By The Small Bow
A developing orchestra
A q-and-a with Small Bow illustrator and Drawing Links proprietor Edith Zimmerman.
Why did you use Allen Carr? Did you try any other ways to get sober?
A friend I trust and admire had recommended Allen Carr’s quit-smoking book at one point, years earlier, and so when I came across Carr’s stop-drinking book one night alone online, I ordered it on the strength of that association and of the book’s Amazon reviews. (I later wrote my own Amazon review.) I was curious about sobriety at that time but only in theory. I want to say I thought the Universe would give me points just for ordering it.
I started the book when it arrived, but I sensed that I wasn’t actually ready for or interested in sobriety, and I put it away. (Even though that sort of goes against what the book recommends.) Six months later, I read it all in one afternoon and haven’t had a drink since.
I didn’t try other ways to get sober. (Other than a failed attempt at Dry January and five white-knuckle days of no-drinking at one point in 2013, to try to please someone else.) I spent maybe five or eight years trying to drink less, but that didn’t work. The day I stopped drinking was the first day in my life where I wanted to fully cut alcohol out entirely. Up until that point, I’d wanted to keep the things I thought were good about it while minimizing the things I thought were bad. The day I quit was the first day I wanted to toss the whole thing.
When you ran your first comic and 'outed' yourself as being sober, what did that feel like? And why did you choose to make it a comic instead of an essay?
It was exciting. I’d had it as a draft on Medium for months, hoping to publish it but also nervous to. The day I published it, which I did impulsively to distract myself from something else going on, it felt like I was flipping a major switch. It was gratifying that people started responding to it. It was so gratifying, in fact, that I started a Google Doc to collect the praise I got! Lol. Well, that was because I thought I might make a book out of it. Also because I was lonely.
Looking back on the story now, it seems like some of the Medium formatting defaults have changed, so the story looks a little wacky, with some images hugely magnified.
I have a pretty good support system. I’m sure I’d benefit from a 12-step group, but I like where things are now. I’ve been to AA and loved it, and I have a lot of admiration for 12-step programs.
It came out as a comic because comics were the main (only?) thing I was making at that time (and now, again). I was keeping a comics journal, because I found that I had a lot to say and not that many people to talk with, and eventually I collected all the journal comics I’d made about drinking and sobriety, and that’s what became the Spiralbound story. Later I wrote a text essay for The Cut about sobriety which I’m proud of, but the comic feels closer to my heart, maybe because it’s messier.
When you go public with sobriety, there’s of course that nagging feeling of “What if something changes and I start drinking again? And then there’s THIS hanging behind me?” But that didn’t give me too much pause. The parallel that has felt right to me is something like, “Well, I’m not going to go back to wearing diapers, why would I go back to drinking alcohol?”
The value of having a mindset shift around alcohol -- of believing that it’s boring rather than believing that it’s fun -- is that alcohol loses its appeal.
Do you have enough of a support system? That's really the benefit of 12-step groups and other recovery groups and I always wondered if you'd still be open to it.
One of my best friends is sober, and she and I talk all the time. And I mean, you are sober, AJ, and I get a lot of benefit from emailing and talking with you throughout the week, like when I’m being a bitch in my emails, or you’re doing something dumb. It’s been really meaningful to me, more than I can express here. Like, it’s nice to talk about sobriety in a “how the sausage gets made” way. Like, I am an asshole sometimes. You’ve seen it now. And I feel like I see you more clearly, too. And I think you are a lovely person.
Sometimes when talking about sobriety with non-sober people, I feel compelled to make it sound great, or make myself sound great, like I’m always doing great now, on this side, lest I unintentionally be a bad sobriety ambassador. So, it’s always nice to put down that mantle a little. Sobriety can suck but not because it’s sobriety.
Have you acquired any new fears in sobriety?
Also, I will interrupt myself to say that I get a lot of support through the internet. Just as I was typing this, someone sent me this email: “After reading your Feb. 22 newsletter, I followed the link to your Cut article about Annie Grace's book, bought a copy of The Naked Mind and her 30-day alcohol free experiment, and I'm on day 19. Around day 12, I started writing poems again for the first time in almost ten years. It honestly feels like a miracle.”
Like, I could die and I would feel my life was worth something.
There are also a number of sober people I rarely talk to but often think about, and it’s comforting to me just to know they’re out there. I’ll think, “What would so-and-so think of such-and-such?” It helps to have a pretty active imagination. Also heavy drinking guys aren’t attractive to me anymore.
Yeah. I’ve had fears of never connecting with someone again, fears of never having kids. Fears that I would just sit there, forever, and never be funny again, never be cool or make anything that people like again. I think all those have ultimately been fears of not having courage. But I have found that extremely brief moments of courage are all that is needed. I saw something once on a blog about the concept of having “20 seconds of courage.” (Originally it came from a Matt Damon movie.) That’s all you need to set a ball in motion. I’d say it’s more like three. Three seconds of courage can completely change the course of one’s life. Whether it’s saying hi to someone, signing up for something, sending an email, or publishing a story. I think to myself: “I need to be my exact same self, just with three seconds of courage, once a year.”
I could have saved a lot of money and spared myself and others some pain and worry if I’d pulled things together a few years earlier. But I wouldn’t change anything, no.
But, there's invariably other fears. I lost weight and now I have a fear of gaining it back. I have a mild fear of spending too much time at home alone, living in my imagination. But, it’s fun to do that, too.
Do you wish you got sober sooner?