Tag Archives: alcoholism

John Berryman

Social drinking until 1947 during a long & terrible love affair, my first infidelity to my wife after 5 years of marriage. My mistress drank heavily & I drank w. her. Guilt, murderous & suicidal. Hallucinations one day walking home. Heard voices. 7 years of psychoanalysis & group therapy in N. Y. Walked up & down drunk on a foot-wide parapet 8 stories high. Passes at women drunk, often successful. Wife left me after 11 yrs of marriage bec. of drinking. Despair, heavy drinking alone, jobless, penniless, in N. Y. Lost when blacked-out the most important professional letter I have ever received. Seduced students drunk. Made homosexual advances drunk, 4 or 5 times. Antabuse once for a few days. Agony on floor after a beer. Quarrel w. landlord drunk at midnight over the key to my apartment, he called police, spent the night in jail, news somehow reached press & radio, forced to resign. Two months of intense self-analysis-dream-interpretations etc. Remarried. My chairman told me I had called up a student drunk at midnight & threatened to kill her. Wife left me bec. of drinking. Gave a public lecture drunk. Drunk in Calcutta, wandered streets lost all night, unable to remember my address. Married present wife 8 yrs ago. Many barbiturates & tranquilizers off & on over last 10 yrs. Many hospitalizations. Many alibis for drinking, lying abt. it. Severe memory-loss, memory distortions. DT’s once in Abbott, lasted hours. Quart of whisky a day for months in Dublin working hard on a long poem. Dry 4 months 2 years ago. Wife hiding bottles, myself hiding bottles. Wet bed drunk in London hotel, manager furious, had to pay for new mattress, $100. Lectured too weak to stand, had to sit. Lectured badly prepared. Too ill to give an examination, colleague gave it. Too ill to lecture one day. Literary work stalled for months. Quart of whiskey a day for months. Wife desperate, threatened to leave unless I stopped. Two doctors drove me to Hazelden last November, 1 week intensive care unit, 4 wks treatment. AA 3 times, bored, made no friends. First drink at Newlbars’ party. Two months’ light drinking, hard biographical work. Suddenly began new poems 9 weeks ago, heavier & heavier drinking more & more, up to a quart a day. Defecated uncontrollably in a University corridor, got home unnoticed. Book finished in outburst of five weeks, most intense work in my whole life exc. maybe first two months of 1953. My wife said St. Mary’s or else. Came here.

John Berryman, ‘Step One’, in John Haffenden, The Life of John Berryman, London, 1982, pp. 374-375