I drink. Or I should say, I drink a lot. Sticking with my Kentucky roots I’m a bourbon guy. Splashed with filtered water or on the rocks, I can down a handle in four or so days. That of course is not a brag, alcoholism is a very real dependency that brings hardships to millions of people every day. I am by definition a high functioning alcoholic, one that comes from a long family line that could wear the same title. It is something I’m not ashamed of, but it is something I am aware of. So when I stumbled upon a memoir from the legendary Nagata Kabi discussing her experience with drinking and how it affects her as an artist and storyteller, well we can just say I was emotionally invested.
My Alcoholic Escape from Reality is a harsh story about Kabi’s struggle with depression, ADHD, alcoholism, and just the day-to-day grind a professional Mangaka. The book sets up as a hard but understandable self-look at the author, waking one morning to severe stomach cramps she tries the normal methods. Meds for a cold or flu, she feels the pain will go away with the basic approach, but it doesn’t. Brought to her knees she confronts her mom who makes arrangements to have her daughter to be seen. What follows is a head-on collision every alcoholic fears, the fact we are just killing ourselves.
The beauty of this story really lies in its raw, unfiltered take and struggle in the pre and post-world of medically treated alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis and fatty liver. Coming as the 4th manga she has written the initial struggle is of her getting treated, staying sober, and debating within herself if she wants to write about it or not. This is a rather charming bit I wasn’t expecting. Kabi is, for better or for worse hyper self-aware of not only herself but the world around her. Because of this fear of being judged for this lapse sets in very early on in the process, the manga humorously opens of her in the hospital, her dad asking her for she is going to draw this experience too. Her reply is to the point, no.
Turns out that was a lie.
It is within the self-awareness another interesting narrative takes hold. Not only the fear of being judged existed but the very real pressure of disappointing her parents. Boldly, the manga states that her other works had brought her parents to tears, and not in a good way. Due to this, she decided to change her scope of work to purely fiction, something that didn’t so much reflect her own life. This of course was derailed by her sudden stopping of binge drinking. Finally getting treated Kabi is discharged, but the rules of her life changed drastically.
Now an outpatient she has to check in every month to see how she is doing. Fried foods are no longer something she can eat freely and along with that new diet a very clear-cut rule. Absolutely no alcohol. So returning to her sober life she quickly finds out just how large of a role booze played not only in her personal life, but her professional one. Getting slammed with writer’s block, forced to face the mental walls that exist within her life all while completely changing major aspects of it.
But it was not all lost. Finding comfort in certain foods and non-alcoholic beer Kabi comes to terms with her new life, accepting that she can tolerate it, even looking for the silver lining in most things. Sadly, however, such thoughts and ambitions can only get you so far.
One of my favorites takeaways from this book is how she depicts not only her dependency but how exactly it corresponds with her personal health and life. At the end of her mental fortitude she gives in, getting a low % beverage, opening the flood gates to why and how much she actually enjoyed drinking in the first place. This of course is followed by more drinking, somewhat dreading her check-up she is surprised to find her numbers are still good. Admitting that she had been drinking the doctor simply tells her to go easy on it. She, of course, doesn’t.
Increasing her intake her numbers go south, threatening not only her general wellbeing, but her life. This goes back and forth as a balance is tried to be had, how much booze is not too much in terms of health, but enough to keep some of the demons at bay. This balance isn’t really ever found, as her health drastically changes, her numbers actually coming up good in a test after she had binged heavily for weeks. In short, the correlation was never found.
Within all of that, there is a moment where she is talking to her psychiatrist about her drinking problem. It’s at this time we as readers get an interesting glimpse into how Japan sees drinking compared to the more western thought processes on it. In short, in most of Europe and the US, alcohol is seen as a drug, a chemically addictive substance. Which I mean, it is. But this was the first time it is really addressed as such, and within doing so open a mental compartments within Kabi that allowed her to look at it more objectively as well as put her abuse in context with her emotions and her profession.
Though the story doesn’t end on a sober note, she admitted that drinking is still a major player in her life. It does end on a note of self-aware acceptance, which is a lot of ways is a hard decision to come to. It all wraps up neatly in a mixture of substance control, admitting that her memoirs irrelevant to how it makes her parents feel is what makes her happy and at the end of the day, the raw unhinged storytelling’s she depicts within the confines of the book is fantastic and is well worth the read.
I’d happily recommend this book to anyone. It’s real, and that is something that no matter what the medium is, is hard to obtain. For an artist to look within themselves, to dive into their own mental shortcomings and abuse to then objectify it and tell the world about it is extremely difficult but a lot of the times, extremely rewarding. My Alcoholic Escape from Reality is the messy glimpse into Kabi’s personal short comings and weakness, dressed up as a story that brilliantly tells fragility of what it means to be human. I for one cannot even fathom the amount of guts it took for her to apply pen to paper to create this tale but I am truly grateful she did.
As always thanks for the read.