Addiction memoirs have proliferated in recent decades, crowding a genre once limited to a handful of classics such as the gentlemanly Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and the hilariously hedonistic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Jowita Bydlowska’s account of how she relapsed into alcoholism stands out because she was, at the time, also raising a newborn son. The tragedy and horror of her rapid decline is compounded by her failure to care for her helpless, innocent child. The stress placed on her relationship with her partner, which is also detailed in the book, seems marginal by comparison.
Bydlowska, who emigrated from Poland as a teenager, is now a Toronto-based contributor to publications such as Salon and The Huffington Post. With Drunk Mom, she delivers a memorable first book, if not a work of striking literary flair. Its strength lies in the power of her story, told retrospectively through sobriety’s wide-open eyes using language that is direct and painfully sincere.
Despite its powerful presentation, Drunk Mom occasionally flags. A metaphor that presents Bydlowska as a failed monarch is stretched to the breaking point, and the monotony of addiction – endless clandestine cycles of buying, hiding, drinking, and disposing of bottles – reflects reality but weakens the narrative momentum. For the most part, however, the book engages its subject with searing honesty and startling insights, as when Bydlowska compares her addiction to a body part she can’t simply cut off.
This book will speak most forcefully to readers whose lives are blighted by addiction, either directly or by association. But for those more fortunate, it’s not merely instructive about the lives of others: Bydlowska’s analysis of how self-delusion and self-destructive behaviour badly hurt her and those around her reveals parallels that will be familiar to many, if not all of us.