It’s the sort of raw and hilarious collection of stories that sticks to a theme – sobriety in contemporary culture – without deviating too far from this premise. I don’t usually enjoy essay collections because they tend to be too flimsy or, frankly, boring for trying to do so much with a sheer, gauzy concept that should only be five thousand words instead of fifty thousand. Nothing Good? It’s a delicious 224 pages that dips once or twice, giving so much for readers to savor on while pushing them to reflect on their own sobriety.
For drinkers like us reading this work, it poses a very interesting question: should you cut back? Should you quit? Coulter isn’t aiming to solve this for you (And, really, she makes many a brilliant joke out of that.) but she does leave you with questions and thoughts and things to work on for yourself. She holds a crystal goblet of sparkling water to your face to stare through, to see if your situation is like hers or different: are you flailing in the glass in some way? If so, you should think really hard about what you’re doing.
And think I did. I’m still thinking! I may never stop thinking about what she presented but, alas, I will try to work through the sober thoughts her book left me with.
• Rosé is overrated at this point. What does that drink even mean anymore? It seems to make killing yourself diaphanous.
• Are those dry Januarys (or “Drynuarys”) just an alcoholic’s checks-and-balance? The time I did it, it was to prove that I could to myself. I’ll never forget the evening of February 1 when I had my first drink after the break because we ran into a co-worker of Bobby’s. “Just wanted to make sure this wasn’t a problem,” he said of his own dry January. “Wanted to make sure I don’t have to stop.” He winked and left. It was weird and resonant but also horrifying.
• Is sobriety the ultimate in counter-culture? Still, straight-edge kids, people, places, etc. are still weird and unsettling in a very unblemished way.
• You really can’t underestimate the power of telling yourself no. When Coulter quit, she just told herself that. No. She needed some outside help eventually, sure, but she just listened to that want for another drink and told herself, “You know what? No.” We all have that power and it can be used for whatever we want.
• Want is a good thing. To want is to have something that needs to be filled – and the work to fill the want is what makes a life. We live in such a time when wants are filled so fast, in the era of convenience, that is ultimately a huge enabler. “I want donuts at 3AM,” you may think and out the window is a 24 hour donut shop: everything is burning at our fingertips. Such is the drinking life. Learn how to want and harness that to do more. For Coulter, much of that was exercise via running amongst other things. That’s a huge lesson.
• When alcohol is used to celebrate – and everything becomes a celebration – then nothing is a celebration. Keep that in mind.
• By the same token, when you use alcohol to cope or cover or help you get through “it,” the “I just needed this.” glass of wine situation, then there is an opportunity to investigate the self. Can this be done in another way?
• What is your booze helping you run away from? What are you clouding your life via the drink? Figure that out, probably with the help of a therapist.
• Having a constant low-level hangover sucks. She discusses this a few times and I’ve been there: it is exhausting.
• Drinking guilt is real. Also: it’s your body telling you to stop. That plus the being exhausted.
• Coulter mentions a few times the idea of swapping addictions – be it alcohol for shopping for another person for running – and this is something to manage and keep in mind. The problem is addiction. Keep that in mind.
• Do you know how much you are drinking? The guidelines – five ounces of wine, a shot of alcohol, etc. – are to be abided by so that you aren’t drinking too much and then drinking even more and even more and even more. Once you make the hole bigger, it only widens. That’s something to flag, when your tolerance is a bit too high.
• It’s easy to look at warnings like the many articles saying “Hey! Drinking can kill you!” and go “L O L .” just because you don’t want to change. That too is a sign of something.
• Again: rosé is overrated.
Now that I’ve mostly worked through the book by writing my thoughts out, am I going to quit drinking? I don’t think so.
Yet, Nothing Good definitely made me want to take a sword to my drinking, to cut off its arms and legs, to approach it instead of it constantly running up to me and asking to play. To that, I say no. I want to want more.