“James Frey? The guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces? The so-called “Addiction Memoir” that turned out to be complete fabrication?”
Yep. That’s exactly who I’m talking about.
“Well, why should we cut him some slack? He lied to us. He betrayed our confidence. He took something pure and totally corrupted it. Worst of all, he lied to OPRAH!”
Yes, that he did. But before you hold his feet to the fire, there’s one thing you should know about him: His writing SAVED MY ASS…a million times over.
Yep. That’s right. You heard me. That “memoir”, although grossly exaggerated, turned out to be one of the things that helped me get sober. Let me explain:
The first time I read, A Million Little Pieces, I was sitting in a detox hospital somewhere in the armpit of Western Mississippi, trying to figure out how I was gonna escape so I could continue drinking myself to death in the warm comfort of my one bedroom apartment. Unfortunately, this wasn’t just a place for addicts and alcoholics. It also contained a separate wing for those poor souls suffering from mental illnesses like OCD, dementia, and schizophrenia. Since I admitted to wanting to drink myself into a permanent coma, they lumped me into this “high risk” wing with all the other wacko’s.
The place was locked up pretty good. There were bars on the windows, automatic locks on the doors, security cameras in every corner, and a nurse stationed in every hall. I remember there was this outside patio where they would allow us to smoke. The thing couldn’t have been no more than 8’ x 10’ and was completely surrounded by chain-link fence. And when I say surrounded, I mean surrounded. The fence didn’t just stop at certain height we couldn’t jump over. No, it went all the way up and around forming a sort of chain-link canopy over the tiny patio. It was like being under an umbrella made of steel.
So what’s the point? The point is…there was no way out of there. I was stuck for good. And if anyone has been in detox before, they know it’s pretty boring. There’s not much to do other than take your med’s, sleep, and shuffle around like that mute Indian from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Thankfully, one of the nurses took pity and offered me her copy of A Million Little Pieces. She said it was a great read, very compelling, and would help pass the time in between med’s, meals, and sleeping. She was right. Not only did it keep me occupied during those long nights I was kept awake by my snoring, sleep-apnea-stricken roommate, it showed me that maybe, just maybe, one day I could make something positive out of all of this craziness. I mean if someone like this guy James Frey could get clean & sober then why couldn’t I? After all, I didn’t have half the obstacles stacked up against me that “Big Jim” did. I wasn’t addicted to crack, just alcohol. My face and teeth weren’t all screwed up from falling down a steel staircase. I wasn’t forced to go through any painful root canals without any anesthesia. I didn’t have any warrants out for my arrest, at least none that I can remember. And I wasn’t responsible for a train collision that took the life of two girls, one of whom which I was madly in love with.
Of course, it was later found out that most of these incidents were wild exaggerations. For example, there was really only one root canal for which Jim was given Novocain. There were no warrants out for his arrest. He wasn’t an outlaw. And perhaps most egregious of all, he wasn’t responsible for the train collision that killed his girlfriend. In fact, according to The Smoking Gun, the website that famously “outed” him, the family of the girls killed had never even heard of Big Jim.
Was I upset about this? Sure.
Did I feel betrayed? A little.
Did I think James deserved to be castrated by Oprah in front of a live audience? Not really.
James is an addict. Plain and simple. He suffers from a sickness, just like the rest of us. Sure, he lied about the depths of his addiction. But what addict hasn’t? Get this: I once told a concerned classmate that my sister committed suicide. The “funny” thing is…my sister isn’t dead. She’s happily married living in Valdosta, Georgia. So, why’d I say it? Because I needed a reason to explain my irrational behavior. Simply being an “alcoholic” wasn’t good enough. I had to explain why I was doing what I was doing. Plus, this classmate was kinda sexy and I wanted her to take pity on me so she’d sleep with me. Do you think it work? No. Of course not! The whole thing backfired. She found out my sister wasn’t dead and slapped me heartily. Just like James, my deception was discovered. Fortunately, I was only bitch-slapped by one person, not an entire Oprah-watching nation.
So what’s the point? The point is…we all make mistakes. We’re all sinners. We all lie to make ourselves look and feel better. Does this mean we deserve to be crucified in front of a live audience? No, of course not. As long as we admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, there’s no reason we shouldn’t get it. I mean, that’s sort of the whole point of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s right there in STEPS 4 through 10:
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Now, I don’t know if James ever went through these steps with his sponsor. I don’t really care. It’s not really my business. All I know is that his writing gave me the courage to stand up and be a better person. Not only did he show me that recovery was possible, he showed me that everyone, even the most lost and hopeless, still have something to give to this program.
Shortly after the scandal broke out and James reappeared on Oprah, I picked up the pen and started writing my own story of addiction. Originally, it was supposed to be a memoir. But after a few weeks of staring at a blank monitor, I quickly began to realize I wasn’t going to remember much of anything. It seems I had been blacked out so much with what the doctor’s call “retrograde amnesia” that the only thing I could remember were little bits and fragments of trips to the hospital. I knew if I tried to write a memoir, I was gonna have to invent it. Then I’d be the one getting castrated on Oprah!
So, instead of trying to portray the hell of addiction through my own personal story, I decided to portray it through the lives of three fictional characters. The result, which I’ve titled Some Are Sicker Than Others explores not only the ‘incomprehensible demoralization’ of addiction, but also the thin, blurred line between true love and codependency. I’d say it’s about half memoir and half fiction. My girlfriend likes to joke that it’s really memoir disguised as fiction.
Like “Pieces” it tells the true story of addiction and recovery through a cast of very real, albeit “fictionalized” characters. However, unlike “Pieces” it’s still relatively unfamiliar. But I aim to change that. Will you help me?
To get a copy, follow this link on Amazon. The ebook’s only $2.99, or FREE if you’re a Prime member.
If you read the book and enjoy it, feel free to tell me what you thought by writing me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck and Happy Recovery!
(And James, if you’re reading this, I already sent you a paperback copy. If you’ve had a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you thought about it. Thanks!)