“The disease he has is addiction,” Nina Renata Aron writes of her boyfriend, K. “The disease I have is loving him.” Their love affair is dramatic, urgent, overwhelming—an intoxicating antidote to the long, lonely days of early motherhood. Soon after they get together, K starts using again, and years of relapses and broken promises follow. Even as his addiction deepens, she stays, convinced she is the one who can get him sober. After an adolescence marred by family trauma and addiction, Nina can’t help but feel responsible for those suffering around her. How can she break this pattern? If she leaves K, has she failed him?
Writing in prose at once unflinching and acrobatic, Aron delivers a piercing memoir of romance and addiction, drawing on intimate anecdotes as well as academic research to crack open the long-feminized and overlooked phenomenon of codependency. She shifts between visceral, ferocious accounts of her affair with K and introspective analyses of the part she plays in his addictions, as well as defining moments in the history of codependency, from the temperance movement to the formation of Al-Anon to more recent research in the psychology of addiction. Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls is a blazing, bighearted book that illuminates and adds nuance to the messy tethers between femininity, enabling, and love.
Praise for Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls
“Unflinching…Aron writes in gripping prose about the thrills and dangers of her own substance use and relationship with K — their weak-kneed passion and wolfish needs, as well as her guilt-ridden enabling and savior-complex optimism.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“In Nina Renata Aron’s scorching, unvarnished memoir, an addiction story gets spun from the perspective of the helpless partner, the lover too stuck in a dangerous dynamic to find her way out.”—Entertainment Weekly, Best Books of April
“A raw and eloquently unflinching memoir.”—Kirkus Reviews
|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On a Hunter’s Moon, I burned his name. The drummer in my band told me to do it. We were sitting at the bar drinking well whiskeys and cans of beer. A Hunter’s Moon is powerful for intention setting, she said, winding her long, chemically straightened hair into an apple fritter–sized bun atop her head. She secured it not with an elastic but with a wrist flick and a twist of another piece of her hair, some sleight of hand I’d always envied in the girls who could do it. It stayed in place perfectly. She pulled a few baby hairs out to fall in front of her ears, and they made small, wispy parentheses around her face. Fleetwood Mac was playing.
Write down what you want and burn it, she said, knocking back the last of her drink.
Women suggest these types of things to one another.
A Hunter’s Moon is powerful for intention setting. This was the kind of oblique advice I was getting a lot. I didn’t know where to hook into it, how to listen better to make it feel real, like something I could act on. Still, I let it wash over me, this language I was trying to learn. My earnest, beautiful, California girlfriends, knowing I needed them, were doing their very best, circling with candles and crystals. I welcomed their warmth the way I imagined I was supposed to, with an open, wistful gaze, and slow, New Age nodding. Just that week, one had shown up with a bottle of rosé and made the measured, straight-faced suggestion that I “sage” him from the premises. This will cleanse your space of him, she said, proffering a bound, faded bundle of expired flora and a lighter.
I was constantly cleansing him from my space. Every few days, for example, I’d clean our bathroom, wiping with Lysol-drenched paper towels the delicate spray of dried blood that lay over most surfaces and reminded me of the splatter of colored dye on the outside of a jawbreaker, the first layer that makes a white paste in your mouth as you suck it away. Living with a junkie involves a lot of effluvia. Everywhere, there are oozes that must be wiped away. It seems there’s simply more of it all: The sweat that goes immediately cold on the disregulated slab of his body. Piss that didn’t make it into the toilet bowl. There’s blood and vomit—vomit every day—and the rotten, volcanic secretions of abscesses. And when I come home from work and he lunges for me, kisses me, all babybaby and half on the nod, and we f*** dreamily, devotedly on the couch, there’s spit, and there’s come.
Sometimes in the trash can I find wadded-up paper towels or bits of toilet paper he’s used to wipe the blood away himself, and sometimes blood-stained T-shirts or socks or floral dish towels, which stiffen as they dry as though rigor mortis has set in.
I didn’t know how to tell my friends, those well-meaning rays of blond hope, that intention setting was already my life. Intention setting was the blistering fever that came over me when I couldn’t reach him and I had to type f*** you f*** you f*** you f*** you f*** you f*** you f*** you over four inches of an email box—my version of a breathing exercise—until I could calm down and go back to my work. My drafts folder was full of these ten-point f*** you blocks, and hundreds of other half-written love letters and hate letters I’d nearly lobbed his way, all intentions to reform or renounce him. Intention setting was what I was doing all those mornings I pulled the car over to cry with my head on the steering wheel, it was the cement resolve I felt harden in my gut when I saw how much money was missing from my bank account. It was the ominous thump of my own helplessness, the rhythm of my days and nights. What I needed was something for intention keeping. Do they make a tincture for that, I wanted to ask, some rose-petal elixir to heal me?
Later that night, I did as my drummer friend said. I stood above my kitchen sink—swaying slightly, rocking the bourbon baby of my body—and burned a small strip of printer paper on which I’d written K—M—S—I AM LETTING GO OF YOU in junk-drawer ballpoint pen. I’d considered I WANT TO LET GO OF YOU—Write down what you want, she’d said—but that seemed too aspirational, not present tense enough. No, I don’t want to, I am.
The paper curled hot orange and tears welled in my eyes as the flame climbed slowly closer to my hand. I wanted it to be Satanic, the dark, measured wildness of casting a spell, untying and setting loose some force in the universe. It felt more like something out of a Taylor Swift video. A pathetic, overearnest micro-victory against obsessive love while my eyeliner ran. The tiny blaze appeared perfectly controlled. I let the ashes fall into the dirty cereal bowls, narrowing my eyes to summon the sense that this time would be consequential. I really mean it this time: the refrain of sick people the world over. The thing is, you do mean it each time. That night I certainly did. I swallowed the lump in my throat and thought, I am letting go, motherf***er. Starting right now.
. . .
The disease he has is addiction. It’s in the headlines every day, killing more people than ever before, taking over the country. I look at graphs in the newspapers showing steep, almost vertical upticks in overdoses and deaths. I read all the stories—about the cheap, pure Mexican heroin flooding the market, about school-age kids left to fend for themselves as their parents descend, then disappear, about small-town librarians carrying NARCAN to reverse the overdoses happening in their bathrooms, about the cops in a futile, all-out war to stem the tides of supply and skyrocketing demand. At work, I surreptitiously watch Vice videos about Canadian teenagers panhandling so they can snort crushed-up Smurf-blue Fentanyl, chasing ever-shorter highs. They amble around hot parking lots, sending text messages in search of ten more minutes of oblivion, more pills they can crush into the powder they snort off the backs of public toilets. You can see any prospect of future joy receding as their faces slacken and their lids grow heavy.
But even the constant reporting on the recent surge in drug horrors—seen as more horrifying now that the people affected are increasingly whiter and younger—cannot adequately document its monstrousness. Each time I read one of these stories, watch a film, or look at a graph, I think about all that lies outside the frame, the heartaches those headlines don’t show, the creeping messes they won’t account for and couldn’t possibly contain. They say addiction is a “family disease,” and I ponder this a lot, the astonishing rippling outward of bad decisions and risky behaviors—the impound lots, eviction notices, and pawned heirlooms, lives caught up, just as mine is, in managing everyday grief, accommodating each day a little bit more, more than you ever thought you could handle.
Reading Group Guide
1. Addiction—particularly male addiction—is often glamorized or venerated in literature and popular culture. Do you think that there is a kind of cultural fascination with addiction and addicts? Is this part of what draws Nina to K? If so, in what way?
2. Aron observes that “our cultural view of female addicts has long been dim, to say the least,” while addicted men are often given a pass, or even celebrated as “tormented” (both p. 186) geniuses. What cultural factors might contribute to this difference in treatment? Do you see any of those factors at play in Nina’s life?
3. How does Aron link the temperance movement and the rise of feminism in the U.S.? Why do you think the two are so closely intertwined—and why has the contribution of temperance women been “dwarfed” (p. 80) by that of suffragists in the historical account?
4. Aron notes that, as a child, she “often played the role of another parent in our unfolding family saga.” (p. 39) How might that dynamic have impacted her relationships as an adult?
5. Aron feels that she “made a better mistress than wife,” the true “have to have”, while a wife “is leftovers in the fridge.” (p. 138) What factors might have contributed to her feeling this way? How might these elements have affected her marriage?
6. Aron notes her association of true love with darkness and danger: “tumult” (p. 122), “obsession” and “mad flower” (both p. 175); something “a little bit evil.” (p. 169) What factors might have contributed to this perception? Do you agree with these connotations?
7. Why do you think K fails to invite friends and then leaves the housewarming party in chapter 23? Is there more to his actions than his assertion that he and his friends weren’t “really into sh*t like this.” (p. 203)?
8. Aron quotes temperance crusader Carrie Nation’s lines, “I represent the distracted, suffering, loving motherhood of the World, who, becoming aroused with a righteous fury, rebelled at this torture” as containing “the whole of the codependent experience.” (pp. 164–165) What do you think Aron means by drawing this comparison? What are some contemporary parallels between the early temperance movement and the current conversation around codependency?
9. Throughout the book, Aron is shot through with opposing tensions—a yearning for a more “normal” life(p. 88) and her tendency to create “the chaos I lived in” (p. 129); and her modern, feminist ideal of autonomous, individual fulfillment and the bonds of romantic and familial love. How do you think factors like upbringing, culture, self-perception, and motherhood might have contributed to these tensions? What other external factors may have created this opposition in her life, and how might they have impacted the nature of her codependency?