Assignment 1: Story Statement
I must overcome my self-destructive urges in order to free myself from the throes of alcoholism and codependent love.
Assignment 2: Antagonist
Readers of my memoir would perceive Veronica and alcohol as antagonists because of the obvious harm they are inflicting upon me. I am only sixteen years old and madly in love with an abusive older woman, so I am unable to see how much she is hurting me. I am also madly in love with alcohol, and I don’t care what it makes me do because it dulls all the jagged edges of my unrelenting anxiety. Like any addict, my perception is flawed.
When my mother forces me into treatment against my will, I fight tirelessly against everyone and everything keeping me away from Veronica and alcohol. I perceive recovery as my enemy because it forces me to feel my emotions, which are unbearable at times.
My perception of what is hurting me and what is helping me fluctuates as the story progresses, but the main antagonistic forces in my memoir are ultimately my own trauma, addiction, and mental illness.
Assignment 3: Breakout Title
The title of my memoir is Take Her Down.
I have not decided on a subtitle yet. A couple of my subtitle ideas are:
-Take Her Down: A Memoir
(Short and has a nice ring to it, but may not be descriptive enough)
-Take Her Down: A Memoir of Trauma, Underage Drinking, and My Battle Against Recovery
(More descriptive, but might too long)
I am also considering not having a subtitle.
Assignment 4: Comparative Titles
It was challenging for me to come up with comparative titles because Take Her Down has so many unique elements I had trouble finding in other published books. Involuntary youth treatment is fundamentally different than inpatient treatment geared toward willing and compliant adults or older teenagers. Take Her Down is also unique in that it features a queer protagonist. I was unable to find any published memoirs about domestic violence in a same-sex relationship, and I couldn’t find any other coming-of-age addiction memoirs by queer authors.
Bad Girl: Confessions of a Teenage Delinquent by Abigail Vona (Rugged Land, 2004) is the most similar memoir I could find in terms of subject matter, but it is now quite dated. Like Take Her Down, Bad Girl is a coming-of-age memoir about involuntary youth treatment. Bad Girl tells a similar story to the one told in Take Her Down, but with a different tone and writing style. Bad Girl is written in the voice of an angry teenager, whereas my memoir concentrates on looking back from a more mature and wise perspective. Take Her Down offers an in-depth look at my inner world and the core issues behind my behaviors, while the narrative in Bad Girl is primarily focused on external events.
One Hit Away: A Memoir of Recovery by Jordan P. Barnes (Island Time Press, 2020) is a more current comparative title. Like Take Her Down, One Hit Away takes the reader on a tumultuous journey from seemingly hopeless addiction to the freedom of recovery. Both memoirs are written in a mature voice and include insight into the author’s mindset, as well as wisdom about the cycle of addiction. I wouldn’t have entered treatment without my mother, and Barnes’ parents also played a significant role in him getting clean. Barnes, however, entered treatment willingly as a young adult, rather than being forced into rehabilitation as a rebellious teenager. Another key difference between our stories is that One Hit Away is about heroin addiction, whereas Take Her Down is about alcoholism, self-harm, trauma, and mental illness.Nonetheless, because of their shared themes and similar styles of writing, readers of One Hit Away would likely enjoy Take Her Down.
A couple people in the publishing industry have also compared my subject matter and writing style to Running with Scissors and Dry by Augusten Burroughs, which I took as very generous compliments. I’m hesitant to list these books as comparable titles because Augusten Burroughs is such a successful author.
Assignment 5: Hook Line
An anxiety-ridden sixteen-year-old girl struggles to find the motivation and inner strength to escape the binds of alcoholism and an abusive lesbian relationship.
Assignment 6 (Part 1): Primary Conflict
At sixteen years old, I have already lived through the tragic death of my father and the trauma of my mother’s addiction. I have been plagued by severe anxiety and panic attacks since early childhood, and I am desperate for a way out. When I fall in love with Veronica and she introduces me to the miraculously numbing effects of alcohol, I am hooked. Veronica becomes abusive and my drinking spirals out of control, but all I want is more. Although I experience some inner conflict as my alcoholism and Veronica’s abuse both worsen dramatically, I don’t believe I can live without them.
I get arrested, and my mother offers me an ultimatum: a ten-day psychiatric evaluation at a treatment center in Minnesota, or I’m on my own without any financial or legal support. Seeing no other option, I agree. I fully intend to fake my way through it and return home to Veronica and the sweet relief of alcohol. My inner conflict grows when I enter treatment and meet other addicts who seem to truly understand me. I am torn between the pull of booze and codependent love, and the possibility of moving into the unknown realm of recovery.
Unable and unwilling to comply with the treatment program in Minnesota, I am kicked out and sent against my will to a psychiatric hospital in rural Wisconsin. I find out my mother has the power to keep me in treatment until I turn eighteen. I run away repeatedly, until I end up in a wilderness program in the Utah mountains.
Part of me wants to recover, but a bigger part of me resents all the people and institutions trying to keep me safe and sober. The following is an excerpt illustrating this inner conflict:
I felt conflicted between the anesthetizing effects of alcohol and the real relationships I might be able to build if I awoke from the haze I’d been blindly running through. As much as I longed to be warm like Kerry, and open like Lily, I knew that required being authentic with myself. I didn’t know what would happen if I widened my eyes to truly look at myself, and I couldn’t imagine liking what I saw. The thing with alcohol was that it worked—it made everything else go away—and how could I let go of that to grasp onto a rope that might tear as I flew mid-air over a bottomless abyss? How could I make that gamble with no guarantee I’d ever reach the unimaginable beauty on the other side?
But really, when I thought about it, what did I have to lose? I was already falling.
Assignment 6 (Part 2): Secondary Conflict
My level of insight grows throughout my memoir, and many conflicts arise within and around me as my perspective shifts. A secondary conflict involving my social environment arises when I meet Isabel, the first person I feel attracted to since being forced to leave Veronica. I am conflicted because we are in a wilderness program together, where romantic relationships are strictly forbidden because we’re supposed to stay focused on our treatment. I’m also still in love with Veronica.
I don’t act on my attraction to Isabel while we’re together in the wilderness, but a similar conflict arises at my next treatment center. Here is an excerpt illustrating this conflict:
Once safely in a bathroom stall, the only place around there with some degree of privacy, I carefully unfolded the piece of paper. I began to read Janie’s neat blue printing, and my brow furrowed in surprised confusion as I realized she had written me a love poem.
I walked out of the bathroom feeling more excited and happier than I had since leaving the wilderness. Nothing else seemed to matter. It was a welcome distraction and my view of Janie immediately shifted. Suddenly, I was attracted to her and wanted to be around her all the time.
In wilderness, I had developed genuine feelings for Isabel, but I was able to accept that it was the wrong time to act on those feelings. This situation with Janie was entirely different. I didn’t feel like I’d been doing any work on myself, and I was lonely and in desperate need of some sort of escape. I wasn’t strong or self-aware enough to realize I was returning to my old pattern of glomming onto whoever showed interest in me merely because it felt better than being alone.
Assignment 7: Setting
Take Her Down is divided into four parts, and the setting varies throughout.
Part I: Veronica
Part I takes place in British Columbia, Canada. I live in West Vancouver with my mother, my stepfather, and my older sister. I am in Grade Eleven at a fancy private school, also located in West Vancouver. After I meet Veronica in downtown Vancouver on an unusually warm February evening, I start spending less time at home and at school. I am usually with Veronica, riding around in her grey Honda Civic, sleeping together in cheap motels, or warming ourselves with alcohol and bonfires on the beach. Veronica and I end up moving into a small one-bedroom apartment together, also in West Vancouver, but very different from my large family home. Our apartment is on the seventeenth floor of an old high-rise overlooking a shopping mall, about a fifteen-minute drive from the highly sought-after neighborhood I grew up in.
Part II: Rehab
Part II takes place in two different locations: a rehabilitation center in the suburbs of Minneapolis, and a psychiatric hospital in rural Wisconsin.
The accommodations in rehab consist of small rooms, each containing three or four identical beds, dressers, and desks. I spend a lot of time sitting outside at a picnic table in the designated smoking area or lounging on one of the worn leather couches in the common room.
The psychiatric hospital in Wisconsin is a multi-story brick building, each floor of which is a different ward. I start out in a mostly empty ward, where I have my own fluorescently lit room. I take my meals in a dining hall resembling a small school cafeteria. I end up being sent to the first floor—lockdown—which reminds me of the psych wards portrayed in old, disturbing films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Part III: Wilderness
Part III takes place in the Utah wilderness. There are no buildings in sight, only rolling hills carpeted in sage bushes and red dirt. I am stuck out there, miles away from civilization, with a group of other girls and a few staff members. We hike through the mountains during the day, setting up a new campsite the same way every night. Dinner is eaten around a large fire, our large backpacks resting in a neat row nearby. We each sleep in our own individual shelters, constructed of bright blue tarps and colorful cordage. Part III opens in September, when the weather is mild and unthreatening. By December, the ground is blanketed in snow, and the temperature at night drops well below zero.
Part IV: The Ranch
The first two chapters of Part IV take place in a residential treatment center in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. It is an institutional setting resembling a large boarding school, the main difference being the fist-sized red lights above all the exterior doors, signifying that I am locked inside.
The rest of Part IV takes place at a ranch that doubles as a residential treatment center for youth aged thirteen to eighteen. The ranch is located in a small town about an hour south of Salt Lake City. I live in a cozy stone house with several other girls, and there is another similar house nearby for the male residents. There are various other buildings and structures scattered around the large campus, including: a long, low barn containing horse stalls and an indoor riding corral; the girls’ schoolhouse, attached to the front of the barn; a ropes course centered around a self-supported wooden climbing wall; a two-story building containing a cafeteria and gym on the first floor and the boys’ schoolhouse on the second floor; an outdoor riding corral; several outdoor horse stalls; and a large field with two rows of small beige hutches, each housing a young, knobby-kneed calf.