Megan Moran is the pseudonym of a woman now in her early thirties who drank all the alcohol she could hold. In the process she bankrupted herself, spiritually and morally, but never lost those material things -- a job, a place to live, food on the table -- whose absence is the standard measure of what most people consider the chronic alcoholic.
"Lost Years," make no mistake about this, is a powerful book in its very simplicity: the story of a vital young woman from a "clean poor" New York City family who put herself through a good California private university and began a solid but wet climb in the publishing business, beginning as an assistant to a publicity director and winding up at the time of her bottoming-out five years ago as a book-buying editor.
What Moran has tried to do here is share, through a published autobiography (with an unfortunately hyped title), what it was like to be a drunk, how she began the recovery process and, insofar as possible, what it is like today. This leads us back to her growing up in a home with an alcoholic father, her first drink as a teen-ager, the compulsive drinking and the blackouts and the one-night stands, and then the bottom, with which she chooses to begin:
"Eight a.m. Another day. Another damn day. I'm late again and I can't get out of bed. I can't lift my head off the pillow, my eyes burn, my mouth is parched and the taste in it is making me sick. The nausea overwhelms me and I lurch for the bathroom, two long rooms away. My head is pounding and my stomach is retching. I make it to the toilet and vomit up my guts . . . There's no life anymore. No feelings. No spirit. No person. I am a container for my booze. Without my booze I don't exist, but because of it I'm dying, and I'm only 27 years old."
This sort of early-morning habit is more common than many people suspect. At the April 1985 National Alcoholism Forum in Washington, it was estimated that last year 1.8 million people were treated for alcoholism and that only 5 percent of the nation's practicing alcoholics are ever treated.
Moran was one of those who sought help from a priest, who suggested she go to Alcoholics Anonymous.
As it turns out, she became one of AA's estimated 1 million members, and if things hold up she will celebrate five years of sobriety this fall. She has now left the publishing business and is writing full time and, after a young lifetime of dubious sexual experiences (chronicled tastefully in this book) and anxiety and fear, there is a wedding around the corner.
The most compelling paragraph in "Lost Years" is one that speaks volumes about the release from the compulsion to ingest a toxic, mood-changing chemical:
"The transition from hopelessness to hope was so profound, so utterly complete and overwhelming, even though the accompanying act was as simple as walking into an AA meeting. For some people, it's picking up the phone and asking for help. For others, it's putting down the last drink knowing that it's all over. In AA we call it a 'spiritual awakening.' There doesn't have to be a flash of light, or a voice in the wilderness (I heard plenty of voices when I was drunk and I knew it wasn't God speaking to me), or even a prayer. There is simply a moment when we see it's all over, and we choose life over death."
You'll notice that Moran's father was an alcoholic. "Growing up in an alcoholic family was a schizophrenic experience and there was no way for me to sort through all the mixed messages I received as a child," she writes. "One day would be full of happiness and love and the next would be disaster. I grew up in an emotional war zone."
That war zone is the subject of "Children of Alcoholism," whose subtitle is a deceptive "A Survivor's Manual." What it is is a very simple description of the character traits of people who have grown up (or who have failed to grow up) in homes with at least one alcoholic parent, with some simple recommendations (not many) for trying to overcome some of these traits, such as the inability to trust anyone.
It seems to me that the couches are full of people whose parents were or weren't alcoholics, all trying to get a handle on why they behave the way they do instead of setting the reasons aside and looking for a way out through growth and change. Neither Seixas nor Youcha is the adult child of an alcoholic (there are an estimated 22 million to 30 million of those in America) or an alcoholic; one is a counselor and the other (Youcha) a writer. They hasten to point out that they don't have to be.
I heard someone say not too long ago that "I spent 20 years looking in the mirrors behind the bars trying to figure out why I was drinking. Now I don't try to figure it out, and I don't drink."
And neither, today, does Megan Moran.