“Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”
-Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking
In a Barnes & Noble in Glendale, CA, there she was. Carrie Fisher. No, not in person but in book form. It was her memoir Wishful Drinking. I was just a month or so sober, shopping with my mom and utterly miserable/confounded/fucked up. In times of crisis my mom and I often go to bookstores and libraries and getting sober and leaving a ten plus year relationship certainly qualified as a crisis. Like every newly sober person ever, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But I knew I needed her book. And I needed it badly. I devoured her first novel Postcards from the Edge at age 15 and she instantly became a source of storytelling inspiration. Here was this actress, this princess I always wanted to be, writing her soul out; utterly truthful, hilarious and talking about really dark shit. It blew my mind as a teenager from an alcoholic home who still had problems even acknowledging the truth, much less telling the truth about anything. So in 2009 with my head up my ass, I knew I needed that book. I knew this because she had been there for me before and I knew I could count on her again.
The usual snickering and laughing like a crazy person by yourself that happens with a Carrie Fisher book ensued once I got my hands on Wishful Drinking. It came at the precise right time in my life, as books usually do. Dishy, sad, profound and really funny, it was the tonic required to deal with my life. But what didn’t I know then or even as a fifteen year old is that Carrie Fisher wasn’t just entertaining me. She was actually helping me figure how I could someday talk about my own really dark shit too.
But in that moment with a life in turmoil what Carrie Fisher was giving me was a good laugh. Wishful Drinking is so jam-packed with Carrie Fisherisms that it’s sort of like hanging out with an old friend who maybe overshares a little too much which could be exhausting in real life but makes for one hell of an entertaining read. There are literally hundreds of gems and nuggets of wisdom in that book especially for addicts and alcoholics but here’s a few of my favorites:
“I feel I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”
“Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life–more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time–well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.”
“Anyway, at a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”
“And not that it matters, but my mother is not a lesbian! She’s just a really, really bad heterosexual.”
“Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”
This gift, this memoir, this book picked up in a bookstore on a Sunday with my mom was the beginning of the long process of what I like to call “the light turning on.” For me it was never a simple flick of a switch but a billion positive messages, a million tears and thousands of laughs that eventually lead to the light being turned on. Wishful Drinking and Carrie Fisher were a part of that. I’m incredibly grateful that Carrie Fisher was the one to show me that the truth could be funny, fierce and freeing. And more than that it could help other people too.
When news of her death took over the internet yesterday, I realized instantly that I wasn’t the only one to have the light turned on by Carrie Fisher. My amazing editor Anna David wrote about it in Time. Sober friends tweeted about her impact all day long. And friends and relatives who knew how much she meant to me texted to offer their condolences. See, the thing is that even though Carrie Fisher and I never met, she was important. By following her example of learning how to laugh at the shitshow of my life, I’ve been able to recover. I’ve been able to get better and I’ve learned how to laugh at the other curve balls life has thrown my way in sobriety.
But now that Carrie is gone, it’s up to us. It’s up to us make one another laugh about really dark shit. It’s up to us to keep writing our truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us and the people around us. It’s up to us to speak out for people with addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. We get to carry this torch for one another and laugh together and what an incredible gift. I don’t treat it lightly and plan on doing my damnedest to continue her work.
I was given the writing note this fall that a piece of mine needed to be “funnier and sassier and Sean-like.” While I rose to that challenge and fired on all smart ass cyllanders, what this person was actually saying was, “Be more like Carrie Fisher.” And from here on out I will keep trying to do just that.
“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
― Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking