For One Family, A 'Double' Dose Alcoholism

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with best-selling mystery writer Martha Grimes and her son, Ken Grimes, about their new book, Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Martha Grimes and her son, Ken Grimes, share memories, love, a skill with ideas and words, and a cruel common curse. Martha Grimes is the best-selling author of the Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury mystery series and other mystery novels. She won the 2012 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. Ken Grimes is a noted public relations man. They've had tough, trying times and now, mother and son have written a memoir about the infliction - or is a sickness or weakness; what is it that they share? - "Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism." Martha and Ken Grimes join us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARTHA GRIMES: Thank you for having me.

KEN GRIMES: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Let me talk a little bit about how it got started with each of you. And, Martha Grimes, I gather from reading the book, with you, it was martinis at home.

M. GRIMES: Yes. I was - what is the word for it - a...

K. GRIMES: Maintenance alcoholic?

M. GRIMES: ...maintenance drinker. So I didn't get falling down drunk, I never had blackouts. It did not affect my writing life. It didn't affect my teaching. And I was asked in the clinic that I went to, if it doesn't cause you any problem then why are you stopping, for heaven sake? And the reason I was stopping was because when I tried to stop, I couldn't.

SIMON: Now, Ken Grimes, in your case, it began - can I put it this way? - socially.

K. GRIMES: Sure.

SIMON: You were hanging out in a lot of places?

K. GRIMES: Yeah. So, I mean, you know, I had gotten drunk once or twice. I actually bartended one of my mother's parties for her - the faculty of the English department of the local college. And I loved...

M. GRIMES: He always makes that point.

K. GRIMES: Well, I was 12, you know, I was old enough to serve alcohol. You didn't have to be...

SIMON: You were bartending at the age of 12?

K. GRIMES: Well, once, you know, at a party for my mother. But I loved making the sidecars and the grasshoppers and all these weird drinks. And, of course, I was sneaking drinks. And I had a paper route, and I was actually late for work. And the papers are supposed to be done, I don't know if it was 6 a.m. or it was 8 a.m. And I'm cycling through this neighborhood, and it was hotter than Hades and I'm sweating, and I'm hung over. And I see one of my mother's friends opening the door after I nail it with the newspaper. And he looks at me; he's completely hung over. I look at him; I'm completely hung over. We just look at each other in a moment of understanding, and then I ride away.

I talk about sort of the age of yes, as opposed to Nancy Reagan's age of no. And this was a much more permissive era, in the late '70s. And I came of age in a high school that was a throwback school - kind of a hippie high school. And within 12 months, I was a completely different person.

SIMON: One of the questions your book keeps raising, I think, in the mind of anybody who reads it is, did you drink because there was an emptiness somewhere inside, or did drinking carve out a big emptiness inside?

M. GRIMES: Oh, well, that's a very good question. And it's - when you put it that way, it's a little difficult to answer. I think that I would say the drinking filled a big emptiness. I would imagine that in the course of filling this emptiness over a period of time, it created more. Well, I suppose I think there's an emptiness in everyone, and this is why there are so many different kinds of addictions.

K. GRIMES: But it's also a matter of extremes. So to answer your answer, Scott, I mean, it's yes to both. So, you know, I could look at my life and say, well, I didn't see my father for five or six years, growing up, until he got sober and he came back; or, you know, my mother was drinking, and then she was writing her books, and I was an only child, and we moved around a lot. I mean, I could give you the laundry list of things.

So was there an emptiness there? Absolutely. Did I feel a feeling of acceptance - and a kind of a hallelujah, I finally found it - when I first started drinking and partying? Absolutely. And then what ends up happening again, you come back to the beginning, to that same emptiness; except it's worse now because now I fritter away months, years of my life. I haven't accomplished anything. The guilt, the shame, the remorse, that's the conundrum or the paradox, the denial that, I think, all alcoholics or drug addicts face, and why it's so hard for them to stop. So hard for my mother and I to stop.

SIMON: We're speaking with Ken Grimes, Martha Grimes with their new book "Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism." Martha Grimes, did you blame yourself for your son's problems?

M. GRIMES: No. Well, I'm sorry. I'm being a little frivolous. One thing that I certainly did wonder about was my inability to see what was going on...

SIMON: And you're a mystery writer.

M. GRIMES: And here I am, a mystery writer. Ken, incidentally, was - and this was one of the problems - he was very charming when he was a teenager.

SIMON: He's charming now.

M. GRIMES: You should have seen him as a teenager.

(LAUGHTER)

K. GRIMES: It's ebbing, I know, as I get older.

M. GRIMES: I can still remember standing in the kitchen face-to-face, and I was telling him things that I wanted him to do; and he was standing, looking right at me, and smiling and saying, OK, yeah.

K. GRIMES: Thinking to myself, when is she going to stop so I can go party? Yes, Mom, yes.

M. GRIMES: I'm thinking about later since he did one of these things. He didn't hear anything I said.

K. GRIMES: Not a word.

SIMON: Both of you seemed skeptical. One of the things you talk about in this book is that it's very difficult to reason with someone who has a drinking problem.

K. GRIMES: Impossible.

M. GRIMES: Yes.

SIMON: And that's because...

M. GRIMES: The addict you're trying to reason with is not in a state of any kind of reason. He or she wants to keep on doing what he's doing.

K. GRIMES: I've been sober almost 23 years, and I still have that thing inside of me, something that's got a finger on, you know, the pin of the hand grenade and it wants to pull it every single day. And, you know, I deal with it. And I know hundreds of thousands of other people who deal with it and have perfectly, you know, whatever productive life is - but I have a productive life. But that's still there. It never goes away.

SIMON: And towards the end of this book, you folks raise an almost startling question, which is: Is sobriety worth it?

K. GRIMES: Well, yeah. I mean, if you consider, is being alive worth it? I mean, I'd be dead if I wasn't sober. So that's a pretty simple answer there.

M. GRIMES: Well, I don't necessarily feel that way, that I'd be dead.

K. GRIMES: Oh, I definitely - I would have died a long time ago.

M. GRIMES: I'm a lot older than you are.

K. GRIMES: Yeah, but I would have either drunk myself to death or committed suicide. So yeah, it's definitely worth it. But I think maybe one of the mistakes or the illusions people have once they get sober is that somehow it's all going to be so much better. And it is better. But then, of course, you have to deal with life like everybody else who's walking around the street is dealing with it on a day-to-day basis without getting drunk - and that's the hard part.

M. GRIMES: You know, this sort of interests me. I have always been - and all the time I've been sober - extremely ambivalent, remembering what a good time I had and, you know, the connection it made me feel to writing and so forth. And then I saw this movie "Flight."

SIMON: This is Denzel Washington as the airline pilot, which I haven't seen yet.

M. GRIMES: And then I felt less ambivalent.

SIMON: Why? He's an airline pilot.

K. GRIMES: Drunk.

SIMON: Yeah, right.

K. GRIMES: Yes, I might add.

SIMON: Because you got, in watching that performance, you got a vision of what other people were seeing in your or...why did it make you less ambivalent?

M. GRIMES: I guess because it took so much of his time.

K. GRIMES: Full-time job.

M. GRIMES: Cocktail hour gets longer and longer.

SIMON: So, what's it like for you now every day?

M. GRIMES: Every day?

SIMON: Yeah.

M. GRIMES: Well, now there is this emptiness that has to be filled, and I haven't found a way to fill it. But I'm not really worried that I'll go back to drinking. And when I think of one drink, I don't stop thinking of one drink. I go to the second drink and the third and the fourth, and I know what's going to happen. That's the only thing that keeps me sober.

K. GRIMES: I guess for me, the challenge is, you know, if there's anything I know about alcoholics - sober or drunk - is that the anger and the sense of entitlement, that things should be the way I want them to be, all the time - you know, to get what I want when I want it, all the time - is so ingrained in me, it's - you know, I'll be that way I'm my mother's age.

SIMON: Martha Grimes and Ken Grimes - mother and son, mystery writer and PR man; their new book, "Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism." Thanks so much for being with us.

M. GRIMES: Thank you.

K. GRIMES: Thank you very much.

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