Review: Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston

Ann Dowsett Johnston is a Canadian journalist and lecturer. Successful, erudite and now sober. She has just released a book exploring the nature of the relationship women have with alcohol. It’s a kaleidoscopic creation of intimate conversations, personal diary extracts and interviews with medical experts.

It works very well.

What I love about this book is how gentle an approach she takes to such a sensitive subject. Ann gives details about her own journey to overcoming alcoholism, but at no time lectures the reader on their own drinking habits. She produces frank statistics regarding the medical and social ramifications of binge drinking, yet does so without blinding us with technical jargon. Ann also takes the opportunity to delve into the unexplored frontiers of social networking and the alcohol–related dangers it exposes our younger generations to.

Ann questions female recovering alcoholics in the US, Canada and Europe. She features answers from very successful women, which makes a surprising change from the focus demographic of most writers in this field, who usually favour women in recovery from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds. It’s a valuable addition to the book. It gives the idea of hope, of a life beyond mere survival in sobriety.

There’s always a danger that any female journalist writing about their relationship with alcohol is going to end up with an approximation of Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. And whilst Ann does give credit to Caroline’s masterpiece, in no way does she try and replicate it. If anything it is a welcome extension, picking up the baton where Caroline left off and carrying it into the 21st century, tackling all of the issues that were not relevant in Caroline’s day.

This book sucks you in, gets you emotionally involved. I found myself crying at Ann’s blisteringly honest account of her own mother’s alcoholism, shouting at her for refusing to let go of an ex who treated her very shoddily and championing her many achievements in sobriety. She is an incredibly good, visible example of a life after alcohol. I enjoyed her journey so far immensely.

I don’t think Ann is done with this subject. Medically and politically there is still so much for her to explore. Pastorally the number of women who want to share their story and heal with her can only grow as public awareness of her book grows. And personally I would love to see her reach beyond her contentment and spiritual peace with sobriety. To soar into the unmitigated excitement and passion that is awaiting her just around the corner from peace and acceptance.

Drink is an essential tool in every woman’s arsenal of recovery. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(Drink is available online and in book shops, it is published by www.4thestate.co.uk )

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