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How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex

Written by Susan ShapiroAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Susan Shapiro


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: December 28, 2004
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33523-8
Published by : Delacorte Press Bantam Dell
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memoir (7) addiction (4)
memoir (7) addiction (4)


In the critically acclaimed Five Men Who Broke My Heart, Manhattan journalist Susan Shapiro revisited five self-destructive romances. In her hilarious, illuminating new memoir, Lighting Up, she rejects five self-destructive substances. This difficult quest for clean living starts with Shapiro’s shocking revelation that, at forty, her lengthiest, most emotionally satisfying relationship has been with cigarettes.

A two-pack-a-day smoker since the age of thirteen, Susan Shapiro quickly discovers that it’s impossible to be a writer, a nonsmoker, sane, and slender in the same year. The last time she tried to quit, she gained twenty-three pounds, couldn’t concentrate on work, and wanted to kill herself and her husband, Aaron, a TV comedy writer who hates her penchant for puffing away. Yet just as she’s about to choose her vice over her marriage vows, she stumbles upon a secret weapon.

Dr. Winters, “the James Bond of psychotherapy,” is a brilliant but unorthodox addiction specialist, a
former chain-smoker himself. Working his weird magic on her psyche, he unravels the roots of her twenty-seven-year compulsion, the same dangerous dependency that has haunted her doctor father, her grandfather, and a pair of eccentric aunts from opposite sides of the family, along with Freud and nearly one in four Americans. Dr. Winters teaches her how to embrace suffering, then proclaims that her months of panic, depression, insecurity, vulnerability, and wild mood swings win her the award for “the worst nicotine withdrawal in the history of the world.”

Shapiro finally does kick the habit–while losing weight and finding career and connubial bliss–only to discover that the second she’s let go of her long-term crutch, she’s already replaced it with another fixation. After banishing cigarettes, alcohol, dope, gum, and bread from her day-to-day existence, she conquers all her demons and survives deprivation overload. But relying religiously on Dr. Winters, she soon realizes that the only obsession she has left
to quit is him. . . .

Never has the battle to stem substance abuse been captured with such wit, sophisticated insight, and candor. Lighting Up is so compulsively readable, it’s addictive.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter 1

October 1996

“Aaron wants you to know that he misses you and can’t live without you,” Dr. Winters said, looking right in my eyes and smiling.

I turned to Aaron, my cute, curly-haired, six-foot-four ex-boyfriend, whom I’d broken up with six weeks before. His face was expressionless. It felt awkward to be sitting so close to him on the couch without touching. For three years I’d begged him to accompany me to my therapist, Dr. Goode. He refused, insisting that emotional insight would destroy his career as a TV comedy writer.

“He’s very happy you could make it here today,” Dr. Winters continued.

“Who are you?” I asked. “Cyrano de Bergerac?”

The scene was even more bizarre because, as I’d told Aaron, our exhausting, turbulent, three-year bicoastal affair was seriously over. He agreed, but begged me to try one couples’ session with his new psychoanalyst, just for closure. I agreed, just for closure, but made it very clear that I’d already fallen, head over spiky black high heels, for another man.

“Aaron said you were dating someone new,” Dr. Winters said.

I nodded, feeling claustrophobic. In the past I had only bared my soul to female shrinks. The male head doctors I’d met were old Jewish guys in gray tweeds who smoked pipes; I could never talk about oral sex with anybody who resembled my grandfather. I admit I was intrigued when Aaron warned me, just before we’d walked in, that Dr. Winters was young, unconventional, and wildly provocative. With an office two blocks away from my West Village one-bedroom, I imagined angry art therapy, or complicated, cryptic Jungian dream analysis. I wasn’t expecting a short-haired, clean-cut, smiley WASP, let alone one who looked like the actor Pierce Brosnan. I pondered how Aaron, the least emotionally adventurous man I’d ever met, had stumbled onto the James Bond of psychotherapy.

“So, when are you getting rid of the other guy?” asked Winters, still smiling.

“The other guy, Joshua, is deeply in love with me,” I said. “What a pleasure to be with a man who has room for a woman in his life.”

“You can’t be serious,” Winters said.

“I’m always serious,” said I.

No wonder Aaron called him young. He looked forty-five; they were probably the same age. Though he was seated, Winters appeared shorter, about six feet tall. He had a slighter build than Aaron, who was the nerdy Jewish bear type I usually went for. Aaron and I were dressed the same, in black jeans, sweaters, and leather jackets, rebels without a cause. Dr. Winters dressed like an adult: navy wool slacks, white shirt, classy red and blue tie, beige blazer. Was it cashmere? His outfit was calculated, colorless enough to project anything onto. He could have been a lawyer, book editor, international spy.

“Why can’t I be serious about Joshua?”

“Because you’re so happy to be sitting here next to Aaron,” Dr. Winters said. He was trying to brainwash me.

“I’m just here out of morbid fascination,” I said, looking around his small, dusty office. There was only room enough for the couch, leather chair, French country desk, and Oriental rug. Too many miniature embroidered pillows for a middle-aged straight guy. One sensed Dr. Winters was married with kids, a model citizen. But I imagined a grisly past filled with illicit sex and rage and turmoil.

“Just morbid fascination?” He looked hurt. “Aaron makes it sound like love.”

Who did he think he was sweet-talking—a dumb thirteen-year-old girl? “Look, buddy,” I said, “your patient can’t even commit to living in sin.”

“What kind of inanity has he been feeding you?” Dr. Winters switched to a warm conspiratorial tone, as if he were now my closest girlfriend, completely on my side. “What did he tell you?”

“After three years, he refused to see me on weekdays. He’d only go out on weekends. So I said, ‘Fine, let’s go in.’ Then Spider-Man here decides we can’t have dinner—or sex— during the week. Which is why I found an easier guy who’s not strangling his own dick with this boring fear of intimacy shit.”

Winters looked at Aaron and said, “She does have a point.”

Aaron, who hadn’t yet said a word, sat up tall and finally said: “I like Batman better.”

“Because Batman is upper class,” I told Winters. “And lives in a cave with a cool black sports car.”

“No,” Aaron said. “Because Batman is the only one without superpowers.”

The heterosexual men I’d known in the Midwest were sports freaks. Aaron’s pseudointellectual crowd of East Coast TV comedy writers, whom he’d first met working at the National Lampoon, got off on deconstructing the myths of superheroes.

“The other heroes all have special powers?” Winters seemed fascinated.

Aaron nodded, lowering his voice, as if he were sharing state secrets. “Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider. Green Lantern got his power ring from an alien. The Flash from a lab accident.”

“Superman left Krypton and landed in a yellow sun system,” said Winters, getting into the act.

“But Batman was just an ordinary guy who studied hard,” Aaron said. “He gave himself power.”

“To avenge his parents’ murder by killing all bad guys in the world,” I threw in.

“You’re a true Freudian?” Winters asked me.

“Can you see why I fell for a shrink?” I asked him.

“I don’t think she should be going out with a shrink,” added Aaron.

“Your ex-fiancée, Lori, was a shrink,” I argued. “You went out with her for ten years.” Underneath his black sweater, I could see he’d worn the light-green Gap T-shirt I’d given him last Hanukkah. He knew I thought he looked good in light green.

“Lori wasn’t a shrink when I met her,” he argued back.

“I know. You drove her to it.”

“She was the one who recommended Dr. Winters,” Aaron let slip.

“Lori knows him?” This fifty minutes was getting stranger by the second.

“He’s her thesis adviser in the psychology program at Columbia,” Aaron said.

“Lori’s your protégée?” I asked Winters, who shrugged. “You’re bringing your latest ex-girlfriend to see the mentor of your former fiancée?” I asked Aaron, who shrugged too.

It was so idiotic, it had to be true. Aaron was a procrastinating hermit incapable of throwing away any book, article, or piece of clothing, but he never lied. I needed a cigarette. Did Dr. Winters let patients smoke during sessions? At first Dr. Goode had let me smoke but then she’d banned it, afraid that I was inhaling my hurt instead of expressing it, getting further away.

“What can we do to get you back?” Dr. Winters asked, his smile mischievous and engaging.

“Nothing.” He seemed annoyingly pleased with himself, having too much fun juggling other people’s lives and hearts and psyches.

“What if he stayed over weekends, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and he proposed?” Dr. Winters threw out.

“Impossible.” I shook my head. I was almost over the breakup. Trusting either of them was completely out of the question. “Aaron made it clear that he doesn’t want to live together, get married, or have children. Which is why we’re broken up.”

Dr. Winters looked at him and said, “She thinks you can’t do it.”

“I can do it,” said Aaron. “Just not yet.”

“He’s forty-five and never been married,” I said. “What’s he waiting for—Social Security?”

“He could do it faster if you dumped whatshisname,” Dr. Winters reprimanded.

“His name is Joshua, and he’s a great guy.” I left out that Joshua was long-distance, bipolar, too skinny, and in the middle of an acrimonious divorce and custody battle for his two kids. “Joshua’s not afraid of marriage,” I taunted. “He got married when he was twenty-two.”

“You’re going out with a MARRIED shrink?” asked Aaron.

“He’s getting divorced, but he’s not afraid to remarry,” I shared. “He already brought it up.”

“Joshua mentions marriage after a few weeks and you’re not running in the other direction?” Dr. Winters asked me.

“Is taking ten years to propose our control group?” I asked him.

I was a thirty-five-year-old writer, freelancing for the best publications in the country, for God sakes, not to mention a popular journalism teacher. I was not going to sit home, waiting for a man to call. Joshua called twice a day, like clockwork. I could get my work done. Who needed drama and headaches? I was tired. What time was it? I’d forgotten my watch, the silver one Aaron gave me in L.A. for my last birthday. I’d twisted the gift into hopeful metaphors: He was putting me on his time frame. He was giving me eternity. It wasn’t too late. I was mad at myself for misreading everything.

Until Aaron turned to me and said, “Ten years is too long.”

He had curly lopsided salt-and-pepper hair I missed running my fingers through. I inched closer, accidentally brushed my arm against his big thigh. Joshua was shorter and smaller. I didn’t want to pledge my life to a man who had thinner thighs than I did. He was still married, anyway; his divorce could take years. Did Aaron really make it sound like love?

“She is finished waiting and wants to know when,” Dr. Winters said, opening his date book and taking a pen from his pocket. “Today’s October sixth. Can we say by Halloween?”

“How about November twenty-second?” Aaron threw out, the negotiation now between the two of them.

“Why the twenty-second?” Winters asked.

“The day Kennedy was shot,” I explained.

From the Hardcover edition.
Susan Shapiro

About Susan Shapiro

Susan Shapiro - Lighting Up

Photo © Dan Brownstein

Susan Shapiro is a journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She's the author of the memoirs Five Men Who Broke My Heart, which was optioned by Paramount Pictures, and Lighting Up, and is the co-editor of the anthology Food for the Soul. She lives with her husband in Manhattan, where she teaches writing at New York University and the New School.


"Shapiro's wit and honesty elevate the work."
--Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

In her critically acclaimed debut, Five Men Who Broke My Heart, Susan Shapiro revisited her self-destructive relationships. In Lighting Up, she takes on another brand of self-destruction: her addictions, ranging from cigarettes to carbs to chewing gum. Writing with the candid, bitingly funny voice that has become her hallmark, Susan recalls her road from vice to victory–with plenty of edgy detours along the way.

A two-pack-a-day smoker since the age of thirteen, Susan married a man who hated her penchant for puffing away. Just when she thinks she'll have to choose between Aaron and nicotine, she visits Dr. Daniel Winters, "the James Bond of psychotherapy," who is a former chain-smoker himself. Though his personality is intense and his methods seem unorthodox, he soon has Susan cutting back, not only on cigarettes but also candy (which she started eating in response to her cigarette cravings), booze, pot, spending, and even freelance writing gigs.

Working his weird magic on her psyche, he unravels the roots of her compulsions, including the same dangerous nicotine dependency that haunted her father. Dr. Winters eventually proclaims that Susan's panic, depression, insecurity, vulnerability, and wild mood swings win her the award for "the worst nicotine withdrawal in the history of the world." Yet even as she sees her life improving on all fronts–including landing the book deal she had dreamed of for years–she begins to realize that her addiction to Dr. Winters may turn out to be her toughest habit to kick. Funny and wise, Lighting Up will hook you from the first scene.

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Susan Shapiro's Lighting Up. We hope they will enrich your experience of this highly addictive memoir.

Discussion Guides

1. What was your first reaction to Dr. Winters? What did he see in the relationship between Aaron and Susan that they had trouble recognizing on their own?

2. Was Claire the "tipping point" that made Susan decide to try to quit smoking again? What brings most addicts to the point of seriously wanting to quit? Why do you suppose Dr. Winters was so quick to dismiss the reasons Susan initially gave?

3. Early on, Susan tells Dr. Winters that she feels as if the things she wants most are the things she can't get. Then she surprises herself by telling him that getting published is what she wants most. Discuss this relationship between addictions and creativity. What does Lighting Up indicate about the romantic stereotype of writers whose brilliance relies on their addictions?

4. Susan comes to believe Dr. Winters's claim that "Underlying every substance problem I have ever seen is a deep depression that seems unbearable." What proves to be the source of Susan's depression? Do you agree with his belief that addiction-cessation programs won't deliver lasting results if they don't address underlying psychological issues?

5. Susan is proud of her abilities as a teacher; she is dedicated to her students and is constantly helping to advance their careers. Is she able to admit this readily? Why does she initially want to cut back on teaching rather than freelancing? Does her teaching personality extend to her personal life–her interactions with Aaron, her family, and her friends?

6. Chapter seven ends with a list of instructions from Dr. Winters, including "Don’t trust any impulse, your impulses are always wrong." Is Dr. Winters implying that everyone's impulses are always wrong? In terms of impulsiveness, how does this phase of Susan's life compare to her earlier years? What shaped her earliest impulses?

7. Three men have especially prominent roles in Lighting Up: Aaron, Dr. Winters, and Susan's father, whose Chesterfields she recalls vividly. Do these three figures have much in common? Do they complement various parts of Susan's identity? What bonds her to each of them?

8. What accounts for Blake's crisis? Does his experience mirror episodes in Susan's life, or does he represent a risky place to which she would never venture?

9. Susan tells the story of her botched joint shipment with perfect deadpan humor. Why do you suppose she hadn't realized she was addicted to pot, and hadn't anticipated how hard it would be to do without the dealers after she coated their phone numbers in white-out?

10. Did it affect Susan for better or for worse when Dr. Winters let her in on his childhood and personal life? How was their doctor/patient relationship affected by her ability to generate media coverage for him? Should therapists conceal their private lives from their patients?

11. How would you have responded to Dr. Winters's scheduling snafus? How did Susan react when Irene said she had stopped seeing Dr. Winters because she found him to be too sexist?

12. What determines whether we take advice or ignore it? Why was Susan willing to follow Dr. Winters's tough instructions, while other patients dropped out of therapy? Who were the other healers in her life, such as poet Joseph Brodsky? What is the significance of Susan's brief period of treatment with Dr. Steiner?

13. What did you make of the conservatism Susan describes as she becomes less dependent on substances? As her perceptions of the world and herself change, what realities remain?

14. Discuss the scenes in which Susan faces large family gatherings. What are the stressful aspects of her family dynamic? What parts of it are comforting?

15. As Susan anguished over her author photo, what fears became apparent? When she became upset with Aaron over the envelope from Naomi, were similar fears emerging? What is Dr. Winters's approach to feelings like these?

16. The book's subtitle is a reminder that sex remained Susan's only source of intense pleasure. How does the role of sex evolve throughout Lighting Up?

17. What does Lighting Up indicate about the role of writing, particularly humorous writing, in processing difficult aspects of life?

18. What parallels did you find between Lighting Up and Shapiro's earlier memoir, Five Men Who Broke My Heart? Were the changes taking place in Susan's life reflected in the storytelling tone of the two works?

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