A Seat at the Bar, with Augusten Burroughs

Excuse me.  Yes, I’m terribly sorry to interrupt you and your sparkling water drinking at this bar that I know you loathe because, well, we don’t imbibe anymore and this kind of thing is a big fat bore, but I need you to know a few things so you’ll just have to indulge me.  It’s ok, go ahead and read your book or listen to your music or whatever you need to do, but I’m going to spill it anyway. 

“Like cubic zirconia, I only look real. I’m an imposter. The fact is, I am not like other people.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry

What’s that?  Oh, now you WANT to listen?  I thought you might.  Yes, I can quote you back to you.  Sorry if that’s annoying.  It’s fandom.  That line right there was the first thing I ever read that made me go “What did I just read?  HOLY SHIT SOMEBODY OUT THERE FEELS EXACTLY LIKE I DO”.   I know there’s a fine line with writers who share so much of themselves with their readers who in turn feel they KNOW them, when really I know I don’t know you and I respect your privacy and boundaries.  I also know writers have egos that need to be stroked so I promise to make it worth your while. 

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I have this framed in my home.  “Live well and best wishes” circa 2004 Printers Row Book Fair, Chicago.  I geeked the hell out when I met you.  I’m sure you remember.

I know most people know you from your Running with Scissors, which is spectacular don’t get me wrong, but your book Dry, well, it changed my life.  It was the first book of yours I ever read.   

Your words and your choice of words are unlike any I had ever read before nor since.  They are dark and they are concise.  They are ugly and they are full of hope and despair.  They are words of hopelessness from someone who’s claimed their hope back and wrestled with it continually since that moment of clarity.  They are from someone with a massive ego who knows most of it is false bravado and needs to be tamed.   They came for me at exactly the right moment when I needed them most. 
 
You made me laugh out loud about our shared experiences and feelings and up until that point, I didn’t know I was allowed to laugh about all this dark shit.  But I am.  And we need to. 
 
I’m a big ol’ drunk, just like you.  And just like you I made it work for a while, until it didn’t work any longer and all my shit caught up to me.  I never fit in.  I never felt like I belonged anywhere and just didn’t relate to a thing anyone else ever went through or felt or experienced.  So I drank.  Just like you I went to rehab and met some of the most incredible and fascinating characters I’ve ever met in my life. 

While in rehab, I wanted out the entire time.  While I was living in the halfway house I wanted out the entire time.  I pretty much fought everything about the entire process the entire time. 

“I sit there and think how it isn’t fair that I can’t drink at all, even a little. I realize I have crammed an entire lifetime of moderate drinking into a decade of hard-core drinking and that is why. I blew my wad.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry

“Freshly brainwashed from rehab, I carry the bottle into the bathroom. I hold it up to the light. See the pretty bottle? Isn’t it beautiful? Yes, it’s beautiful. I unscrew the cap and pour it into the toilet. I flush twice. And then I think, why did I flush twice? The answer, is of course, because I truly do know myself. I cannot be sure I won’t attempt to drink from the toilet, like a dog.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry

 Somehow I stuck with it, not by my own power, you understand, and I got out.  I read and went to meetings and talked with others about this whole thing, but never and I mean NEVER had I connected with anyone or anything as I did when I read Dry

“Meetings are the Hail Marys of alcoholics. You can do or almost do anything, feel anything, commit any number of non-sober atrocities, as long as you follow with an AA chaser.
 
“After I cut off his penis, I sauteed it in rosemary butter and ate it.”
 
“But did you go to a meeting afterward?”

“Yes”

“I wouldn’t worry about it then.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry

 
“Why am I so anxious? And then it hits me. I’m not anxious, I’m lonely. And I’m lonely in some horribly deep way and for a flash of an instant, I can see just how lonely, and how deep this feeling runs. And it scares the shit out of me to be so lonely because it seems catastrophic – seeing the car just as it hits you.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry
Never in my life had I heard someone describe what I was feeling this way. I could quote the entire book back to you, but I won’t.  
 
Your take on relationships continually made me question my own failed relationships and how I kept making the same mistakes over and over and over.
 

“What I really want is to sit next to someone on an L.L. bean blanket on the beach in the fall and drink coffee from the same mug. I don’t want some rusty ’73 Ford Pinto with a factory-defective gas tank that causes it to explode when it’s rear-ended in the parking lot of the supermarket. So why do I keep looking for Pintos?” ― Augusten Burroughs, Dry

You made me want to share my experience, strength and hope from my very own unique perspective.  Nobody has my story to tell except me.  I find humor and strength in my struggles and I share it with many who relate.  You inspired me to do that years ago and you still do today. 

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Just a glimpse into a small window of my bookshelf.

I write because of you. 
 
I found my voice through you and just like you, not all my work has to do with sobriety, but there is a common theme and it permeates everything I write.  Because of you.  You struggle and you share your struggle when it’s ugly and sad and dark.  You are human and you fail and you are grateful. 
 
I’m forever grateful you wrote Dry and that you wrote it exactly when you did and how you did.  I’m fairly confident in saying I wouldn’t still be sober today without it.  I owe you a huge debt of gratitude and as you well know as a writer, I don’t have much to pay you with except for gratitude. You helped save my life.  And then you gave me the courage to share my stories and in turn save others who need saving the same way we did. 
 
“Applause is a constant thing in AA. It’s how we buy drinks for each other.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry
 
 
So, DRINK UP.  This club soda is on me.  Let’s talk about how all these people are drunks and need serious help.  Girl…..

[View the story “A Seat at the Bar: The Series” on Storify]

 
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