Zibby Owens: I had such a nice time talking to Nina Renata Aron. If you’re interested in seeing us talk live, we did a Z IGTV video together during the quarantine. You can check that out at my Instagram page, @ZibbyOwens. Nina is a writer and editor living in Oakland. She’s a features editor at Full Stop, an online literary magazine. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Rumpus, The Millions, and elsewhere. She recently published a beautiful, gritty, and un-put-down-able memoir called Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls. Word of warning, I read this on my computer with my traditional two hundred percent zoom feature. My daughter was here, and that was not a good idea because there are a lot of curse words in her book. Just buyer beware on that front. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Hi. How are you?

Nina Renata Aron: Hi, Zibby. How are you?

Zibby: Good. How are you?

Nina: I’m good. I’m happy to be here. I have to have my coffee because it’s a little earlier in California.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Nina: That’s okay.

Zibby: I’ve run up against this before. When I originally started this — first of all, I never imagined I would still be doing this now. I thought this would be like two weeks, we’re all going to be home.

Nina: Of course.

Zibby: I would’ve made it later for the West Coast and I wouldn’t have made it at the exact same time my daughter has school. But you know what? These things happen.

Nina: These are the mom challenges. I have been watching these interviews you’re doing. It’s such a comfort. It’s been so great. Thank you for everything you’re doing for writers who are adjusting to this new reality.

Zibby: No problem. It’s helping me adjust as well. Gives me something to do. I’m kidding. Yes, I really enjoy it. I’m delighted to get to talk to people who it would’ve been hard to talk to, everybody all over the world.

Nina: I know. That’s a silver lining. It’s been wild that we can just — I had my virtual launch event the other night. All of my East Coast people, my family, and my closest friends, and my West Coast people were all in the room together. It was so great. I loved it.

Zibby: That’s so nice. Maybe some of these ways of congregating will stay.

Nina: I think so. One of my friends said to me after that — I said I really felt so loved and supported that night. She said, “Nobody’s doing anything they don’t want to do right now. So when people are choosing to do something, they mean it.” I was thinking, wow, I wonder if maybe we don’t ever have to go back to not meaning it. That would be good.

Zibby: A lot of these things, I think, are working out very nicely online.

Nina: I think so.

Zibby: Half of life is racing around from place to place. This is great.

Nina: I know. It’s easy.

Zibby: It’s easy. Your book — by the way, I’ve been doing a lot of my reading these days, because books aren’t being sent fast enough and all the rest of it, on the Kindle app for iCloud, so on my computer. I don’t know if I’m getting old or what, but I now have it all on two hundred percent, all the words.

Nina: I do that too.

Zibby: It’s so embarrassing. Even Microsoft Word is two hundred percent. I had it plastered all over my giant desktop. My daughter was sitting in my lap doing her drawing for school. I’m going through the pages and every other word is — and she can read. I was like, don’t look up. Don’t look up. Don’t see this.

Nina: That’s how I feel about my own children. I’m like, they can admire the pretty cover of my book, but they may not open it for a long time.

Zibby: From the beginning, it’s intense and gritty, and oh, my gosh.

Nina: It is. It is.

Zibby: First of all, for anybody who might not know about it, do you have a copy ? It’s so beautiful.

Nina: Of course. I have this. It came out two days ago. It’s such a luscious item.

Zibby: I love it.

Nina: I love it too. It’s yummy. I love the cover. Something about this in hardcover, I can’t stop picking it up. It’s like a baby.

Zibby: Aw. Congratulations on the recent release, so exciting.

Nina: Thank you. It’s really cool.

Zibby: Tell us what it’s about. It’s super personal and emotional and all the rest.

Nina: It is really personal and emotional. It’s a memoir. It’s sort of laced with cultural history. It’s meant to be the first literary memoir about codependency. I grew up in a household with a family member who struggled with addiction. My sister struggled with heroin addiction when we were teenagers and in our twenties, and made it out and is a complete badass and my hero. That experience really colored all of my relationships and just the way I related to the idea of love and sacrifice and what you’re supposed to do in relation to other people and take care of them. I really thrived on feeling needed and was really enlivened by feeling needed in that dynamic. Then it’s about largely how that played out in my romantic relationships, subsequent relationships.

I had an affair when I was married and young mother with an ex-boyfriend who was a hardcore drug addict who was in and out of sobriety for many years. We were madly, desperately in love. It is very gritty. It’s very intense because it’s about addiction. I know a lot of people don’t have personal experience with that kind of hardcore addiction. It’s also broadly about expectations that women place on ourselves and that throughout history that have been placed upon us culturally and how much of ourselves to give in love, whether it’s in any kind of relationship, in motherhood, in our family relationships. Hopefully, it has broader reach beyond just those enjoy a good gritty addiction memoir. I always was reading addiction memoirs my whole life. I never understood why none were written by people who lived in those households and suffered through that. It’s terrible. It’s really confusing. It can really skew everything in your life. It’s just incredibly challenging. There are resources out there for people who have that experience, but I always was looking for — I wanted this book, so I had to write it.

Zibby: I love that. That’s the best reason to write a book, is when you can’t find what you’re looking for and you have something so unique to say. It’s great. I’m like you, I love addiction memoirs. I always feel kind of bad saying that.

Nina: No. As a genre, especially in the last twenty years as women have started writing their own — I think it was a very male-dominated genre for a while. They’re stunning. They encapsulate a kind of personal development narrative often that I think a lot of us are after making those changes in our lives whether or not we have struggled with addition. They are these salvation stories. I love them.

Zibby: You are so right, and always just so open and personal and dark, but then there’s some sort of light at the end because you know they’ve written this book. I don’t know.

Nina: Exactly. Totally. I know. I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to share as much of my own struggle. I was like, well, I’m going to write about other people’s problems. Then I realized if I’m going to write this, I have to really go for it with my own, be really, really honest, which I was. It was cathartic.

Zibby: How does it feel now that this is in the world? Is there any random schoolteacher or somebody out there that you’re like, oh, my gosh, this person’s going to see what I have to say?

Nina: It’s funny. I keep saying — I said this at my launch event too. I had a mom friend ask me, “How do you feel knowing that people are going to be able to read this?” I said, “I feel so relieved that I never have to pretend to be normal again.” In a lot of ways, I think it’s only okay and I only feel comfortable sharing this because my life has been really transformed by recovery and therapy and all of the work I’ve done on my myself to be able to write this. I talk about these things now with a certain degree of detachment. There are definitely people who have reached out to me to say, “Congrats on your book. I am so excited to read it.” I’m kind of like, um. I want to warn them that it’s heavy. I also feel like all lives have heaviness. There are people who choose to share about it and those who don’t. It feels surprisingly healing to just choose to — this is my truth. What can I do?

Zibby: That’s amazing.

Nina: Feels good.

Zibby: Think about all the people you’re going to help by doing that, by putting yourself out there.

Nina: I hope so. I do hope so. I was always so ashamed of some of these things and really confused as to why I was making certain choices in my life. I wish I had had more to read that made me feel like this stuff happens. It’s normal. It really is part and parcel of living with this disease of addiction. I talk about it in the book. Codependence used to be called co-alcoholics because the dynamic was thought of as a two-person dyad. One person’s alcoholism expresses itself in this particular form of drinking too much. The other person’s alcoholism expresses in all of these martyring, controlling, manipulative behaviors, and rage. I hope that I can sort of normalize that this is how this family disease expresses itself in other people.

Zibby: You had some great line which I’m probably going to get wrong. It was something like, when you were talking about the disease of addiction, you said your disease was love, which was so beautiful. It’s true. You kept putting yourself out there and opening up and getting so enmeshed and all the rest.

Nina: Yes. I think among especially the women I’m close to in my life, those questions of how to have boundaries in love, those questions are always present in all of our relationships. I say that the disease I had was loving him, this particular partner, which is definitely true.

Zibby: How long did it take you to write the book?

Nina: Once I had this idea, I did about six months of research before I wrote the proposal. Then the writing of the book was a year and a half. During that time, besides raising my children, that was all I was doing. It was really intense.

Zibby: I bet. How many days did you end up crying at the end of it?

Nina: Oh, my god. It was so funny because I feel like I was kind of researching my own misery. I was a researcher of my own depression. I was going back through — I always kept journals, and really pretty diligently. It was back through so many journals and letters and emails of really the hardest times in my life. When I needed a break from those, I’m trained as an academic and there’s some history in here, and not nearly as much — I think I wrote a history book while I was writing this. I would take a break and throw myself into this historical research about the temperance movement and Al-Anon and how women have historically related to alcoholics and addicts in their lives. That was my break. That was my vacation.

Zibby: That was your break. Sounds like a real dreamy — .

Nina: It was fascinating. It’s really fascinating. I think I’ll write something about some of that history that didn’t make it into the book because it was so interesting.

Zibby: How did you go from that intensity of emotion to then dealing with your kids? How old were they at the time of writing?

Nina: They’re now eleven and eight. This was the past couple years that I’ve been writing the book.

Zibby: How did you just switch the trigger?

Nina: It’s funny. I don’t think I switched the trigger. As you know, you just are sort of called upon to be another version of yourself, which is why they are such a lifesaving, amazing — they’re great. They’re so funny. I found that I was really worried that I would sort of carry this sad, bummer-mom energy into the evening or something. Then they would come home from school. They make you feel great. I felt really just lucky to have — my real life was playing out and reminding me every day that we’re all happy and okay and healthy. That kept me very grateful.

Zibby: I feel like there’s this extra huge pressure on moms to have it all — you have to present as somewhat together. Yet I feel like kids can always see through it. Kids can see through me a mile away when I’m pretending that I’m in a good mood. They’re like, “No. Why are you so sad?” I’m like, how can you tell?

Nina: They always know.

Zibby: Then they’re like, “You being sad is making me sad.” Then I feel even worse. Now I’m sad and I’ve made my kids sad. It’s no win. I just can’t. I just can’t.

Nina: I know what you mean.

Zibby: Anyway, to have undertaken a project like yours in the midst of it all, I’m super impressed.

Nina: Thank you. It was really cathartic. I had heard people say that about writing books before, that something needed to come out of them in a particular way at a particular time. I feel grateful that I think was struck by that bolt of lightning. This all just arrived. It had to happen in this way. I’m so glad I had my kids there to provide this light all the way through.

Zibby: Do you have advice if people are listening, or listening later, who are struggling with somebody in their life who’s going through this or have recovered? I know there are sites like WEconnect and all these great resources for people. Do you have any specific advice or advice on the writing process itself?

Nina: I have really been thinking a lot about people who are trapped in these kinds of dynamics right now and who are living in households with active addiction right now. I just think it must be so hard to be dealing with that with all of these restrictions on our movements. To those people, I say there are resources out there. WEconnect is a good one. Al-Anon has really been a powerful community for me. I think the key is finding other people who understand. I think that we can access websites and read guidelines and self-help bulleted lists or something, but really finding people, connecting with people who understand exactly what you’re going through is the most powerful thing there is. My only writing advice ever is to read. That’s all I ever want to do. It’s all in there. You just have to read books.

Zibby: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Nina: Thank you. I love your show. I’m so, so glad I got to come on. I’m so happy. I can’t wait to listen to all the rest of your author interviews. They’re so fantastic.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s really nice.

Nina: I love it.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s awesome. Thanks so much.

Nina: Thank you. Take care, Zibby.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Nina: Bye.