A private story about a University of Iowa journalism professor’s journey to sobriety goes public in a book that will hit store shelves tomorrow.
Don McLeese is being featured in this weekend’s Iowa City Book Festival and says his story is not about the typical to-hell-and-back struggle. He’s read plenty of other people’s memoirs about the challenges of alcoholism and he says they tend to follow a pattern.
“Your entire life has to fall apart. You lose your job, you lose your marriage, you’re crawling around on the streets. My life was never like that,” McLeese says. “I’d never really considered myself an alcoholic until well after I had quit drinking in order to save my marriage.” In his book, “Slippery Steps: Rolling & Tumbling Toward Sobriety,” McLeese says you don’t have to wait for everything to fall apart in your life before things can be put back together. He says one of the worst days of his life ended up being among the best, as it was a turning point.
“I ended up passed out in my backyard, letting the dog out. The dog came in, I did not,” McLeese says. “My wife had called the ambulance and it looked like what had happened was just a kind of alcoholic collapse, meltdown, whatever.” Saying he’d been “sleepwalking my way through life,” McLeese says that episode was the wake-up call he needed to simply stop drinking, as one day became two, then a week, and a month. Soon, he says being sober was his preferred way of living, and it didn’t require an intervention.
“Alcoholics Anonymous asks you to admit that you are insane, that your life has become unmanageable, and I used alcohol to manage my life,” McLeese says. “I used it to help me go to sleep every night so I could wake up and do my job. I thought it was part of the necessary grease to oil the machinery.” Is his book a cautionary tale? In some ways, yes, though he also says if you worry about whether you have a problem with alcohol, you probably do.
“I’m not telling anybody else that they have a problem,” he says, “but I suspect the book might resonate with some people who have not had this total collapse experience.” McLeese says freedom from drinking has enriched his life in ways he’d never imagined. He’ll be appearing at the book festival Saturday afternoon, along with former Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson.
McLeese’s book is published by the North Liberty-based Ice Cube Press.