I’ll let him speak in a moment, but first I need to offer the man a cuppa.
Are you comfortable? Great, because I’m about to grill you over a slow fire to get all the answers to my questions. 🙂
I’m glad you’re finally doing this interview with me, because I’ve been waiting for a chance to pose these questions to you. Can you tell us a bit how you got to where you are now? i.e. what was the path life put you on?
Thanks for hosting me, Lucy. I’ll start by saying I have zero resentments and no longing to get a ‘do-over’ on any of life thus far – not even the really great stuff. Truth is, it mostly has been truly great. I have had success in two high-profile careers, two great kids and many new colleagues whom I gladly count among my friends. The path was twisty and almost killed me a couple of times.
(I scoot forward on my chair already wanting to prod him to put that cup down and go on. For criscake, tell me more!)
I had a modest degree of success as an executive when my gene pool and some poor decisions took over my life. In 2004, I was a daily beer drinker. And I knew I was alcoholic. Alcoholism doesn’t care if you have all your bills paid, a great home, an honest career, happy and healthy children or anything else. It’s a disease. And I had it.
I tried to stop on my own and realized what most people with the disease realize after trying to do it my way: You can’t. I had the shakes and got violently ill. Alcohol withdrawal. It’s the only chemical that can kill you with too much and also can kill you when you take it away. Instead of getting help though, ‘my way’ was to become a maintenance drinker so I would not suffer withdrawal. Brilliantly, I switched to whiskey. It was easier to conceal on planes and in my briefcase, and I didn’t have to get up overnight as frequently.
Fast forward two years. I was drinking two liters of whiskey a day every day just to stave off withdrawal. No mixer. No ice. Most of the time I didn’t even bother with a glass. It is hard work being a functioning alcoholic with all the secret drinking and constantly treading a thin line between withdrawal and being too flammable to function.
In 2006, my second wife served me divorce papers after six months…my drinking drove off my first wife and mother of my children a year earlier. I was hospitalized with a blood alcohol concentration over .60. (.08 is a legal limit for driving in the US. .40 is what killed singer Amy Winehouse. I walked out of the hospital against medical advice when my BAC was barely below .50 and drank more that night.) Weeks later I nearly died a second time: Alcohol is a sedative and my blood pressure dropped to 49/17 when my tolerance suddenly vanished.
I was arrested four times in six weeks for drinking and driving. I went to rehab. I went to jail. I relapsed despite all the physical, legal and family consequences and went back to jail.
Today, yes, I am still alcoholic. It’s like luggage: You keep it forever. But the disease is in remission. I do not drink. Somehow, I escaped without any physical damage. My kids still love me. And I have a chance to share through my reporting and through my two books the information I wish I had when I realized I was alcoholic.
Have you ever wanted to run away from it all?
It is the dream of every alcoholic. I moved to Arizona, seeking a geographical solution to a medical problem. Didn’t work. And I missed my children 1,400 miles away.
While there, I could have easily run from my legal troubles, too. Had I been drinking, I might have let bad judgment convince me, too. But, as a father, you teach your children about consequences. I broke the law, and it was imperative that I man-up and lead them with example.
What give you the most satisfaction in life?
The material life was fun, but not satisfying. Today I treasure my sobriety and the relationships I have are healthier and less toxic. That is very satisfying.
Professionally, I find so much reward when a reader says, “Yeah, you get it, Scott. And you helped me, you helped my family.” Writing is fun for me, still, despite a sometimes ugly, always serious, topic. To have a responsible message hit home and help a family in recovery, one reader at a time, is an honor and privilege in which I also find satisfaction.
I think you do great, Scott and think it’s very brave to put yourself out there like that, just to be able to help others.
Is there anything you regret? I mean, do you think you could have done differently, but would you then be where, and who, you are now?
Not really. I made bad decisions. I drove when I had no business driving. I did that. Glad I didn’t physically injure anyone.
I think it is easy to regret my relapses and giving up sobriety when I had it. But I do not. That gives them a life of their own. I won’t forget them, but I don’t regret them. I also look back to 2004 and how couldn’t I? Had I just gotten help then instead of pushing away from everyone, including but not limited to Alcoholics Anonymous…hmmmm. It would have been easier for those around me for certain. I would have lost a valuable message I carry today though.
Thanks for your honesty in answering these very personal questions. Now for the writing related ones.
First, what is the title of the book you would like to talk about?
Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Relapse and the Symptoms of Sobriety. It came out earlier this year.
Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?
As you and many other successful colleagues know in fiction, a title and cover are VERY important. In non-fiction, I think that eludes some authors. They will bludgeon you with words on the cover. I have a life-and-death topic for the families with the disease, but I think novelists get it right with title and cover, so I went for fewer words and powerful imagery.
That said, my title is longer than I prefer, but I wanted to make sure it was clear that this is an alcoholism and recovery book. Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud captures what many feel about sobriety: That sobriety is the silver lining to alcoholism. My book about relapse is acknowledging that the silver lining isn’t so shiny every day.
If you would have to change the genre in order to be able to publish it, what would it be then? i.e. would you conform to the market?
One key decision point in also publishing my second book independently is that I would not have to conform to a publisher but could instead conform to what’s working for people in recovery. I get a little dark – well a LOT dark – in telling my story. I might have to be forced to choose between my research and my story in order to conform to a publisher’s view of the market and pick between being a self-help title and a memoir. I’m happy I have been able to blend the science and my story in a way that’s been meaningful to readers.
Can you tell me how you celebrate finally getting that tricky chapter (or para) right?
I’m not cracking open a pint of Jack Daniel’s to celebrate, but I have been known to have a cigar or two.
I wrote the entire book longhand. Then edited it longhand. So I was very careful with the words and construction because crossing out words really sucks and looks sloppy. When I sat down and entered the keystrokes, some parts were still being edited in my head. When I got the chapter just right, from the segue at the start, through the marrow of the chapter, to the segue at the close, I put it down, smile like all get out and walk away.
That’s all I could do. Smile. There are months of research behind each chapter. A lot of reading some mind-numbing science reports went into the technical parts of the book. If they read easily, months of work were done.
I share some of the ugliest chapters of my life in here, too. I don’t think anyone gets a thrill out of revealing their darkness. But I could smile about those, too, if I felt those chapters just might bolster someone’s recovery.
You do make the book sound more appealing with every thing you tell me about how it came to be, and I’m not even an addict of any kind or in recovery! Sorry, but I just had to say that.
Right with that out of the way and to confuse you we’ll take the alternative route now. What don’t you like about writing?
I am a young(ish) man who is so prehistoric I still compose longhand. I don’t write at the computer. I write on a notepad. My hands cramp up. My penmanship on a good day is hardly legible to others. On my writing days, my penmanship is illegible to me.
What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?
I am still trying to figure that out. I advertise where it makes sense on Facebook and Google. Margins being what they are on books, that leaves a really soft advertising budget. I think my reporting and blogging do more of the work for both books, because people can see the passion and expertise I bring to the subject matter nearly daily.
It is certainly how you caught my eye!
Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?
Coffee. I prefer skim iced mocha, no whip, but I’ll drink the crappy AA coffee like it is live-giving. Otherwise, homemade Chex mix is a favorite.
I know you can buy it already bagged, but I make a custom batch at home for the kids. Extra cheesy, extra cashews, not as many wheat Chex. My personal batch has Tobasco, peanuts, extra garlic rye chips and not as many pretzels.
What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?
3lb beef roast, any cut
14 oz can low sodium beef broth
Two packets Good Seasons Italian dressing mix (reg. Or zesty, I get the zesty one.)
Jar of pepperoncini peppers, remove stems but do not drain
Jar of giardiniera, drain out the oil and rinse (hot or mild, I prefer the mild)
Put it all in a slow cooker on low, 8-12 hours.
Sounds delicious! I think I’m going to try that one, thanks, Scott. 🙂
Would you be able to come up with a credible excuse why you haven’t written a whole day? Remember, I have to believe it!
I couldn’t pull it off. I’d go crazy.
Hahaha, okay, but why would you ever want to live life behind a keyboard slaving over a manuscript?
I like what I do with the writing. Best thing is I am not trapped indoors, not tied to just books, not tied to just reporting, not tied to just non-fiction. It is rewarding and very flexible. I write on the patio or the train. And it beats drinking.
Right you are! Okay now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cat’s, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before from you. hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂
Boy, I could take this question a lot of places. I think I may need a witness protection program first though.
You could write a book about it and call it fiction! 🙂 Scott, it was great having you, thank you for your candour. Leaves me with giving the readers a short excerpt to sample the book and then tell them where it can be bought and where you can be found online.
“One of the differences between this disease and most other chronic ones that is so difficult to communicate is that with Alcoholism, when you are the sickest and most acute, you don’t feel sick because you’re getting alcohol. When you arrest the disease by treating it, that’s when you feel sick: In remission. First from withdrawal symptoms, naturally, but more so from cortisol and the Symptoms of Sobriety. With cancer, for example, you don’t feel sickest when you’ve stopped the spread and gotten that disease into remission. You feel sickest when the cancer is most acute. Lyme disease or even the flu is the same way. An Alcoholic can feel the sick from the Symptoms well into remission, even eight to ten years after stopping the drinking, according to 1985 research from Clinton DeSoto, William O’Donnell, Linda Alfred and Charles Lopes (“Symptomology in Alcoholics at Various Stages of Abstinence” in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 9 1985).
That seems crazy: Other diseases don’t behave this way in remission.
And you are not crazy. You just need some adjustments. A diabetic, by comparison, would address the condition, not just symptoms, with small lifestyle adjustments. A severe diabetic would require more extensive life changes as well as professional help. He’d have an expert evaluate the meaning of his diabetic symptoms, wouldn’t he? Here’s another medical comparison. If migraine sufferers had the luxury of such clear warning signs as the Symptoms of Sobriety before the onset of a migraine, they’d take heed. Why should the Symptoms of Sobriety be evaluated any less thoroughly than the symptoms of diabetes or heeded less than the warning signs preceding a migraine? Neither diabetes nor migraines are as lethal as snapping Alcoholism out of remission.
The Symptoms aren’t some tabloid fad or syndrome-of-the-week; they are real. You feel like crap. It’s not imaginary. Not everyone will suffer from them though. For me, the third Symptom—the clarity—was my most pronounced and created the most havoc. I was so accustomed to thinking quickly on my feet. I believed the sharpness of the training as a journalist never dulled. At times though, even well after I stopped my two-liters-a-day drinking ordeal, I could not focus for more than 20 minutes at a time, couldn’t remember things I didn’t write down and had to re-read stuff to get the point. The cortisol was doing what the alcohol couldn’t: Singeing my brain, messing with my sharpness and my mental function. (Of course drinking that much blunted my judgment but at least I could make bad decisions more quickly.) I know this as a Symptom now. And now the Symptom is my own primary warning sign that there is something wrong and I need to address it and fix one or more of the sources listed at the end of the chapter, not just the Symptom itself.”
–from Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Relapse and the Symptoms of Sobriety, pgs. 27-28
Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Relapse and the Symptoms of Sobriety is available in English in e-book, softcover and hardcover at: