Dead Drunk by Paul Garrigan is a quick and captivating read. From his life growing up in Ireland to his transformative 10 days spent in Central Thailand’s Wat Thamkrabok—Garrigan offers an insightful and sincere look at alcoholism and the nature of addiction in general. Never making excuses for his destructive behavior, Garrigan writes with the addict in mind—showing them that it is possible to quit. But this memoir is interesting for the general reader as well to see how a Buddhist temple helped to ultimately end Garrigan’s addiction.
This memoir is told in a chronological way—beginning with Garrigan’s childhood and homelife. He relates how alcohol always had always held an attraction for him, especially as a socially awkward child. He continued to have this positive association with alcohol, observing how adults became more lively and fun when drinking, and this led to some early experimentation. When his parents got divorced he became a hardcore drinker and soon an alcoholic. There were many moments where Garrigan lets himself imagine a different past for himself where if he had gone down a different path, or some outside circumstances would have changed, he wouldn’t have become an alcoholic. But he always admits in the end he should not make excuses for himself and it was his own making.
Paul Garrigan was able to remain sober for over two years in his early twenties through AA. But in the end he decided that although he is grateful to AA for all their help, the program could not help him to fully quit his addiction. He reasons that with the AA program he is always thinking about alcohol—either consuming it or not consuming it. He decides that he would like to stop thinking about alcohol altogether—to end the suffering of his relationship with alcohol. But instead of ending the suffering, he stops going to AA and becomes an alcoholic again. He convinces himself that he should enjoy his life and his youth and be a hedonist.
He decides to travel and winds up to Thailand— still binging on alcohol. At this point he wants to quit and knows that his addiction is making a mess of his life. A highlight of the book is his time at Wat Rampoeng’s Northern Insight Meditation Center in Chiangmai. He completes the basic course there and is able to find some freedom from his addiction but once back in the world he easily gives in to temptation. It is only when he hits rock bottom that he takes quitting seriously. He is living with his Thai girlfriend in Central Thailand, drinking from morning until night, not able to digest food without severe abdominal pain, when he finds out about the detox program at Wat Thamkrabok.
Garrigan knows this is his last chance. On the way to the temple Garrigan is constantly worried that he will go on an alcoholic binge and not ever arrive. He even wants to have one last beer but his stomach pain from decades of alcohol abuse, does not let him. Wat Thamkrabok is not a meditation course, but a detox program involving a morning ritual of public vomiting. Besides this humbling ritual done for five days in a row and chores in the early morning, there is not much of a routine for the participants. But as Garrigan makes friends he starts to think about his life and hopes he can stay away from alcohol after his ten days here.
By the end of the book Garrigan has remained sober for over a year. He continues to maintain a website about mindfulness and addiction recovery in Thailand. His memoir highlights a significant program in Thailand that may not be well-known but can help many travelers to the country. This is an informative and interesting read for alcoholics or loved ones of alcoholics looking for alternative methods of recovery, or Thailand enthusiasts interested in finding out all of the many ways Thai Buddhism is being used and applied to help modern lives.