When I first sat down to read Torn Together by Scott Magnuson and his wife Shaaren Pine, not only did I feel intrigued, but I also thought of myself as an ideal person to read such a book. The cover says that it is “one family’s journey through addiction, treatment & the restaurant industry” and the first page mentions that a portion of the proceeds from the book sales go towards Restaurant Recovery. This non-profit organization helps provide financial assistance, therapy and overall help to people struggling with addiction within the restaurant and bar industry. Not only that, but it also works to spread awareness of the vast drug-and-alcohol-filled culture of this industry; something many people don’t completely understand.
Why this struck me as such an important and appropriate novel for me to sit down and read is because I have been working in bars and restaurants since the age of 17. Now at 25, I can see how very real and prevalent substance abuse and addiction are within this profession. But I think the worst part is that not only are these problems (illnesses) so common, but that they are so accepted…almost to the point where they are almost ignored or waved away because…well, everyone does it. So I was looking forward to taking a look at this being fleshed out and expanded in more detail, as well as hearing about this couple’s particular experience.
The book is split between the two of them; there are “Scott” sections and there are “Shaaren” sections. At the beginning, Shaaren’s were written in italics and seemed more like a journal entry, purely emotional and a release of her feelings on to the paper. Scott’s seemed more composed, almost, as if he were just factually recounting his experiences. This initial contrast was interesting since, judging by the content at that point, their characters in real life were the opposite. Juxtaposed next to Scott’s calm words were his erratic, dangerous, destructive actions. Similarly, placed side by side were Shaaren’s upset words and her logical and sensible behaviors. Soon enough, I learned that when Shaaren’s words were written in that text, they were journal entries, or various letters she had sent or received.
It’s fascinating to see the different, but also strikingly similar ways they each grew up. Although Shaaren never struggled with drugs or alcohol, she dealt with issues that were equally harmful and disparaging. She even says at one point that “damaged people find damaged people.” They each found their respective (and usually self-destructive) methods for coping with whatever they were going through. They each found one another. I think this just goes to show how this disease doesn’t always have to be the one and only result of an unsettling upbringing or a stressful and/or traumatic environment. On the same note, anyone can fall victim to this disease, regardless of how stressful, unsettling, or traumatic his/her life is. In fact, one of my favorite things that Scott writes is his confession that he can’t blame anything completely for his addictions, not even the bar/restaurant industry (although they were able to fester there). He even says, in regards to an incident with a rock and his childhood friends, “I wish I could say it was that rock that made me a raging alcoholic and drug addict not too many years later, but it wasn’t. All that rock did was make me bleed.”
Throughout the book, you see the hold the drugs and alcohol had on Scott, the toll they took on his marriage and family, and the way that the places where he worked seemed to exacerbate these problems. Bars and restaurants are so saturated with these types of habits that it remains almost unnoticeable when someone has crossed the line into the territory of disease and loss of control. Not only do I think this book is important for people to read, I think it is close to required reading for those of us working in the industry. Scott’s story could happen to anyone, at any time. But there are people out there who know what it’s like, and there is always help available.
Twisted Talk: Have you ever worked in the restaurant industry before? Would you read this book? Discuss below!