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Through their memoirs, Blackout Girl and my miserable, lonely, lesbian pregnancy, Jennifer Storm and Andrea Askowitz bring readers into their heads and into their skin on what is for each the most challenging journey of her life.
Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America is a grueling, nearly decade long roller coaster ride. In this debut memoir, author Jennifer Storm takes readers to hell and back as she struggles, from the age of 12, to resist the comfort she finds even in her first taste of alcohol. From lapping up the remnant drops of flavored drinks in her parents glasses to beer and hard liquor, Storm moves on to marijuana, coke and crack.
She survives rape at the age of 12, another sexual assault a few short years later, several suicide attempts, and a decade filled with drug and alcohol blackouts. Before she graduates from high school, drugs, alcohol, suicide, automobile and motorcycle accidents have claimed more friends, cousins, and classmates than Storm wants to think about.
This is a tragic story that readers will be certain can only end one way: an early and tragic death for the author. But, that’s now where life takes Storm. From her birth on hers is a series of tragedies punctuated by miracles and it is, ultimately, a success story: one day at a time.
Born a few weeks early, the newborn Storm almost died. But, she says, “I fought the odds and lived. In some ways I see this as the beginning of my personal fight for survival.” And a stormy fight it was!
Somehow when despair leads her to cut her wrists, she again survives and realizes that the scars will heal and her life will go on. But it is the realization that “emotional scars are much more complex; they enter a being in ways I can barely articulate and come out in all kinds of destructive ways that are not easily definable. They stay with us for life…as a reminder of the past.” This is possibly the beginning of some kind of conscious “personal fight for survival.”
But while cutting her wrists and seeing “tiny streams of blood” spill out of her arm might have felt like she was “releasing the demons from my head out through my arm,” the demons continued to plague her. It is only after several more years of escalating her drug and alcohol abuse and again miraculously surviving another suicide attempt that she finds rehab and the 12-step program that enables her save her own life.
From the hospital after the suicide attempt she went directly to rehab. Unsure what to expect or how she could survive with out drugs and alcohol, she still somehow knew that she “was about to start a whole new chapter” in her life. And somehow she knew that she had used drugs and alcohol, her “crutches for so long, confidantes, always there to help me take the edge off,” for the last time. That knowledge gave her a peace she had never known, and it was, oddly enough, “intoxicating,” but in a whole new way. After eight long years of “self-neglect, and victimization,” Storm’s journey was taking a sharp turn in an entirely different direction.
When she first attended the requisite group meeting in rehab, she had her doubts: uncertain what to expect or what the group could offer her, she was skeptical. But as the evening’s speaker began to talk, Storm was “captivated.” As happens to so many newcomers to 12-step meetings, Storm realized that her story was not unique. It felt, she says, “like she was talking directly to me…All this time, all these years, I thought I was so unique. I thought I was the only one who thought the things she was saying and did the things she said she had done. That night I realized that I wasn’t alone, and I gained this tremendous feeling of hope inside that told me I may never have to feel alone again.”
And this was clearly the moment when that conscious personal fight for survival must have for the first time seemed like a fight she could win.
In rehab, she learned the “secret” to survival: secrets keep us sick. Buried secrets breed shame and self-hatred. Shame and self-hatred lead to self-abuse through drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships and other destructive behaviors. “You cannot fully soak in the joy of today,” she says, “if your soul is full of yesterday’s garbage.”
She came to realize what most alcoholics and addicts in recovery realize: “addicts emotionally retard themselves upon the age they begin to abuse a substance,” and recovery enables the recovering addicts to return to that state of innocence, that time when they were filled with hope and ruled by childhood dreams.
But none of this is free: it requires commitment and hard work. Nor is it guaranteed. Just one drink, one hit, one pill, one snort is all that stands between the recovering addict and the hell he or she has climbed out of. “What we really have,” she quotes from Alcoholics Anonymous, “is a daily reprieve [from our disease] contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”
Every day is a challenge to keep the demons of the past at bay, and to keep the temptation to turn to the crutches from that past.
And how does she manage to do that? “I acknowledge my feelings, I process them appropriately , and I deal with them…Feelings won’t kill you…you can face them if you show up for life, which means getting out of bed, getting dressed, going to work or school…Get up and face life, because life is a gift and it is a short trip. We never know what day will be our last…Walk through the fear and face the day, because you never know—today might be just like any other day or you may have the best day of your life.”
My miserable, lonely lesbian pregnancy is a different kind of journey. In this memoir, Andrea Askowitz, who longs to become pregnant and begin a wonderful family with partner Kate, discovers in short order that the dream—as she imagined it—just isn’t meant to be. First, she and partner Kate break up yet again even before Askowitz becomes pregnant and after this split there will be no reconciliation.
Although my miserable, lonely lesbian pregnancy spares readers none of the minutae of the sperm donor selection process, attempts to become pregnant, the ups and downs of being pregnant, and finally of giving birth—not to mention every detail of her personal life over the year in question—this memoir draws readers in, and keeps them there.
Readers are likely to find Askowitz pitiful and her actions/thoughts commendable within the same paragraph! While a new life is growing within her, she, too, is “growing up.” Here is a woman with a good and comfortable life, the time and resources to undergo the process of becoming pregnant, and a relatively reliable support system, but it is the absence of co-parent Kate that reduces Andrea to a whiny, cranky mess.
Finally, seven months into her pregnancy, she is able to step outside of herself and see herself. She writes: “I lie in bed sobbing and thinking how pathetic I am and how I am so sick of myself I could throw up, even though the morning sickness has passed. Here I have the best life in the world. I have everything I’ve always wanted. I’m pregnant and healthy. I have friends and family who love me. I have money and a room of my own. And all I can do is obsess about the one thing I don’t have.” That one thing, Kate, her now ex-lover, is pretty much what she has obsessed about since page four of her the book.
But, despite the whining, and despite the obsessing, Askowitz’s story is universal: challenges and changes, chosen or imposed from the outside force us all to look within and ideally become better, stronger individuals—more engaged in our own lives and in the world around us.
This is a good read, well read and well organized, and should appeal to the never have been/never will be pregnant as much as to those who’ve been there, done that and those who are planning to.
by Jennifer Storm
Hazelden / $14.95
Paperback, 304 pp.
my miserable, lonely, lesbian pregnancy
Cleis / $14.95
Paperback, 240 pp.