This is a difficult review to write because it feels so deeply personal as compared to writing about crocodile murders or an enemy-to-lovers romance. Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol details Holly Whitaker’s personal journey with alcohol leading to her sobriety and recovery. It’s equal parts memoir, self-help, and practical programming. I think it’s a book for a wide range of folks, from those who are sober curious, to those who seek a path to recovery, or any person who finds interest in social justice and the complex paradigms of society and drug use.
I have a complicated relationship with alcohol, made even more so throughout the past year from coping with the universal trauma of the pandemic (and the US’s former leadership). I am not huge on social media and even I could not ignore the prevalent role alcohol had to play in people’s coming to terms with everything that is going on in this crazy world. I open Instagram to a daily barrage of memes that normalize drinking in order to manage the overwhelming stress of it all. Trust me, I get it (maybe too much), but it began to cross my mind that I did not need any reinforcement to use drinking to cope; it became almost enabling. What then is “normal” and what is a “problem” if everyone, their mom, and Ina Garten shake up cocktails to cope?
Whitaker walks through the ways in which society normalizes drinking and how our society entwines alcohol with much of the culture. From yoga classes at breweries to monikered drinking themed swag for babies, it’s easy to see capitalism’s clutch on alcohol. “There is a lot of effort going into promoting alcohol consumption, and even more of an effort to normalize abuse” (59). I found it wildly interesting the parallel ways in which Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol sell ideas, and Whitaker does a great job in pointing out how both sell this idea to engrain use in everyday life.
“When it comes to alcohol, however, we blame the people, which means the alcohol industry doesn’t just profit from our death, it gets away with it as an innocent bystander. The industry has absolutely no liability, because how could it possibly be accountable to a disease that some people just have?” (86). This strikes home for me and then hits even harder when Whitaker details the intrinsic ways that addiction is a social justice issue.
Quit Like a Woman was a refreshing read and a much needed take on addiction, recovery, and how to navigate both through a decidedly non white, cis-male lens. The chapter about AA enlightened and pleased me—finally someone put into words the ideas floating around my head that I just couldn’t nail down. I appreciated this book even when I found the author to be grating at times, but this review took me two weeks to write, so make of that what you will. And I’ll leave it with this quote that I particularly liked.
On feminine-centric recovery: “It is a reclamation of everything you lost along the way; a practice of gentleness; a return to wholeness that requires you to embrace every terrible and wonderful thing about yourself; the radical notion that you are already worthy, simply because you exist” (138).