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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (audiobook)

I read an article based on the opening chapter of this book a few years ago and it stuck with me. Eilene went to check on her ex husband who had been sick for a long time, after her kids couldn't reach him for several days. She found him dead in his house. She was utterly shocked when it turned out to be a drug-related death, and she was so saddened when she discovered the very last thing he did before he died was call in to a work conference call.

From her horrific discovery, we jump back to their meeting right after college, the years they were just friends, when that crossed over, their long-distance relationships and Eilene moving for Peter repeatedly, their marriage, kids, house, disintegrating relationship, divorce, and then this.

Most people have no idea how many addicts they know. Particularly in white collar, upper class communities. My husband is a substance abuse counselor and I've heard hair-raising stories. Drug abuse and drug use disorders are pervasive across all classes--it's just that it's easier to hide when you have more money, and when you don't look like what our society stereotypes as a "drug addict." Eilene thought at first that her ex-husband had died from exhaustion, maybe a heart attack brought on by his stressful job as a high-priced lawyer, but she later learned he'd been phoning it in at work for a couple of years. And what I know from my husband's studies and work is that work is usually the very last thing to go. Both the addicts themselves and their loved ones use that as a justification--it can't be all that bad because he still has a good job. Peter's cautionary story certainly proves that horribly wrong.

Eilene wants to tell her story so that others are aware of the commonness of drug use disorders in white middle class families, as often it's so far off one's radar that it never occurs to the user's friends and family that it's even a possibility. It didn't occur to anyone in Peter's life. Yes, she was desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with him--googling symptoms of schizoaffective disorders and other mental and physical illnesses that she thought might account for his health problems and his increasingly bizarre and troubling behavior. But this never crossed her mind. Or Peter's kids or his boss or colleagues or anyone. Yet, through research Eilene did after his death, she discovered how common substance use and abuse is in the legal profession, how many lawyers suffer from depression and anxiety and self-medicate, how the field makes people more negative which leads to emotional and relationship problems that aren't easily solved--and how a simple solution of a pill instead of months or years of counseling seems like the better option when working 80-120 hour weeks.

It turns out this is a major issue that no one is discussing. Addiction doesn't discriminate. Eilene's harrowing retelling of Peter's story is one everyone should read so we're all more aware. Yes, she couldn't have saved Peter, but had anyone ever broached the subject with him, he might have had a better chance to save himself. I couldn't put this riveting book down and listened to the whole thing in just two days.

I borrowed this eaudiobook from the library via Libby/Overdrive.

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