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Instructions on the Use of Alcohol, an Excerpt from James Brown’sThis River

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Editor’s Note: We’re excited to welcome back award-winning author James Brown to the Intervene community.  Earlier this month James released his latest book This River, a memoir providing an honest portrait of an addict and his new struggles with sobriety, relapse  and becoming a better father.  This book provides a great opportunity for discussion with other parents as well as with your child suffering with an addiction.  We are giving away two free copies of This River to two lucky commenters — please see the end of this post for details.

In many ways, This River: A Memoir, is a follow up to my last memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, which gained a strong following among many young people, at least in part because the material revolves around drug and alcohol abuseThis River picks up where my last left off, describing my once tenuous relationship with sobriety, telling of agonizing relapses, and tracing my attempts to become a better father.  It has been considered by some a heartbreaking and at times uplifting tale of my battles, peeking into my former life as an addict and alcoholic, and detailing my subsequent ascent to sobriety and fight for redemption. 

I wrote This River for many of the same reasons I wrote The Los Angeles Diaries.  I felt compelled to tell the truth about my life, and how drugs and alcohol destroyed so much of it, leaving me lost and alienated from those whom I most loved, my wife and children.  I certainly don’t glamorize or romanticize drugs and alcohol, and I like to believe that some people who have struggled with addiction, especially those with their whole lives still ahead of them, have come to respect my work for telling it like it is. I’ve been asked by dozens of colleges where, to my delight, my book has been used as a class text, and many times I’ve been approached afterward by a student with his or her own story to share, and thanking me for sharing mine.  Not only is that a tremendous, wonderful honor, but it makes spending all those long hours alone in a room writing my memoirs worth every second.

A brief excerpt from This River from a piece titled “Instructions on the Use of Alcohol”:

Part I

You’re young, maybe 9 or 10, and your parents are throwing a party.  All the adults are laughing and talking too loudly, in general having a good time, and you put two and two together.  What makes them happy comes out of those bottles on the kitchen counter.

The brown ones, you learn soon enough, contain whiskey and scotch.  The clear ones hold vodka and gin and that odd-shaped bottle with the long neck, something called Midori, contains a thick, syrupy green liquid.  That’s the one that intrigues you most, and when the adults aren’t looking you pour yourself a glass.  You sneak it into your room.  You lock the door.  At first you sniff at it, and because it doesn’t smell so good you pinch your nostrils shut before you take a swallow.

It burns the back of your throat.  It makes your eyes water.  You shake your head, and for a few minutes, until the alcohol takes effect, you can’t understand how anyone in their right mind could drink this stuff.  But then a tingling sensation begins to spread through your chest, your face is warm and flushed, and you’re suddenly light headed.  You feel good, you feel great.  It’s as if you’ve made a major discovery, a real inroad to the secret of a good life, and it only makes sense that if one drink has this effect on you that a second will make you feel even better.  You finish the glass and sneak another.  You repeat this action several more times.

In the morning, you wake with a miserable headache, you’re nauseous, too, and right then and there you swear never again to so much as look at a bottle of booze.  But what the seasoned drinker knows that the apprentice does not is that those of us predisposed to alcoholism are hardwired to quickly forget our unfortunate drinking experiences.  Next time you get the chance, you’ll do the same thing all over again.  Drunk, you find yourself smarter and funnier and stronger and braver and even better looking. 

For the budding alcoholic, booze seems to do more for you than it does for others, and your only regret, at least to date, is that you didn’t come across this miracle potion sooner.

Part II

You’re older now, maybe 15 or 16, and what currently interests you is marijuana and the intrigue that surrounds it.  You enjoy scoring weed behind the high school bleachers.  You enjoy showing off to your friends how well you can roll a joint, and because the dope world has its own language, all the slang and clever code words, you feel special when you speak it. 

 Then one day you try to connect with that kid behind the bleachers, the guy with all the Bob Marley stickers on his notebook, and it isn’t happening.
 “It’s bone-dry out there,” he says.  “Drought season, man.”

 But he does have something else, if you’re interested, this stuff he calls blow.  “It’s good shit,” he tells you. 

 And as it happens with your first drink, so it is with the coke.  It makes you feel great.  It makes you stronger and smarter and braver and even better looking, and you dismiss those lies you’ve heard about coke being addicting.  Getting hooked is for weaklings, for losers, though you can see how the stuff might drain your bank account, since the rush is so short, and the more you use, the more it takes to get high. 

For the budding addict, the supply is never enough, but your own regret, at least to date, is that you didn’t come across this miracle potion sooner.

To read more from James Brown, read his previous post When It Comes to Addiction, There are No Simple Answers.

WIN a free copy of This River, a new memoir by award-winning author James Brown.  HOW TO ENTER: Leave a comment responding to James’ post with a valid e-mail address and two winners will be chosen at random at the end of this giveaway.  This giveaway ends Friday April 22 @ 5 PM EST. US only.

13 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Sandy
    Sandy / March 15, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Jim Brown’s books are required reading in my college English class. I am currently a student at Crafton Hills College.
    Both books are very, very good. I like to pick up a book and I cannot put it down. The story captures you from start to finish. I have heard that Mr. Brown will be visiting our campus before the end of spring term 2012. I look forward to meeting him.

  2. James Brown / April 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Dear Lisa,

    Thanks for commenting. Since your son has been in treatment “several” rounds, the seeds have definitely been planted, and now they have to take root. As you know it’s not uncommon for people like me and your son to relapse, some of us multiple times, before we finally turn our lives around. There’s real hope, and, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I wish you and your son strength, courage and faith.

    Best,
    Jim

  3. Avatar of Lisa
    Lisa / April 16, 2011 at 2:39 am

    I look forward to reading your book. Thank you for sharing your journey. Stories like yours give me hope. My son currently is not in recovery, in spite of several rounds of treatment. I can only hope that seeds have been planted which will point him in a different direction in the future.
    Lisa

  4. James Brown / April 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Hey Tiz,

    I’m glad you could identify with the excerpt. It’s heavily edited because I didn’t want to take up too much space on Intervene, but the whole chapter is in six parts, each progressively growing worse in terms of addiction, until the end, when it turns around.

    I’m glad you passed through the fire unscathed (a few of us actually do, though far more, as you know, do not), and I’m sorry to hear about your husband. I hope he’s in recovery and seeking help. There’s a real life to live in sobriety. Thanks for writing me.

  5. Avatar of Tiz
    Tiz / April 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I so recognised my teenageself in what you wrote. Thankfully my drug and alcohol use did not become a problem for me but they did for my husband, that is why I read with much interest these pages. Nobody warned me when I was a kid, I MUST make sure that my future kids will know and I can only do that by learning myself. THANK YOU.

  6. James Brown / March 30, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Dear Judi,
    I hope my writing helps you to gain a better understanding of the depth and severity of addiction. Your son is off to a great start with five months clean time in a treatment program, and I strongly suggest he continue with out-patient treatment and daily attendance at a local AA or NA meeting. I, too, wish you and your son the best, and thank you for writing me.

    Jim

  7. Avatar of Judi
    Judi / March 29, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Jim,
    Thanks for writing your story. I am excited to read more. As a parent of an addict, I have found myself with so many questions and not knowing how other parents have dealt with addiction. I have gained understanding on some aspects of addition. My son is coming home this Wednesday after 5 months in a residential treatment program. It is a scary next step.
    Again, thank you for writing the books and I wish you the best.
    Judi

  8. James Brown / March 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Dear Kimme,

    Thanks for your kind words. I hope I can live up to being an “inspiration,” and help others with the struggle against alcoholism and drug addiction. Your note builds confidence in me, and thanks for that.

    Jim

  9. James Brown / March 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Dear Nicole,

    Thank YOU for reaching out and encouraging me. Writers work in a void, and people like yourself, ones who take the time to write and tell the writer to push forward, particularly on the topic of addiction, that make a huge difference.

    Thanks,
    Jim

  10. Avatar of Kimme
    Kimme / March 28, 2011 at 7:38 am

    I am glad you made a recovery, and you are asset to many people who are struggling with the same problems you had.

    Please keep writing-you are an inspiration.

  11. Avatar of Nichole
    Nichole / March 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I think that each time a person shares their story, it encourages another to speak up. Thank you for stepping out and congratulations on your success.

  12. Jim Brown / March 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Dear Cathy,
    Thank you for writing. It’s nice to know you care, and I appreciate your sharing it with me.

  13. Cathy | Treatment Talk / March 23, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful contribution to recovery. Without authors like you sharing their story, the consequences of drug addiction would continue be kept private behind closed doors.

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