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Happy Hours: Alcohol in a Woman's Life
by Devon Jersild
Reviewed by Midevil, 9/27/2007

Does your boyfriend bring you rye in a small water bottle so he doesn’t leave behind the entire fifth for you to suck down when he leaves? Do you always make sure you have a body guard for those big biker parties so nobody gang-bangs you after you black out? Have you developed a twisted love-hate relationship with puking and hangovers that rivals the excitement of the pleasantly numb feeling that descends after a half case of beer and a tray of shots? Do you maintain your girlish figure by skipping meals while drinking from a river of rye and coke that flows throughout the waking hours until you pass out? Ever encounter a guy at your door late one afternoon, box of condoms in hand, ready for more of what you gave him the night before—but can’t recall ever seeing him before?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might want to take a look at your relationship with your closest lover: booze. I don’t think all of the above examples are included in Happy Hours, Devon Jersild’s great 2001 book about women and alcohol, but they’re definitely in the ballpark. These examples are just some of my personal favorites in a long line of botched drinking tales that started in grade school and finally came under control when I entered hardcore rehab (no drink, no drugs, no escape, for 108 days, thank you very much, this isn’t Hollyrude). And part of the long road past denial was Happy Hours.

I want to share my own nasty experiences because much of the book consists of a collection of women’s stories about drinking, poly-drug use, and their successes and failures as they struggle to keep their lives together. These personal accounts, which include the author’s own struggle with her alcoholic sister, are presented alongside statistics that examine race, sex, and class differences, as well as a bibliography and index that provide quite a bit of what a drinking woman (or dry alcoholic) needs to know in order to battle the demon in the bottle. The cover of the paperback is quite appropriate. The title is blurred on top of a black background; below, a lone woman holds a wine glass.

I always took pride in the fact that I was a poly-drug user who wasn’t an alcoholic. Drinkers, what losers! Then I started reading the accounts in Happy Hours. It was tough going. I put the book down, picked it up, put it back down, and went back to it repeatedly until I finally clenched my teeth and dove in. I began to realize that liquor and his little buddy, the 2-4—aka, a case of brew—were always among my best friends. All the drunken nights of misplaced rage and the barbed afternoons of hangovers, all the times I turned to the dragon to smooth myself over, plus all the explosions of drunken anger that occurred in the desperate times when there was no dragon or pot or even codeine to be had—well, I began to realize how central alcohol was to my life, and how likely it was that these frequent episodes had something to do with the disintegration of my last relationship.

Part of women’s reluctance to admit their severe problems with booze stems from the fact that traditional methods, like AA and the 12-step program, are created with the male sex in mind. Happily, Jersild provides other examples of programs that were founded for women—and not just women as a homogeneous group, but women coming from different cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds.

There are other comforting aspects of the book. While I kick myself for the breakdown of my relationship, I know that if I’d stayed, my addictions would have killed me off, probably sooner than later. Women tend to abuse themselves more when they are in abusive relationship. As sad as it sounds, for some, rock bottom is where recovery begins. According to the author, however, not all women need to hit bottom before finally pulling up their sleeves and facing alcohol and its associated issues. At this stage, inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms; Jersild provides many examples. Even when women lose everything, they find the strength to make a comeback.

Happy Hours also shows how firmly alcohol is embedded within all nooks and crannies of our society. In doing so, it reminds us that the woman struggling to stay afloat in the martini glass she has every day at lunch with the other lawyers—or the cheap wine another woman drinks late at night, while her significant other is “working late”—are not alone. These women are part of society, and the blame for their collective struggle with addiction can be laid at all of our feet.

A woman likes to have a drink to sooth her nerves because she’s going through a difficult time. “It’s OK, it’s only temporary.” People begin to notice. She goes off to the doctor and gets a prescription for antidepressants, without being tested to see if she’s abusing alcohol. Ah yes, antidepressants and alcohol can make for a great mix! Never mind the underlying issues that are causing the depression in the first place. The system is all about masking the inner workings and presenting a squeaky clean ideal, especially when it comes to women.

Part of my own personal story lies in watching my ex’s father eat antidepressants and sleeping pills like candy, while washing them down with two bottles of wine every night. His mother dealt with the situation by drinking and doing antidepressants as well. Women traditionally are supposed to be nurturers who don’t have their own needs.

I recommend this book for those women who are ready to start ripping away at the layers of causes that lie behind alcohol abuse. It’s never too late. Go get a copy of Happy Hours, which is reasonably priced, given all the information contained within its pages. One word of warning: some of the stories might be a bit tough to get through. However, once you finish it, you might realize that you’re not as messed up and alone as you previously thought; you’re really with the rest of us, drowning in the same leaky boat. For men who’ve been in relationships with women who self-medicate through drinking, the book provides great insight into why women in these circumstances behave the way they do. In the end, story-telling is the best teaching tool.

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