The death of Audrey Conn

Audrey Conn died just before Christmas. According to this article on The Fix, she swallowed pills and vodka and then hung herself. It took awhile for the news to break. The founder of Moderation Management was living in relative obscurity at the time of her death.

In 1996, I knew her as author Audrey Kishline. The picture on the back of her book Moderate Drinking made her seem more school marm than alcoholic. In fact, she was clear her approach was not for alcoholics. Moderation Management was aimed at helping problem drinkers return to moderate drinking. If only the lines in real life were that clear.

Moderation Management guidelines are pretty clear about moderate drinking. For women, this means no more than 3 drinks a day, but here’s the real kicker: no more than 9 drinks in a week. This must be some kind of joke, I thought, when I first pulled Audrey’s book off the shelf at Barnes and Noble in 1996. I was 22 and it was the only book I could find that wasn’t about quitting alcohol, although I knew I needed some kind of help.

I’m in awe of people in their twenties who quit drinking. Those were carefree days for me, and I was in denial about where my drinking was headed. By day, I worked as a mental health worker with schizophrenic adults. I lived with my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and we reserved most drinking for the weekends. A close friend held fabulous cocktails parties so we’d get all dressed up and head into the city. I’d creep outside my comfort zone of beer and guzzle liquor and later spew it back up along the walkway of our apartment building. It was a real classy affair. The next morning I might recline the driver’s seat of my white Festiva so I could curl into a fetal position in the grocery store parking lot. I was alternately working up the nerve to get the shopping over with and wishing I was dead because I felt like I might be already. That was how I drank. Can you believe I stopped?

But I didn’t stop then, no. I bought Audrey’s book and took it home and poured over it. I started the 30 day abstinence period during the month of October. I’d forgotten all about Oktoberfest. I went to one outdoor celebration anyway and white knuckled through while a drinking buddy snorted “What, do you think you’re some kind of alcoholic?” Of course not, I said. That was such an ugly, hopeless word. When November rolled around, I was relieved, but I wouldn’t say it was all that hard to abstain for a month. Thirty days is a light sentence.

By all accounts, Moderate Drinking should have worked on me. I was in my early 20s and not yet a daily drinker. I had a steady job, a nice place to live, a boyfriend, and no real personal or health consequences from drinking. I binge-drank on weekends, but even then puking and hangovers were saved for really special occasions. I continued to drink for the next 15 years, never once sticking to 9 drinks a week.

I read somewhere recently that moderate drinkers don’t call it moderate drinking. Shocking, I know, but they don’t feel the need to count drinks and plan their whole night around how much they drink or don’t drink. The first sign that you’re not a moderate drinker might be using the phrase moderate drinker.

Fifteen years of progressively heavier drinking got me back to the bookstore for another copy of the book that helped me so much the first time around. It was not there. The shelves were lined with books on how to quit. What the hell? I googled and found a book from Moderation Management, but with a different title and new author. Eleven years after it happened, I quietly read about Audrey Kishline’s deadly drunk driving accident. I think that’s the moment it fell into place for me. I’ve always described my decision to quit drinking as a mysterious, quiet thunderbolt from beyond. But now I think this was it. Thank you, Audrey.

I actually wrote to her in October. I said how much her book helped me over the years. I told her because of her book and my inability to actually drink moderately, I’d quit drinking and found something that felt like peace. I told her I would love to interview her, that I was curious how she was doing and thought other people might be too. I hadn’t worked out where the interview would run, and figured I probably wouldn’t hear back from her and didn’t for awhile.

Her response was short and sweet. She thanked me for writing and said she was glad I found the recovery approach that worked for me. She said she was totally abstinent and planning on staying that way. I remember she put a smiley face after that sentence. She said she was too busy for interviews because she was writing again. I was half-disappointed and half-relieved. It felt like a happy ending. I wrote back and told her I was glad to hear she was writing again and wished her well.

Suicide is black hole territory. I can’t help but wonder if I could have reached out differently and helped her in some way, however small. Imagine how her mother must feel. Her children! I feel sad for the woman who lost her daughter and ex-husband in the drunk driving accident and later became friends with Audrey. They wrote a book together, I imagine to tell about the devastating effects of drunk driving and healing powers of love and hope.

For what it’s worth, it all helped me. I can’t say for sure I would have stopped drinking if not for Audrey’s first book and her accident. Her drunk driving accident was my wakeup call. When I read about it in 2011, I thought that could happen to me. I didn’t know then that not drinking would turn out to be easier than counting drinks and trying hard to be something I was not. Everyone involved in her story cleared a path and lit the way.

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27 thoughts on “The death of Audrey Conn

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  1. Interesting line “The first sign that you’re not a moderate drinker might be using the phrase moderate drinker.” So, who are these books for? They seem almost the necessary education experience for alcoholics to understand that they are not moderate drinkers but something else. For me, it was something called transactional analysis (which I could not even define today) where I was supposed to relearn how to drink.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thank you for writing this. I’ve felt frustrated by the self-righteous negativity that seems to be the main response to her death from those who are threatened by her position without really understanding it. Thank you for pointing out that she supported abstinence for addicts and moderation for heavy drinkers, and that the grey area between the two is a slippery slope. For many, her work was the thin edge of the wedge that led them to recovery – eventually – just like you. Her story breaks my heart, and the public skewering only adds to the tragedy.

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  3. This is always a hard subject for me to weigh in on because I did abuse alcohol and now drink occasionally. From my perspective, anyone who needs a book on moderate drinking probably shouldn’t be drinking at all. If I ever get to a place where I’m trying to figure out how to make alcohol work in my life, that’s a sure sign that I need to stop altogether. I’m glad that her book did you a service and helped solidify your decision to stop. Her story is heartbreaking.

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  4. Wow.
    My drinking career sounds like yours, but i never considered there were books on alcohol control or groups like moderation management. For years i just thought i needed to have more willpower, but then, i didn’really have a problem anyway. Ha ha ha pass the wine.

    My eyes have really been opened to all of this over the past year. I think moderation management and harm reduction are not for me, but there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be propsed as options for others. Open dialogue about excessive drinking is what should be encouraged. And all avenues of recovery should be able to voice their opinions.

    There is a lot of pressure on anyone who puts their face on a book. I am sure that Audrey had to deal with immense pressure and expectations from her followers and intense scrutiny from the people who disagreed. What a difficult position to be in when you are an alcoholic and struggling. Think how hard asking for help would have been.

    Thank you for breaking the silence.

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  5. What a sad thing to read. I have to say I never looked into the Moderate Drinking stuff. Many years about – in the mid 1980s the UK govt started to publish details on the amount that was “safe”. I remember vividly a conversation with a girl who I worked with at the time who now I think back on it probably was concerned about me and trying to give me a message. The conversation was “They say the safe limit is about 20”. Me “Oh I’m way less than that”. Her “A unit is only half a pint of beer”. Me realising I’d thought they meant a pint – I mean who drinks half… “Oh… er… I might be close then”. Her “… A week”… Me “A F***ING WEEK!!!! You have to be joking”. So I’d assumed a pint and a day meaning my then 8 – 10 pints a day was ok… What a joke. I stopped drinking in 2004. Could I have stopped then in my 20s given I clearly had a problem? No idea – I never really tried and clearly never succeeded.

    So – my position is similar to you. Now sober I talk to normal drinkers with a different viewpoint. They never count or think about how much they had early, yesterday, last weekend etc. They drink on the occasion is seems good to do so. And they stop before going out of control on the vast majority of occasions too. SO….. if you have to start counting and logging drinks to moderate it then frankly just stop anyway – you have a problem with obsession about drink that isn’t good. That is my position on it. I mean I never count how many cups of tea I have or coffee I just drink it normally and not worry.

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  6. Wow! How terribly sad. I watched her interview this past year about the car accident and everything. It’s sad she’s being used as a cautionary tale because it seems like she was genuinely trying to do better. All that pressure. I laughably tried moderation management for about a day years ago. Thanks for sharing this. It is a nice tribute to her.

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  7. Hey Kristen – I didn’t know that she had died so thank you for covering this. A sad end to a sad story by the sounds of it. Is the MM movement still going strong in the US?

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  8. Wow, wow, just wow. Thank you for this piece, Kristen, and for the links so I could get caught up. I had never heard of Audrey specifically, and only understood MM on the most basic of levels. What a heartbreaking story, and I’m sorry to hear there has been any public skewering, as this woman clearly had multiple serious issues that complicated her road to recovery. Boy are my prayers with her family at this time.

    Thanks again for writing about this!

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  9. Thanks for your post, I’ve never heard before of Audrey. I’m from the “other side” of alcohol and it’s addiction, I pretty much don’t like “it.” This has caused me a different mindset, somewhat. How blessed she is to have such forgiveness surround her.

    I am happy for you that her wake-up call was yours as well.

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  10. Thanks for your story. I was shocked to hear she died too. I reviewed her book, “Face-to-Face” on Goodreads. She saw it and contacted me for permission to quote the review for the 2nd edition. We’d emailed back-and-forth a bit, but I hadn’t heard from her since September-October.

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  11. Reblogged this on How to vomit politely and commented:
    Such a sad life story. And a reminder that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is complex and each of our journeys are different. Also highlights the fact that we need to draw on many lines of support, including ongoing professional therapy when struggling with addiction. Support groups that are not run by professionals can only do so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree that the public excoriation of Ms. Kishline (Conn?) is unnecessary, spiteful, and illogical.

    Many hardcore abstinence-only folks trot her out to support their position, arguing that “the founder of Moderation Management caused a drunk driving death, so clearly moderation doesn’t work.”

    They either don’t know or conveniently forget that she had left MM and was adhering to AA’s program at the time the accident occurred. Yet they don’t blame AA or abstinence for the tragedy.

    Maybe we can just let this troubled woman rest in peace.

    https://parkinglotpushups.wordpress.com

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  13. I didn’t know any of this .. what a very intense story, and so well told in your post. I can’t believe you emailed her in Oct – how lovely that you reached out and touched her when she must have been in some pain at that time. Sending love to you, hope you are well. xxxxx

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  14. Wow, very powerful. Thank you for posting. I, too, was struck by some type of “thunderbolt” that I absolutely HAD to stop drinking. My inner voice was so strong on the matter. Luckily, I managed to fly under the radar as an alcoholic for 38 years and I feel so grateful I never suffered any outward consequences (like a fatal accident) before I decided to quit. Stories like this remind me of why I have to keep on the path of recovery.

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  15. Thanks for this post – I did not not know what happened to her. I do recall a 20/20 episode (or some other such news program) discussing the deadly car crash she was involved in. I too purchased a book addressing over-drinking in an attempt to get my drinking under control. That book referred to hers, but all the while in the back of my head I remembered that program and the interviewed experts expressing the problem in moderation drinking as you said. If you have to think about it, you are probably not able to moderate. Excellent post, and as others have said, a great reminder for staying on the sober path.

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  16. I had heard of her, and the interview, etc. but didn’t know she passed…and in such a tragic and sad way. I never had much of an opinion on MM as I didn’t use it. I knew abstinence was the only way out for me. i would not dream of poo-pooing on MM or other moderation methods. I do agree though that if we are at a point of counting or measuring something, then we are focusing too much on it which means there is something about it that is drawing our attention to it. As Graham said, I don’t count my brussel sprout intake or things like that.

    Anyway, it really was sad to read that article, and she was certainly in a lot of pain…even more so after the accident. Passing sentence on her life is beyond words and against common decency. She lived her life doing service. You attest to the life-saving work she did. Too bad it didn’t extend to her own.

    Thanks for this.
    Paul

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  17. Alcoholism takes so many of us this way. It is heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing this, I do remember hearing about the driving accident, but didn’t know she passed away. Really great post and tribute.

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  18. Thank you for sharing this. Other commentators are right–it IS a great tribute and reminds all of us to keep it real, not to shy away from the painful stuff. I learned a lot from reading this and am fowarding it to some friend in the program (two women I went to treatment with). Thanks!

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  19. that opening line was powerful – the second and third sentence – bam!
    and truly a fascinating story and so true the points you make – especially about how “uicide is black hole territory”
    and another thing this post reminds me of is how our views of alcohol consumption are all over the place – and so I feel like I learned more about how there are so many different views and layers with how we wrap our thinking around the topic of drinking. And so often folks are conditioned to think that drinking alcohol is like some “right” or God given gift after a hard work week. Or that it is the premier way to spend a night out – which you powerful note the return we get for this investment of consumption (nice festive example)

    and actually – this is a side note –
    but relates –
    well I find this with the topic of sugar too – there dis this conditioning that people get defensive about.
    A couple of months ago I realized that in all my years – I had only really heard very few people talk about the serious reality of how dangerous sugar is to the human body – especially eating it daily –
    people do not want to hear that we really don;t need it for nutritional needs – or we know it but we accuse someone of being rigid, crazy, or extremist – and it all comes down to not needing sugar – but sadly the effects are not obvious – and it gets muddied – but it continues to feed the candida and other microbes that make people need to have it –
    but what blew me away was that after I healed from my florida parasite – well I realized that not enough people mention how sugar suppresses immune function – every time – how it pulls from nutrients – every time – and well, I just can’t believe cancer patients are never taught the fungal connection to the microbes that live in cancer cells –
    anyhow, that was how I felt when noted the suggestion of “no more than 9 drinks in a week.”

    and so it is just so important to raise awareness like this – one post at time – to lift blinders from things that really are a matter of wellness vs. illness – or in some cases- a matter of life or death.

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  20. Hi Kristy,
    Catching up on some of my blog reading. I don’t know if you knew this about me, but I am still an active member of Moderation Management, even though I haven’t drank in almost 4 years. Like you, I first heard of Audrey when she first formed MM, even checked the book out at our small town library. Like you, too, I was in my twenties, and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember doing much more than checking it out. 30 Days abtinence? No, thank you. Almost twenty years later I stumbled onto the MM online site and joined, A physically addicted, round the clock drinker who had no business trying moderation, but try I did. For a year, just to see if I could, and after a year I had my answer. So, I’m one more person who has Audrey Kishline to thank for my sobriety. But she was no hero. She was a flawed human being, like all of us. I am pleased and surprised to see the compassionate comments about her here, a few years ago, you would not have found that number in the whole http://www.world.

    Liked by 1 person

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