Dry by Augusten Burroughs


There are stories about addictions and the way someone overcomes them that I believe, and there are stories I don’t. Interestingly enough, the stories I don’t believe come more easily to mind because they always make me angry – magical-kitschy tales about wonderful recoveries make my blood boil.

When it comes to this book, I believe what Augusten Burroughs says. Which is, again, interesting, as Burroughs used to work in the advertising industry: in the period covered in this memoir he made a living by making the shittiest products and ideas attractive, and selling them. And he claims he was such a star in his job because he applied the basic principles of marketing to his own life, too, and he mastered the art of fooling people. Burroughs is an expert in self-marketing, and this talent is evident in this book, too. Dry is well-written, affecting, exciting, tense, sometimes extremely funny, sometimes extremely heart-breaking. Of course it’s quite possible that it’s all just an advertisement, and I’m sure there are details in the story that only serve the purpose of making the product easier to sell, still, I feel this book is emotionally and mentally genuine and authentic (as opposed to, for example, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, which is supposed to be an autobiographical story about overcoming an addiction, and which is basically a fairy tale).

Dry is about the time when Burroughs was in his twenties, and he worked at a marketing agency. He was creative and successful, he won awards for his work, and he made good money, too. All the while, he slipped deeper and deeper into alcoholism, and at a certain point he faced to choice of either going into rehab or losing his job. During his 30 days at rehab, Burroughs goes through all the usual steps of a recovering addict: first he denies that he has a problem with drinking and he tries to delude everyone (including himself) by saying that drinking a little too much can happen to anyone; then he admits that he’s an alcoholic (it comes as major revelation to him when he’s asked to list how often and how much he drinks – as he says, he had never before calculated what his alcohol intake amounted to); and towards the end he starts to enjoy his sober days, but he keeps worrying what will happen when the therapy is over and he once again gets back to his old environment – he says he can’t imagine how he’ll spend his time if he’s not allowed to drink anymore.

It seems the therapy is effective, and Burroughs remains sober for a long while after he checks out of rehab, but in the meantime, things keep happening in „real life” – things Burroughs used to tackle by drinking, so the book doesn’t end by saying that from now on, Burroughs will remain the model of sobriety all his life. It’s possible that he’s become such a model since then, I have no way of knowing. But I admire Burroughs for not stopping by saying simply: „I’m out of rehab, I’m sober, and from now on everything will automatically be nice and simple”. Instead, he goes on to talk about what comes after sobriety, and about how it feels to be (and whether it’s possible to remain) sober.

By the way, as regards its contents, this is a pretty horrible book, but fortunately Burroughs never loses his sense of humor, not even when he talks about the most dramatic and unsettling incidents. And his humor is delightful: light, sarcastic, self-mocking – it reminds me of the humor of David Sedaris.

And let me just say in „rehab-style” (according to which you must communicate what something means to you, how something makes you feel, and how you can relate to something, and avoid judgment, advice, and criticism): I can relate to a whole lot of what Burroughs is saying, and I know or feel a lot of his feelings and fears.

Finally, I don’t think this is a self-help book, nor is it a book to force (or scare) people into facing their addictions – I wouldn’t push this book into anyone’s hand saying: you must read this, and you’ll immediately stop your drinking, drugging, whatever. This is a book about Burroughs, it’s his story, and while it’s obviously fictionalized to some extent (which doesn’t bother me at all) in its essence, it’s very real.