“Filling the Void: interviews about quitting drinking and using”
by Cindy and Caty Crabb. 56 pg., $5.80 in Canada from Doris Distro
“Filling the Void” is a zine of interviews with punks who have quit drinking, conducted by Cindy Crabb, author of the long-running zine Doris, and her sister Caty. In these eight thoughtful, long-form conversations, they ask people how they started drinking, how drinking came to be a problem for them, and what they have done about it since then. Most of the people interviewed started drinking as a way of dealing with abuse: to have a break from feeling traumatized, to suppress social anxiety, to feel okay about sex, and so on. As such, getting sober has meant for them becoming vulnerable again to all the worst things that have happened to them but also having the solidity and presence of mind to understand their experiences and learn new, more constructive ways of living.
As writers, these eight people speak directly and affectingly of phenomenology of alcoholism, withdrawal, and sobriety. Their candid descriptions of moments of abjection and embarrassment and white-knuckle struggle put a point on how hard it is to break addictions and habits and learn non-destructive ways of keeping your head above water.
The people they spoke to are all thoughtful and eloquent, and some of them have zines of their own. Cindy talks to Artnoose, who has been making Ker-bloom, a letterpress-printed zine, since 1996. Erick Lyle, another one of the interviewees, wrote a book on creative resistance called On the Lower Frequencies, published by Soft Skull Press, and, under the name Iggy Scam, published the zine Scam. He shed his identity and reverted to using his birth name as part of changes in his life that included quitting drinking. All of the people interviewed sound like they do pretty neat things, and I liked reading about people being involved in music, art, activism, and communities of friends without drinking.
One thing that surprised me about this zine is that most of the people who Cindy and Caty talk to went to Alcoholics Anonymous, and many of them give the organization a lot of credit for their success in staying sober. Since AA is highly structured and rule-based, and because of its controversial emphasis on yielding to a higher power (which needn’t necessarily be the Judeo-Christian God, but often is), it seems really… not punk rock. But maybe that’s the point.
There are people close to me who were raised in AA and grew up going to meetings with parents who struggled with drinking. It’s a whole weird world unto itself, resplendent with obscure customs, idioms, and symbols, and I’ve long wanted to learn more about it, but it seems like the only writing about it is by either its acolytes or its fervent opponents. Crabb mentions in this zine that she wants to do a follow-up issue specifically about the experiences of “feminists and anarchists and punks and queers and trannies and stuff” with AA, and I would be eager to read it if she does.
The thing I find most interesting about AA is the emphasis it places on having people tell their stories to one another: to come clean about their traumas and failures and humiliations, as well as their successes. And that’s also something I really appreciated about this zine, because it’s hard to cop to things being hard. When your identity is predicated on being tough and independent-minded, you have to reinvent yourself completely to even admit to being in thrall to impulses you struggle to control.
The introduction positions the zine as being primarily intended for people who are trying to quit drinking, and also for the people in their lives who are in a position to help or hinder their efforts. Even if that’s not you, I would recommend this zine, because it offers compelling stories and worthy lessons on figuring out what kind of life you want to lead and fighting to make it work.
- Lily Pepper