May 27, 2008

Addiction Redux

I just finished reading A Million Pieces by James Frey and it has left me gutted. I did not and do not care about the publicity surrounding the accusations of its factuality, his dealings with Opera, or the unfortunate involvement the book had with the American media hype machine.

My two best friends read the book; one claimed that Frey’s memoir was one of the top five books he has ever read (he has read some great books), and the other friend ordered that no one was allowed to even mentioned the name Frey in his presence because the books was so appallingly bad, that it made him psychically sick. I was meant to be the tiebreaker. I succeeded and I failed. I am left gutted. I am empty. I am complete. I read this book looking for something. I am not sure what that was or if I found it, but I know that it was vital I read it.

I hated the first two hundred pages. Anthony was right and for a while it appeared that together we were winning. Frey’s gimmicky prose grew tiresome and downright boring. His self-loathing, perhaps because it hit too close to home, was irksome in its persistence. Page after page of choppy dialectical sentences about fear, hate, Fury, rage, redemption, were miring me in a pit of hatred toward Frey. I often found myself bored by his hopelessness. What I was not realizing at the time was that he was spiraling the reader to the bottom. Once there, Frey carefully directs us back into the light.

The second half of the book explores Frey’s personal strategies towards not only overcoming his addictions, but overcoming them on his own terms. His struggle demonstrates that if we look inward and harness our individual power to connect with simple truths and choices, we can bring about change in our lives.

Readers of this blog know that the topic of addiction is a very personal one for me. In my last post I claimed that perhaps we are all addicted to a variety of things in our lives, but what Frey’s books showed me was that this view may not necessarily be true. Normal people do not face the struggles he does, that we do. Our addictions are not only with drugs or alcohol, but also with the constant struggle of addiction itself, the constant need to consume and annihilate the world, to use it up, the constant need for more more more. I can relate to this hunger in a very real way. I was never addicted to crack, never slept in the street, never lost my job or family, but I have sat in many a dark room alone contemplating my demons. Frey paints a very vivid and relatable world of what it feels like to be a prisoner to addiction. The constant battles we face, giving into and resisting temptations.

Nothing beyond desires exist. Intertwined within my mind they think we are one, but I know they control me. We argue and yell, threw bottles against walls, as if rage were a practical remedy. Let us be. Let us not need. I am gone. Empty eyes stare, but reveal nothing. When did you become my enemy?

In the novel, Frey often talks about his battle with an uncontrollable Fury. He explores the roots of the Fury and finds them sprouting in his childhood. An ignored and misdiagnosed ear infection results in two years of agonizing pain for the two-year-old Frey. His cries are ignored and as a result his therapist feels Frey developed a sense of abandonment and pain. Coupled with an addict’s genes, it is not a far reach to see how his life spiraled to rock bottom. Frey himself argues that addiction is a series of choices, and that we cannot blame childhood trauma or poor genes for our addictions, but reading the book made me examine my own rage, and I tried to track its source.

My search led to some places that even I keep private, but I realized that my childhood was one long scar still healing. This self-exploration made me see the various traumas in my life and how they led me to be so angry and self-destructive. Filled with suicides, abuse, exile, and loneliness it is a surprise I didn’t end up homeless or in rehab. I did however, see a pattern develop in the types of people I gravitate toward. Through Frey’s words I began to hear a repeating voices of my heros:

Elliott Smith
Eddie Vedder
Kurt Cobain
Anthony Kedis
Hunter S. Thompson
Henry Miller

Any one of them could have been the narrator of A Million Pieces. All scarred. All healing. Some fight on. Some quit. But we all share the pain of the struggle. In our words, my own, Frey’s, Smith’s and the rest, we hope to find solace and peace. I hope through these words you find peace and understanding as well.

Like Frey, I pride myself for moving past my addictions or better dealing with them on my own terms. I still feel such guilt and shame for not being able to fully “appreciate” everything I have. I know I have a great life. I know I am strong. I know I am doing “well.” But the doubt and the pain still exist. This is the nature of the struggle with addiction. Nothing is ever enough.

He uses the iChing and I turn to Zen. The fact that they are very similar philosophies reassures me in the power of their simplicity. But that is for another post. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with addiction in any form, or for those of you that want to better understand the mind of an addict. The prose can become tiresome, but give it a chance and see if it can open some doors and shed some light for you as it did for me.

Whether the story is true or exaggerated is a moot point. Fiction is designed to help us better understand the world and our role in it. This book does just that!


  1. I think I'm going to have to pick up this book. Thank you very much for your blog and your post.

    I don't know if I've ever heard anyone discribe themselves as "gutted", but honestly it is a word that fits me perfectly. As an addict I know that SO much of my soul has been robbed. And I can only blame myself for that. I make terrible decision, OVER and OVER again. I feel so empty. It's like I'm not really living, but floating though life, seeing it as a kind of buffet for my addict. What can I have today that will get me closer to that unreachable high?

    I even feel like a failure as addict. My friends in recovery have found help from a Higher Power (God). All I see is people who have been able to fool themselves into thinking that there is a Higher Power who gives a damn about who they are. How can I ask God to help me through my "cushy" life, when there are people starving and dieing at this very moment?

    I'm rambling how. Thank you again for this opportunity to vent.

    Have a great week!


  2. I came here looking for something on the book 'old path white clouds' but loved few of u r other blogs too. I can so very well realte with the ideas as if of a friend... from old times.

  3. I’m reading a book at the moment that deals with overcoming addiction that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is involved with this issue, either personally or through family/friends. The book is called "Alive", by Eileen DeClemente, and it’s her personal struggle through years of addiction, both alcoholic and drug-dependent. According to the book she had her first drink at 11 and battled with addiction for around 25 years – the book shares her victories as well as her defeats and really brings home the damage that this sort of thing can have not only on the person with the addiction but those around them.

    Some people compare it to Frey's book but personally I found it a hell of a lot more "real" and compelling.

  4. eileen6:49 AM

    Hi, My name is Eileen Declemente and I am the author of ALIVE and a very humble one at that. One thing I have learned in sobriety is life is what I make it and every day I try so darn hard to make it the best it can be sometimes I have no control because of my alheimer's but that is okay because today I still find my way back to reality. I thank god for that because I stil consider myself young and I have a lot in my life to be grateful for. I hope my book touches the lives of who reads it and gives you something to hold on to. Thanks eileen