Book 363: Her Best-Kept Secret – Gabrielle Glaser

Glaser, Gabrielle - Her Best Kept SecretMany of you might not know this about me, but when I have a problem that I don’t know how to deal with my first response is to research it as in-depth as possible. That makes it a bit awkward when I blog about everything I read (this is my journal reading journal as much as it is your review site). At the same time it’s great because I get to share interesting books, like Her Best-Kept Secret (Amazon Affiliate link), that I never would have read. And I force myself to explore and synthesize in-depth a lot of topics.

If you see me on a day-to-day basis you’re aware that someone close to me has a lot of problems with alcohol, it’s kind of obvious they are a “she” based on the book title. In reality, I’m not sure it would’ve mattered if they were a she, because after reading The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous (link to the article) in The Atlantic I knew I wanted to find out more about non Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) programs and I figured Glaser was a great place to start as she mentioned her book in the article.

Glaser’s writing is informative and approachable and she is able to talk about a difficult subject with a bit of levity, while still remaining serious in her journalistic intent, for example,

“Just as middle-aged women’s drinking has been overlooked, so, too, has the success of recent evidence-based treatments, methods whose efficacy has been determined by rigorous scientific studies. A.A., a faith-based group whose philandering, LSD-tripping co-founder, Bill Wilson, has achieved the status of demigod, remains embedded in public minds as the best approach.” (25)

I mean this is all fact, but the way in which she writes it not only brings her points throughout the book home, but it brings them home with a bit of humor and sass that I truly appreciated. I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that

  1. AA has a huge record of institutionalized sexism and condoned* sexual assault.
  2. Therapists, judges and society send people to AA in essence because of lobbying power and money.
  3. There is no science in AA, only religion. (I did no this but it was seriously hit home with this book).
  4. There are numerous alternatives to AA, including SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN alternatives.

That being said, this book isn’t an expose of AA so much as it is an attempt to de-white-washing de-male-stream AA. Glaser is very open about what she’s hoping to achieve in the book and in my opinion she does it:

“In this book, I distinguish between proven fact and conjecture, what is national habit, what is solid science, and what is rooted in our attitude toward alcohol. I also take a hard look at our country’s traditional remedy for drinking problems, Alcoholics Anonymous, and how an increasing number of women are questioning its effectiveness and safety.” (15)

She provides a great social history of alcohol in the US and how the relationship of women and alcohol has changed from “the old days” when everyone drank alcohol (hard liquors and otherwise) because it was safer than water. And then she talks about how wine became a thing like a legit thing. Thank you marketing and politics for turning wine into a household commodity/necessity.

It might be the biggest thing that impressed me, but I’m pretty sure Glaser didn’t once refer to “winos” throughout the entire book! Although someone needs to jump on that. WINOS could easily be a new alternative to AA: Women In Need of Sobriety. (Okay so maybe not need, but I was proud of my acronym skills). And this is definitely NOT a dig at Women for Sobriety, because they sound like a great alternative to the religion within AA.

What I found most interesting is that there is very little non-AA language for those affected by alcoholism/drinking. Too many people, including pop culture, have bought into the 12-step ideal to getting better, including myself before reading this book. I’m so glad I read the book, because before this, AA was the only option I knew and it was the only language I knew. Every time I wrote about this in my journal (yes, I’m a teenage girl – you should see my music collection), from the downward spiral, recover and relapse everything I knew was from pop culture ultimately originated in AA.

Thankfully, Glaser took the time to question ALL of this, for just reason! Unfortunately, even though she wrote a great book and provided some great resources, there’s not much to do until the scientific community (aka Big Pharma) and politicians get behind an effort to find a non-faith-based solution to the problem that is alcoholism/excess drinking.

Recommendation: If you or someone you know is having issues with alcohol read this book, or at the very least the article. Glaser highlights the MAJOR problems (and there are many) with Alcoholics Anonymous and offers some alternatives, but more importantly she offers hope that more research and alternatives could come with enough effort.

Opening Line: “Solid statistics on women’s drinking habits are hard to come by.”

Closing Line: “But maybe, just maybe, we can learn a thing or two from where we’ve been, and create a new approach to help women deal with a problem whose consequences in broken families, broken hearts, and broken futures, are all too real.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

*I say condoned and it may as well be. Perhaps unacknowledged would be a better word, but it’s been acknowledged and women have tried to fight this from within but haven’t made headway due to the ridiculous policies or lack-thereof

Additional Quotes from Her Best-Kept Secret
“Women of childbearing age are incessantly warned that alcohol poses a danger to the developing fetus, but nobody talks much about why women in general are more vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects, too.” (24)

“‘When a patient has high cholesterol, you don’t wait for her to have a heart attack before you prescribe statins and make some dietary changes,’ he says. ‘When a patient has mild asthma, you prescribe an inhaler. You don’t wait until he can’t breathe and then ship him off to the ICU. You intervene when the condition is mild.” (171)

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11 thoughts on “Book 363: Her Best-Kept Secret – Gabrielle Glaser

  1. I recently read a book called Drunk Mom, which is a memoir about a new Mom who had started back up with her drinking shortly after having her baby. Because I liked it so much and found it fascinating, I am now reading The Biology of Desire, in which the author makes the case that addiction is not a disease as is generally accepted. Because doctors, etc. treat it as a disease, the treatments for it are not as effective as they could be. He gets into AA and the 12 step program a bit, not really to condemn it, but to point out the aspects of it that might work or not work, and why. It’s very interesting, and you get to learn how addiction changes your brain and how, and then how it changes again when ‘recovering’ (a word he doesn’t like, because it suggests disease). If you are at all interested in all this (which it sounds like you are), you might want to check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh those both sound interesting. I’m not surprised about “recovering.” Glaser mentioned how a lot of people discourage the word “relapse” as well because of the connotations associated with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it’s great that you talk about all of your reading, even if it might be a little bit awkward! The Atlantic article is very interesting. I had certainly thought that there was much more evidence of AA being a successful approach than there appears to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know! If anything the book taught me that AA has become such a social and cultural icon that it’s kind of like a tank trundling forward over all opposition or facts.

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  3. Very interesting review! This sounds like a really interesting book that has garned some very strong o-p-i-n-o-n-s on goodreads! I also agree with biblioglobal–I think its great that you review all of your reading on this blog! Sometimes I’m guilty of not reviewing a book if it’s on a particularly divisive topic (especially if I don’t feel like I have anything new to bring to the conversation), so I admire that you put it all out there!

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    • Yeah, I mean I think with anything as culturally significant as AA there are going to be strongly divided opinions. I didn’t read all of the reviews because of this so obviously divisive idea.

      And I’m not sure I add much to a lot of the books I write about and read. It’s great for me to go back and see what I thought about a book, especially if I have another book by that author I’m considering. I guess it could just be private for me, but I like the interactions with everyone who reads it.

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  4. Pingback: July Recap 2015 | The Oddness of Moving Things

  5. I’ve never understood how AA became integrated with the court systems when they aren’t required to publish results on the program’s effectiveness. It just seems so wrong to me. Sounds like a really interesting book, though. I never thought about the additional problems it could have for women.

    I hope your friend does find help. It can be difficult and frustrating to be the friend in that situation, cause you just want to fix it and it’s not really in your power to do so. Good for you for actively researching information for her. Sounds like she has good support when she’s ready.

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    • Yeah that boggles me too about the court system and even in our political/legal system. But it has a lot to do with the straight white religious men running things, a shocking number that have benefitted from AA. AND THANKS!

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  6. Thanks for sharing even your more personal reading! It’s a nice way to get to know you and can lead to some more serious discussions like this one. I generally avoid writing about books that I read for personal reasons on my blog since I know it can be connected to my professional online profile, but I would like to do a better job sharing more about myself on my blog.

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