Memoir: How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Joyce Maynard's father was an alcoholic, so she’d always watched her step. She was sure she never drank to excess—until one night on a dark road after she drank and drove

by Joyce Maynard
drinking and driving image

Meaning an officer would drive me to the body shop to get my car. There’d be a bill for the towing, too, along with the $200 speeding ticket. But I knew I was lucky.

I made it back to my friend’s house sometime around 1 AM. He’d waited up for me a while, then gone to bed. The next morning I told him the story, making it sound funny rather than terrifying.

At the airport I called Audrey to tell her what had happened. I didn’t want my daughter to make the mistakes I’d made. I wanted to protect her. If I carry the genetic legacy of potential alcohol addiction, so does she.

It was close to midnight when I arrived home in California. At that moment, I fully took in what had happened the night before—how close I’d come to getting charged and how my life would have changed if I had been. Not just because I live on a mountain, where every trip to the grocery store or gym requires a car. But more so for the accompanying truth that 30 years after my father’s death, I had allowed myself to become addicted to the same thing that killed him: I had to have a drink.

The fact that I had been driving under the legal limit that night did not reassure me. What did it matter that I wasn’t legally drunk if the wine had sufficiently loosened my guard and dulled my judgment that I was driving 55 miles per hour in a zone marked 30? What did it matter that I am generally a poor night driver? All the more reason I shouldn’t drink at all before I drive.

Hearing the story of that night, my daughter had been indignant at the police officer’s behavior—the handcuffs, the humiliating instructions on how to scratch my nose, the long wait to hear my test results. But I couldn’t feel offended. If he’d put on the handcuffs with the idea of shaking me up, he’d accomplished his mission.

Safe in my own kitchen now, feeling the full weight of what I’d done and what I’d been through, I felt a powerful urge to do the thing I always want to do when I’m tired, or lonely, or scared, or simply sad: I wanted to pour myself a drink.

I went to bed instead.

JOYCE MAYNARD is the author of numerous best-selling novels and the memoir At Home in the World. She no longer gets behind the wheel of her car after having a drink.

© 2012 by Joyce Maynard, excerpted from Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up, edited by Leah Odze Epstein and Caren Osten Gerszberg, published by Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, September 2012.

Click here for a memoir on friendship from the July/August 2012 issue.

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First published in the September 2012 issue

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