Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking And Lived by Tania Glyde

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Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking And Lived by Tania Glyde

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A life of alcohol and drugs hits the stone wall of a selfish society - the book is un-put-downable and highly recommended, but not as a step-by-step to stopping drinking.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846686559

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I suspect that I'm like a lot of people who enjoy alcohol on a regular basis: there's a nagging guilt and suspicion that you might have a problem. Equally, there's St Augustine's approach to a sin: you're determined to do something about it, but not just yet. So, when Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking And Lived dropped through the letterbox on Saturday morning I wondered if this was a message from a higher authority.

It wasn't my intention to sit down and read the book, but there's something very un-put-downable about it. The first hook was very personal – Tania Glyde's childhood was so similar to my own that I wondered if we were related. She was an only child of a rather strange father and a mother whose mental stability was questionable. A therapist was later to wonder whether her childhood was validating and I well remembered the sensation that my own childhood was lived for someone else's benefit rather than my own. The essential difference was that Glyde had a greater freedom – perhaps because she was a generation further down the line - and this meant that her love affair with alcohol began much earlier than my own.

And this was the second hook. It was the same sensation which compels people to rubber-neck at car crashes: you know that you're going to be horrified by what you see, but there's no way that you can not look or even look away after a brief glance. The book's a wonderful description of the trajectory of Glyde's life as it hurtles out of control against the brick wall of a society inhabited by people more popular, more conniving and more selfish than herself. She spares us nothing – and it's not just the alcohol, it's the vast range of drugs which became central to her life and the sexual encounters of every stripe, so few of which could be called wise. If this was fiction you would say that the author had gone beyond what was believable. It's painfully honest, completely lacking in any self pity and elevated far above the level of the misery memoir by the fact that Glyde can write very, very well.

If you're looking to stop drinking then this book will point out what can happen if you don't take some action, but don't buy it in the belief that this is a step-by-step guide as to how to do it. There's a lot of useful information in there and some notes of books and websites which are worth their weight in gold. You will realise that the medical profession is probably not going to be a great deal of help and that you're going to have to call on your own resources. There's food for thought too about the link between alcoholism and mental illness, particularly depression. Treat this as a book which will inform your thinking and help you to take decisions about what is right for you and you will bless the day you bought it.

If I've one quibble with the book it's that the cover suggests that the author's problem was alcohol and alcohol alone. Yes, she was overly dependant on it and she has now been free of it for a number of years, but her problems were exacerbated by her drug use and it's too easy to read the book and assume that you don't have a problem with alcohol because you don't use drugs or don't use them to the same extent. Addictive personalities are experts at justifying what they do.

And me, what am I going to do? Well, the book made me evaluate exactly how much I was drinking and in what circumstances. I've decided that I'm not dependant on alcohol but that I do drink more than the medical profession would think was good for me. I shall do something about that. But not until after Christmas.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to The Bookbag.

For another look at the personal life of someone whose alcohol intake got out of control we can recommend The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray. Alcohol has also affected the life of many sportsmen and John Daly by Gavin Newsham shows just how it has affected someone who could have been a great golfer.

If you think a friend or loved one needs help overcoming alcoholism, there are many ways to go about it. Finding the right kind of alcoholism treatment services online is one of them.

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Magda said:

That's so interesting (I mean your review more than the sound of book, to be honest), from many angles.

Self medicating can be certainly one of the strong components in chemical dependencies, I am not sure about clinical or epidemiological data in support of that, but all anecdotal evidence I can think of supports it.

And - on a somehow opposite angle - another thing that struck me as I was reading your review was the line about medical practitioners not being helpful which somehow chimed with a point of view (expresssed by a doctor) I encountered recently which questioned, quite convincingly, whether they actually should - unless one slides into a somehow more extreme form of addiction that requires medical management. People stop or cut down drinking for many reasons of which I suspect "health ones" are the least important; and should behaviour management be part of the everyday role of a doctor? I am not saying it should or shouldn't, just raising a question really.

Sue replied:

Strangely enough I've been thinking on much the same lines since I finished the book. It put my own consumption into perspective - three or four glasses of wine most evenings of the week is more than is recommended, but no one has ever suggested that it affects my behaviour beyond finding some things funny that I wouldn't normally be amused by. Tania Glyde's behaviour had become, er, extreme. 'Inadvisable' doesn't really cover the situations she got into and whilst I might agree that it isn't a function of the medical profession to practice behaviour management, to what extent is extreme behaviour a symptom of mental illness, which would/should merit medical intervention? Is the need to consume alcohol in these amounts a symptom or willful self-indulgence?

Glyde did have various forms of therapy at the time that she was drinking heavily and most of it seemed to be of limited use.

What struck me though was that it seemed that to be able to get help you had to be sober (as in abstaining rather than just not currently under the influence) but for many people the problem is getting over that hurdle of abstaining from alcohol in the first place.

Vicki said:

very interesting review - thank you! My good friend in London emailed it to me; will try to get the book here "Down Under" ......

As far as I am aware, the common term for such a condition is 'dual diagnosis' ( or co-morbidity)

Cheers, Vicki (Canberra, OZ)