists had turned their lives around. Isn’t it possible we might have seen each bloom and rise to new heights? When we say inspiration lies in chemicals, we are enabling those artists to use more, to feed their habits more. We give them an excuse to use. I don’t want to be a part of that. I would rather celebrate the people whose lives changed for the better when they let go of the notion that drugs or alcohol fueled their art. Because for every died-too-young artist, I can name ten got-it-together artists who went on to do even greater things in recovery: Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Cash, Betty Ford, Stephen King, Rob Lowe, Stevie Nicks, Craig Fergusen, Steven Tyler, Mary Tyler Moore, Robin Williams … I could go on. I bet they are all glad they didn’t die young for their art.
As for me, the “rock star” I used to be was barely employable, let alone disciplined enough to write a book.
Q) The Aspen Institute’s mission includes broadening goals and enhancing an individual’s capacity to solve problems. Has being involved in helping leaders discover their potential helped you find your own potential in sobriety?
A) There is no question that, when you work around the kind of leaders the Institute nurtures, it becomes easy to ask more of yourself, to find your true potential. In sobriety, I began to find myself willing to take risks, willing to be criticized or even fail, and willing to challenge myself. Ultimately, I was even willing to write about my own demons. And the next thing I knew, I was writing pieces about addiction and living sober for The New York Times and now I have a book. The sobriety that led me here, that’s inspiration—not chemicals.
Q) What do you and your family enjoy doing together when you need to get away?
A) What’s getting away?! I still struggle with a work-life balance. Since having my son, I’ve realized that I need more time on the “life” side of that equation. One thing my husband and I have always enjoyed doing, and something we now love doing with our son, is going to museums. DC is a wonderful place to live and we try to take advantage of it, from the Spy Museum to the Smithsonian, Rock Creek Park to the Kennedy Center.
Q) You are such a talented writer, and your humor is infectious. Can we expect more books in the future? And if so, what genres are you considering?
A) Thank you! I use humor to tell the truth. When I am writing, I find that the daily absurdities we all face connect us. So, yes, expect more books. But I’ve left a lot of my story on the pages of Unwasted, so I think I’ll turn to fiction. It’s time to write someone else’s story!