In 1971, two events occurred that changed my life forever: I got married and I became a typesetter. There was also a third event simmering away under the radar that hadn’t quiet manifested, but was waiting to explode. It will become evident what that event was later in the story.
In those days, typesetting was done with metal slugs. Men sat at huge machines and typed words to be set on a large sheet of metal and then run through the printing press. When I started typesetting there was a burgeoning industry of cold type (computer) beginning to appear. Most type was done with metal, but eventually the printing industry, including the major newspapers, went to cold type.
My first computer was just a keyboard, with a small machine off to the side which punched holes in paper tape. Each character had a corresponding set of holes punched in the tape which was rolled into a large unit about the size of a toilet paper roll. Despite the modernization of the printing industry, there was still a lot of complex work involved in creating magazines and books.
Coding on my computer was just one part of the job. I was fast and efficient, despite there being hundreds of codes for different type fonts. Darkroom processing was also still in operation. Great concentration and focus was needed to create good work. I still don’t know how I managed to get it right for so long once my love of alcohol took over.
My husband worked beside me as the graphic designer. My first print job was at our own typesetting/graphic arts company which we ran with a partner. He had all the equipment, the contacts, and the office space. We had our skills and some money to buy into the business.
With just the three of us working, and no money to hire help, we spent many hours at the office getting through a large volume of work. Decent sleep, food or relaxation became scarce. We relied on snacking, usually with a bottle or two of wine, to get through the day. We often worked through the night to get projects done. The more we worked the more we drank. Sometimes we drank and forgot to eat (took too much time). By the time we managed to get home we were too exhausted to cook or stop for fast food, but we always had time to drink.
We had started to develop a big resentment against our business partner. He began to notice all the drinking and consequently the mistakes we were making. We broke our contract with him and got out of that company faster than gunslingers got out of Dodge. The venture was successful for about a year before we ran into trouble with our drinking.
A pattern of working too much and getting little food or sleep continued throughout our time in the printing industry. We were becoming aware that our drinking was getting out of hand. We made a pact to not drink so much in future employment. We would only drink at home, at night and with a full meal. Clearly that was the answer to our over indulgence.
We were then employed by a small one-person owned company; me as typesetter and my husband as graphic designer. The boss loved to have her “one” gin cocktail at 5pm every day. Of course, to my delight, she invited me to have one also. I didn’t need to be asked twice. This got me started drinking at work again. I stayed late to finish up projects, but also finished up her bottle. It took us three years to drink ourselves out of that job.
After that we worked at a large printing company, which had been family-owned for over 100 years. Again alcohol played a part in the demise of this employment. The owner was an alcoholic and he drank himself out of business. We all lost our jobs, including our retirement funds.
Shortly after we made the brilliant decision to go freelance. We figured there would be more time to work and drink at home. My husband’s faithful clients followed us on this venture. I also worked part-time at another company to supplement our income.
My alcoholism at this point was out of control. I often showed up to work hungover but I was becoming more and more aware of my unmanageability. I began to look for solutions, but not always in the right places. One of the clients I typeset for was a wine magazine. In the classified section they listed great opportunities to invest in or buy a wine growers farm.
What a great idea! If I could learn how to produce wine and sell it I probably wouldn’t have a problem with alcohol, right? Nothing about that thought makes sense to me now, but it made perfect sense to me then. My boss and his wife began to notice how often I came to work drunk and the mistakes I was making were obvious.
Astonishingly, one of the last projects I worked on, before I drank myself out of that job, was typesetting an edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous written in French. Yes, you read it right. The French version of the Big Book was in fact typeset by an inebriated person. If my memory serves me correctly it would have been somewhere around August of 1985. I had no idea at the time, how significant this book would be in my life and how it continues to be.
It is probably apparent by now that the third event bubbling away under the surface in 1971, was that my drinking career began and ran parallel with my printing career. I’m happy to report that there were no further copies of the Big Book printed in a drunken state – at least not by me – as I got sober on October 25th 1985. I have remained sober ever since.