Published by Grand Central Publishing on September 13, 2016
Genres/Lists: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Length: 5 hrs, 35 mins
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
20/20 host Elizabeth Vargas penned a memoir about her battle with alcoholism, beginning with her anxiety as a child and her whirlwind career as a television anchor. Filled with insecurities, Vargas turned to alcohol first to unwind, then to cope with the stresses of life. In this breathtakingly honest memoir, she shares her deepest and darkest moments, including when and how she disappointed her children, her bouts with alcohol poisoning, her time in rehab, and the impact her drinking had on her marriage. In it, she takes full responsibility for her actions and makes no effort to paint herself in a positive light, making this an incredible read. Vargas ultimately tells three stories in Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction: how her childhood experiences shaped her world outlook and ability to deal with stress, her downward spiral into addiction and its impact on her family, and her path towards recovery.
As a child, Vargas learned early on that anxiety and panic are not acceptable emotions to share and should be hidden at all costs. She pinpoints one specific moment in Okinawa that shaped how she approached her anxiety and she discusses the harm this has done to her psyche. Complicating matters, she was also an army brat, living in 14 homes on 9 army bases and attended 8 different schools before graduating high school. Being the new kid meant that she was continually trying to fit in, and she was bullied a lot. One of the bullies was her teacher (who reminded me a lot of one of my own), but oftentimes it was awful teenage girls.
Anxiety plays a huge role in Vargas’ story, from her fear of vomiting because it’s a loss of control to how she never learned how to properly manage it (there’s a great book about how another reporter dealt with his anxiety titled 10% Happier). Being in front of cameras on a nightly basis while battling a crippling anxiety takes its toll and things got progressively worse. Like many of us who suffer from anxiety, she doesn’t even remember some of the speeches she has given because she was so overwhelmed with it. Unlike many of us, she found that alcohol helped her to take the edge off and what started out as a nightly glass of wine turned into so much more.
Like most alcoholics, Vargas knew she has a problem but didn’t identify as an alcoholic. For a long time, she wasn’t binge drinking and was fully functional. But after her nanny called out sick one night, she crossed the line into binge-drinking and she ended up in the hospital. Rather than be a stern wakeup call, she began to drink more. She was hungover while reporting on September 11, pretend she was meeting friends at bars in order to hide her drinking, and became so focused on her habit that she was missing what was happening in her marriage. Although she got it together when she had her children, Vargas went in and out of rehab, had relapses with serious medical consequences, and put her family through hell. She ruined family vacations, missed moments with her children, and watched as her marriage struggled.
What’s so poignant about Between Breaths is how honest Vargas is about her struggles and the horrible situations she created for both herself and others. She does not make excuses for herself and opens up about her thought processes. This was eye-opening for me because I have seen alcoholism and its recovery process up close and thought I understood what was going through that person’s head. Because of this book, I have a new insight into how an alcoholic sees their addiction and it shines a new light on how difficult the road to recovery is. While I knew this, in the abstract, I have a deeper understanding now. Vargas’ story has opened a line of communication about this addiction that I didn’t know existed and it has been great for us.Between Breaths by @EVargasABC is an important read if you or someone you know has struggled with addiction. Click To Tweet
Vargas has not been sober for long and struggles with whether it’s too early for this book, but being a recovered alcoholic is a daily struggle that never goes away, and so she shares the story she has. She made multiple attempts to get sober before she actually did, which is common, including a few failed attempts at rehab and relapses that got progressively worse. By the time she finally she finally got sober, her marriage was in shambles. I won’t share the details because you should read the book, but suffice to say I went from very sympathetic to outraged. While some of his actions and behavior were perfectly understandable, given the situation, he did and said things that I find abhorrent.
Today, Vargas is sober and seeing a therapist for her anxiety and is learning to manage it. She has begun the process of forgiving herself and is coming face to face with her regrets, particularly with regard to her children. She is starting to see the things she missed when she was drinking and taking steps to shift her worldview. Her candidness is commendable while she is still in the early days, I have hope that she will remain on this course and stay sober.
Lastly, I believe this is an important read for anyone who has struggled with addiction or has watched someone close to them struggle with it. When I watched someone close to me go down that hole and climb back out of it, I was armed with research, books, and articles. While these things were helpful to me, I wish this book was available. In all of my reading, Vargas’ book is the most raw and honest that I’ve come across and can offer great insights to those of us who need and want to understand alcoholism more. Plus, it’s a fascinating read.
Recommended for: Everyone who has struggled with or watched someone struggle with addiction, particularly alcoholism.