Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction

Elizabeth Vargas, the barrier-breaking co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight and 20/20, bravely revealed that she is an alcoholic during a televised interview in 2014.  But what most people don’t know is Elizabeth has suffered from acute anxiety since childhood, and that after years of silent struggle, she turned to alcohol for relief.

Between Breaths is the story of Elizabeth’s lifelong battle with the condition, how it began at the age of six when her father was sent to the war in Vietnam, and how it continued to plague her, even as she rose to the top of a profession requiring flawless poise under pressure.  She chronicles her desperate attempts to conceal the terrifying panic attacks that gripped her while reporting on some of the biggest stories of her career, and she describes her descent into alcohol dependence and deception, and finally, her redemption through rehab, and learning how to better live with her condition.

This was a really interesting read.  It wasn’t simply about the fact that Elizabeth Vargas is an alcoholic – although her struggles with the disease are it’s main focus.  It was about the things that led her down that path, things that she tried to keep hidden for fear of shame and stigma.  She wasn’t taught to ask for help.

That’s not saying that her story isn’t all kinds of over the place.  From periods of not drinking to days and nights of binge drinking, in and out of rehab multiple times.  Sometimes, it was hard to keep it all straight.

But it was also a story of triumph.  How the first step in fixing a problem is someone admitting that they have one.  How family can fall apart and be by your side at the same time.

Stories like this may be embarrassing and shameful for the author to tell, but they are also very important.  It humanized Elizabeth – she’s not just some fancy journalist living the high life in New York City.  It’s a good reminder that even people who seem to be at the top of their game struggle with something, even if that something isn’t always obvious.


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