DRY is Augusten Burroughs’ second memoir and the sequel to RUNNING WITH SCISSORS. Augusten’s parents divorced early in his life. His father was a professor, who abused Augusten physically when he was drunk. Augusten described an incident at nine years old in which he had to jump out of the car his father was driving because his father threatened to crash the car and kill his son. On another occasion, his father burned Augusten on the bridge of his nose with a cigarette.
When he was 12, his mother sent Augusten to live with her psychiatrist. The adopted 33-year old son and former patient of the psychiatrist raped Augusten at 13, and he was sexually abused for the next three years by this man. By the time Augusten left the psychiatrist’s house at age 17, he had little formal education, having dropped out of school after sixth grade. He instead obtained his GED. Despite this lack in education, Augusten was able to work his way up, by his mid-twenties, to a high-paying job in the advertising industry earning $200,000 as a Manhatten copywriter.
Augusten had his first drink at age 12 when he drank a bottle of red wine. Between the ages of 13 to 17, he smoked marijuana and drank alcohol once a week. At age 18, he drank nightly, always to intoxication (five drinks or more). Between ages 19 to 20, he was drinking 10 drinks per night. He also used cocaine once every six months. At age 21 to 30, he was drinking a liter of Dewar’s a night and using cocaine once a month.
When the book opens, Augusten describes being unable to limit his drinking. “I would plan to drink only until 11 or 12, but it would never actually happen. The few times that I didn't drink for a night, or alcohol wouldn't have the desired effect of numbing, I'd be overwhelmed with emotions, usually grief, and it was just really upsetting. It freaked me out because I felt like a wreck inside, like my structure was rotting and alcohol was sort of the glue holding me together. In a lot of ways, I felt like it was the only thing allowing me to function. In fact, it was the opposite. I was able to function despite it.” Augusten drinks even though he actually has an allergy to alcohol, necessitating his taking several Benadryl tablets before imbibing.
Augusten’s apartment is filled with hundreds of empty Dewar’s bottles because he is embarrassed to be seen (or heard – the clanking bottles) disposing of them. Because of the bottles, he never invites anybody to his apartment. Augusten’s support network comprises his best friend Pighead, an investment banker dying of AIDS; his drinking buddy Jim, a coffin salesman; and Greer, his tightly-wound colleague. His mother had a stroke 10 years prior, which left her paralyzed on one side and wheelchair-bound. Augusten doesn’t visit, although e-mails daily. Although he feels pressure from her to take care of her, he believes, after her giving him away to be abused, she does not deserve more than this.
His alcoholism begins to interfere with his performance at work. He starts missing meetings, shows up late, and smells like alcohol. Eventually, his co-workers stage an intervention. His boss and his partner at work, Greer, propose that he go to rehab or risk getting fired. He agrees to go to a gay rehab clinic in Minnesota, the Proud Institute, for 30 days. There, he is given Librium while he is detoxing to prevent him from physical shock from the alcohol withdrawal.
After 30 days at Proud, Burroughs returns to New York and takes his recovery seriously, throwing himself into his work with renewed vigor, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and outpatient therapy. He is clean for awhile, but Pighead's illness and a relationship with a man Augusten meets at A.A. who is addicted to crack cocaine cause him to relapse. He not only drinks but now starts using crack cocaine and puts himself at risk by going to a “crack house” one night. Despite hallucinating spiders, he retains his employment, although it takes him two years to return to A.A., where he recovers once more.