The Points Interview: Chris Finan

chrisChris Finan is the author of the books Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill & Wang, 2002), From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2008), and Drunks: An American History (Beacon, 2017). He currently serves as Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Censorship and was previously President of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Finan received his PhD. in American History from Columbia University in 1992 and has been involved in anti-censorship efforts for the past 35 years. He lives in Brooklyn.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Actually, one of the first persons I described the book to was a bartender.  I was at a reception at book convention in Minneapolis, and he wandered over before it was time to start pouring drinks to talk about my book, which was on display.  He had been lucky enough to get sober in the “land of 1,000 rehabs.”  I told him that my book tells the stories of the people who have led the recovery movement since the colonial period and ultimately saved his life–and mine.
drunks

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Conference Summary: “I’ve Been to Dwight,” July 14-18, 2016, Dwight, IL

Editor’s Note: This conference summary is brought to you by David Korostyshevsky, a doctoral student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He traveled to Dwight, Illinois, in mid-July to attend the ADHS off-year “I’ve Been to Dwight” conference, and has provided this account of his time there. Thanks David!

On July 14-18, 2016, a group of international alcohol and drug historians descended upon the village of Dwight, Illinois, for an ADHS off-year conference. Conference organizers selected Dwight because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Keeley Institute.

Founded by Leslie E. Keeley in 1879 (and operating until 1966), the Keeley Institute offered treatment options to patients with addiction, usually alcoholism, including Keeley’s Gold Cure. “I’ve Been to Dwight,” the conference title, references “a catchphrase” former Keeley Institute patients “used to explain their sobriety.”

Keeley

To make it easier to read, this summary is organized thematically. You can see the full conference program here.

I live-tweeted the conference as @rndmhistorian under the hashtag #IBTD16. Also, Janet Olson, volunteer archivist at the Frances Willard Historical Association wrote a blog post about the conference.

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Fiction Points: Sarah Gerard

SarahbyDavidSarah Gerard is the author of a novel, Binary Star (2015); two chapbooks, BFF (2015)  and Things I Told My Mother (2013); and a forthcoming collection of essays, Sunshine State, centered on her childhood in Florida, the home state she shares with PointsShe also writes a monthly column on artists’ notebooks, “Paper Trail” for Hazlitt. Gerard’s chapbooks garnered praise from tastemakers such as Hobart and The Rumpus, and Binary Star received glowing reviews from, among other publications, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, NPR, Vanity Fair, and The Los Angeles Times, which chose the book as a finalist for its Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.  Buzzfeed, Flavorwire, Largehearted Boy, NPR, and Vanity Fair put Gerard’s debut novel on their 2015 year-end lists. Her short stories, essays, and criticism have appeared in venues including BOMB Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, New York Magazine’s “The Cut,” The Paris Review Daily, and Vice, as well as in anthologies for Joyland and The Saturday Evening Post. She teaches writing in New York City and has been a visiting writer at the University of Maine, The New School, Pratt, and other institutions.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I write about the intersection of arctic birds and religion. Can I interview you?

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Well, the protagonist of Binary Star is anorexic and addicted to diet pills. Her boyfriend is an alcoholic and takes his psychiatric medication not exactly as prescribed. So, they may find that interesting. I write about drugs and alcohol in a rather different way in my essay collection, which I’m finishing now. I kind of toy with the boundaries of what is a drug: alcohol is a drug, ecstasy is a drug, but is religion also a drug? Is capitalism? Is success? Also, I don’t like to categorically vilify drugs and alcohol. Sometimes recreational drugs are a lot of fun, and sometimes they’re used as medication when another isn’t available. Read More »

The Silences of Our Work, Part III: Alternate Paths to Recovery

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, Points brings you the third in a series of posts on silencing and substance use by Heather Sophia Lee, PhD, LCSW, an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. You can read the first installment here and the second installment here

For my dissertation, I conducted a qualitative study of two harm reduction programs. The purpose was to describe the experiences of participants in harm reduction programs given that “outcomes” of such programs were difficult to measure.

At that time evidence existed for the efficacy of harm reduction practices, like needle exchange programs, in reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Less was known about the impact of harm reduction as a model for addiction treatment. Its broad focus made it unclear which “outcomes” were most important to measure. Coupled with political resistance, many agencies often avoided calling their work “harm reduction” to avoid scrutiny which might interfere with meeting the needs of their clients.

As a novice qualitative researcher, I was intuitively curious about how harm reduction was being integrated into twelve step recovery experiences. I was also interested in the extent to which one might be just as likely to come to abstinence through harm reduction as abstinence-only based treatment. Harm reduction and twelve step models were often cast as mutually exclusive, and I knew there was a deeper story to be known though I wasn’t yet sure what it was.

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The Silences of Our Work, Part I: A Preface

Editor’s Note: Points is delighted to welcome Heather Sophia Lee, PhD, LCSW, an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Lee is a practicing clinician and qualitative researcher who studies how stigma influences access to health and social services. Today, Lee opens her series on silencing and substance abuse with a reflection on her relationship to this work.

Some months ago, Points co-founder Trysh Travis read an article I published about integrating harm reduction and twelve step approaches to treatment, and asked how I became interested in addiction research. My answer: I began observing addiction and recovery long before I learned to study these processes systematically. I was born into the witnessing of addiction; it began with my father’s struggles and untimely death when I was nine years old.

This experience exposed me to the scripted language of recovery at an early age. But I’d argue that, even for people without this early formative experience, the scripts of addiction treatment and drug policy manage to shape the psyche. I’ve witnessed many contrasting cases in which the dominant response model to drug and alcohol issues (i.e., punitive, abstinence-based, and informed by an explicit set of assumptions) failed to meaningfully reach those in need of help.

Later, as a clinician-scholar, I believed there must be a better way to engage those in need of help and began exploring alternatives. I acknowledged that the dominant model does reach some people– but it fails to reach most people, and that was the population I wanted to engage. As I reflect on my personal and professional experiences, I think my work has been driven by something deeper and less tangible than clinical efficacy: the greatest injustice in treatment practice and scholarship is the silenced voices of those who struggle with addiction. I also believe that by facilitating space to desilence those voices, we will learn about our failings and be better able to help those who struggle with substance use and misuse in this country.

Image via Harm Reduction Coalition (harmreduction.org)
Image via Harm Reduction Coalition (harmreduction.org)

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A Personal Tribute: Ernie Kurtz, 1935-2015

Editor’s Note: This remembrance comes from William White, author of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America (1998).

Ernest Kurtz, who made landmark contributions to the study of addiction recovery, died January 19, 2015, of pancreatic cancer. Following publication of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1979, Kurtz focused his studies on the growing varieties of recovery experience, the healing of shame and guilt, and the role of spirituality in addiction recovery.  Ernie Kurtz Sphinx

Ernest Kurtz was born in Rochester, New York, on September 9, 1935–only two months after the meeting of two desperate alcoholics in Akron, Ohio, marked the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous. Kurtz attended St. Bernard’s Seminary and College and was then ordained as a Catholic Priest in 1961. Following five years of parish work, he began his graduate studies at Harvard University where he completed an M.A. in history and a Ph.D. in the history of American civilization. His Ph.D. dissertation on the history of A.A. marked a turning point in the scholarly study of A.A. and the larger arenas of addiction recovery and recovery mutual aid societies, both legitimizing such studies and setting a benchmark by which future studies would be evaluated.

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You Are What You Drink: Wine, Women, and Identity

NOTE: Today’s post is by Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.

A recent piece in The New York Times about the wine-drinking habits of powerful female characters on television made me recall wine coolers, sweet blends of wine and fruit flavors that were packaged like soda and beer in bottles for individual consumption.  Some readers may be too young to remember them—they were most popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. Looking back now, I realize that for those of us of a certain age, they could serve as a gateway drug, and not just because of their sweet, almost Kool-Aid-like flavors.  For young women who were too naïve and uncertain to know what wine or beer or cocktail to ask for, yet well beyond the era when we would expect or want a man to order for us, wine coolers were an easy and at that time at least, socially acceptable alternative—which is no doubt what the manufacturers intended.  By all accounts, women’s drinking has gotten more serious since then, and in more ways than one.

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Seriously: wine coolers (Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler advertisement)

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Operation Understanding: Disclosure and Stigma in 1976

Editors Note: This post is from Contributing Editor Michelle McClellan.

In May 1976, more than fifty people—celebrities and professionals from various fields—announced at a carefully staged press conference that they had recovered from alcoholism. The event had been organized by the National Council on Alcoholism (today the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) as part of its annual conference. In 1944, Margaret “Marty” Mann had disclosed her own drinking problem and founded the NCA to persuade Americans to regard alcoholism as a public health matter. On that May day more than thirty years later, actors, politicians, journalists, sports figures, physicians, lawyers, pilots, clergymen, even an astronaut and an “Indian chief” (Sylvester Tinker of the Osage Nation) participated in “Operation Understanding.”   Arrayed in alphabetical order on risers in a hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C., each person stood, announced his or her name, and then added, “I am an alcoholic.” Consistent with the mission of the NCA, the event planners hoped to reduce the stigma associated with alcoholism, demonstrate that alcoholics come from all backgrounds, and encourage those who struggled with their drinking to seek help.

OperationUnderstandingGroupPhoto_5-8-1976

(Click on the image for enlarged version)

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Recent News Roundup: The Sobriety Coach Edition

Twelve-step sponsorship is so twentieth century—or so The New York Times would have us believe. In an article published last month in the newspaper’s Fashion and Style section, author Marisa Fox made the case that “recovery coaches,” “once consigned to Hollywood entourages to keep celebrities on the straight and narrow,” are currently trending among upper-class women “from the Upper East Side to the beachfront homes of Boca Raton.”

Last weekend, NPR’s All Things Considered followed the trend, offering a more inclusive description of recovery coaches’ clientele (the stock image that accompanied the report was still a view from the beach).

heroinrecovery_wide-2a6fc5fa05e9de7f53966c3853b923f2d5c80a73-s4-c85
Diane Diederich/iStockphoto featured on NPR.com

The historical angle adopted by both news outlets was obvious. The old-fashioned practice of sponsorship—defined by Alcoholics Anonymous as the process by which a person “who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety”— presents shortcomings in today’s treatment marketplace. The women featured in the Times have the ability to buy their way out of the social awkwardness and fear of exposure that twelve-step meeting attendance invites. The NPR piece notes that people in early recovery don’t always gravitate toward the most adept supporters— coaches, who are trained to provide practical as well as spiritual guidance, can help solve this long-standing problem.

Clipping from Hazelden's MORE program pamphlet. The program offers coaching for clients in early recovery.
Clipping from Hazelden’s MORE program pamphlet. The program offers coaching for clients in early recovery.

As historian and clinician Bill White explained, coaches are not sponsors (they don’t do voluntary twelve-step work on “paid time”) and they’re not quite counselors (they don’t diagnose or probe underlying psychological issues). They occupy a new niche in the service economy that employs more than 75 percent of today’s American workers. They are “the new Pilates instructors,” one coach told the Times. They are compensated to be both “cheerleaders” and “beacons of hope,” another told NPR.

Like NPR reporter Martha Bebinger, I think coaches can produce tremendous benefits, both for people in recovery and for the treatment system as a whole. But the proper role of recovery coaches in today’s health service sector also deserves a systemic critique—and not the trolling, “New York Times Style Suction” sort.

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Fiction Points: Joshua Mohr

mohrJoshua Mohr lives and writes in San Francisco, where he teaches fiction at The Writing Salon and the University of San Francisco, from which he also received his MFA. He is the author of four novels – Some Things that Meant the World to Me (2009), Termite Parade (2010), Damascus (2011), and Fight Song (2013) – and is already at work on a fifth. O, The Oprah Magazine named Mohr’s debut among its Ten Terrific Reads of 2009, and The New York Times Book Review listed Termite Parade as an Editor’s Choice in 2010. His reviews and writing have been featured in publications including The New York Times and The San Francisco Bay Chronicle.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

This has actually already happened to me, and it’s one of the reasons I got sober. The bottom is never far away when a penguin tugs on your jeans and says, “Hey, mister, are you holding?” Thank god there were no nuns around.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

As a recovering addict/alcoholic, all my books turn over some concentric preoccupations.  Namely, I’m really curious about self destruction. Why do some of us love to hurt ourselves? I’ve been sober four years and I’m fascinated with what led me to treat myself in all those miserable ways. Authors have the capacity to sculpt psychology, really plumb someone’s psyche, and for me, it’s been a cathartic process, forcing myself to analyze toxic rationalizations.Read More »