From time to time, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.
Lisa F. Smith is a writer and lawyer in New York City. She is the author of “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” her memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law. Lisa’s writing has been published in The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, AfterPartyMagazine.com, and Addiction.com. She is passionate about breaking the stigma of addiction and mental health issues.
Prior to beginning her more than 15-year legal marketing career, Lisa practiced law in the Corporate Finance group of a leading international firm.
Lisa can also be found at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @girlwalksout, and on Facebook at Lisa F. Smith, Author.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Lisa F. Smith: When I was about eight or nine years old, I started sneaking sips of leftover drinks at my parents’ parties – things like gin and tonics and whiskey sours. I was a self-conscious, anxious kid prone to sadness. I learned pretty quickly that the cocktails adults drank could make that anxiety disappear for a little bit. It made me feel peaceful in much the same way that scarfing down a couple twin packs of Yodels in two minutes did. By the time I was 13, I had found the kids who liked to sneak into the woods to drink Budweisers. These were my people.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
I grew up in the 1970s and drinking was very much part of life. There were nightly cocktail hours at home, but no one got drunk, nasty or out of control. Alcohol was a happy, tasty reward after a long day. It made the adults around me relaxed and friendly. I was an insecure kid who never felt comfortable in my own skin, so I couldn’t wait to grow up and let alcohol work its magic on me! I had no reason to fear that anything bad could come of drinking because I grew up with happy memories around it.
How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?
Being in recovery now for 12 years, alcohol isn’t really part of my daily life. My husband will have one or two drinks if we’re out, but he gets super buzzed after just two, which I find remarkable. I always tell him that he wouldn’t have made it through breakfast with me when I was drinking. Two drinks were down before 7 am. I have to be around alcohol occasionally for work or social situations, but I avoid places like bars, where drinking is a key part of the evening, as opposed to it being something incidental to the evening.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
I don’t have kids.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
My alcoholism and, later, cocaine addiction were progressive. What started with weekend drinking became daily drinking, which included drinking alone. Then the amounts increased from a couple glasses of wine in the evening to at least a bottle. After that, lunchtime drinking dropped into the mix (people in France drink at lunch!), followed later by morning drinking (it’s lunchtime in France!). By the end I was drinking and using cocaine 24/7. I needed it to be steady. If you saw me when I hadn’t been drinking or using, I looked much worse off than when I had that appropriate calibration of substances flowing through my body.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
Seltzer with lime because abstinence from alcohol is the only choice for me (I cannot speak for anyone else) and my nutritionist made me cut out the artificially sweetened diet CranCherry juice I used to add to the seltzer.
Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?
I actually don’t think I could narrow it to one. So many incredibly wonderful times in the first 38 years of my life involved drinking.
What about the worst time?
I actually don’t think I could narrow it to one. So many incredibly awful times in the first 38 years of my life involved drinking.
Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?
Drinking nearly killed me and it crushed so many of my relationships–many I have been able to repair through making amends, which very much includes living amends and showing up for life in a way I never did when I was drinking. The fact that I no longer drink has allowed me to have relationships I never could have had if I hadn’t gotten sober. For example, I wouldn’t have made it through one date with my husband when I was drinking. He would have run for the hills and been smart to do it. Also, I have great relationships with my niece and nephew, who would likely think I was a disaster if they saw what I was like when I was drinking.
Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?
Yes, yes, and yes. “Lit,” by Mary Karr is probably my favorite addiction memoir, although I love so many of them.
I love every Red Hot Chili Peppers song that references addiction and recovery. There are many, but I might relate most to “She Looks to Me.” Anthony Kiedis is kind of a sober shaman to me. Whenever getting drunk sounds tempting (big difference between having a drink and getting drunk – I really never did the former and always chased the latter), I tell myself that if Anthony Kiedis can stay sober, so can I.
“Candy” with Heath Ledger is my favorite addiction movie, although it’s more about heroin than alcohol. The addiction element is the same with either substance in my mind. The movie is so hard to watch, but it contains my favorite quote about addiction. Heath’s character, Dan, at one point says, “If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is.” I need to remember that every day.
How has alcoholism affected your life?
Alcoholism has been the worst thing that I have ever experienced, but also led to my recovery, which has been the best thing that I have ever experienced. In the 10 years before I got sober, I could count on one hand the number of days that I didn’t drink and I would still have fingers left over. Alcohol owned me. My mental obsession over drinking, when I would have my next drink, was complete. It was with me from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until the moment I passed out. Although I never lost a job, got a DUI or lost my family due to drinking, I lost immeasurable parts of life living in obsession and self-loathing, as well as feeling miserable physically.
I am beyond fortunate that I was able to find recovery and begin a new life. Recovery is the only reason that today I have an incredible husband and family, a job that I feel proud of, and a healthy emotional and physical life. I wrote my memoir, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” in the hopes of helping the next person who feels as alone in their addiction as I did to learn that there is a way out, people who can support them, and a kick-ass life on the other side of drinking.