December 22, 2004

Into the Frey

I finished reading James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces yesterday. Another memoir of a multiple drug abuser in a rehabilitation center. (The other one I read, and enjoyed, recently was Augustin Burrough’s Dry.) I don’t know why I have such a fascination for drug addicts and alcoholics, but there have been many in my life, more than I would like to recall. My Big X was an amphetamine addict for at least half of the thirteen years I was with him. Then came some part- and full-time alcoholics. One of the worst abuser was a heroin/cocaine/etc. user/dealer. And I always lied to myself about the reality of it all.

I have never been very good with the stuff myself. Was too close to the edge already. Not very interested in trying much, never tried cigarettes, didn’t even like coffee without lots of milk, didn’t enjoy the aftereffects of most substances. A little is nice occasionally. (But I have had a checkered history with prescription drugs, during my marriage, a story for another time, was once hooked on sleeping pills, when I didn’t want to be there, with him. I stopped cold turkey one day, didn’t sleep for a week and soon my marriage was over. And now I am big on vitamins and herbal remedies, something of a mental addiction, you could say, but I don’t ever want to get into any emotional dependency relationships with pills of any kind.)

I’ve found other ways to avoid facing problems. Denial, spacing out, wishful thinking. But if I were to go into the psychology of my attraction, I would label it a combination of poor self-esteem and misplaced compassion. Life is difficult. No doubt there. The First Noble Truth is “The Truth of Suffering.” It moved me into (Buddhist) meditation. It’s been a hard lesson: suffering does not disappear, just how you work with it, how you relate to it. Moving into oblivion through chemicals is understandable even if it doesn’t really work to end suffering, only causes more.

The style of Frey’s writing is intriguing: run-on sentences with little if any punctuation, repetition of phrases, on and on and on, capitalizing words mid-sentence to emphasize their importance. At the beginning it was very effective, enticing, verbally portraying the allure of drugs and the state of mind of an addict. There were times though when I would have loved to be the editor, cutting out so much repetition and clarifying some of his sentences, taking out a few words that didn’t seem to help. I often wondered why, when he did use commas, how he decided to use them. Were they used when his brain was functioning better (in his rehab experience), more grounded or was it an editorial oversight? And as usual in books like this, I found the dialogue during the therapy sections of the book a bit stilted and didactic.

But the story of his experience in the rehab center was another one of those fascinating (to me) books, the ones that keep me reading long into the night, preferring reading to sleeping. Different from Burrough’s story in Dry, Frey did not accept “The Program.” He faced his situation without the assistance of the “Twelve Steps,” didn’t believe in God or any other kind of higher power. He came to understand, through the help of his parents’ revelations about his very early childhood, probably the source of his rage that led him to addictions. That and a small book of Taoist sayings his brother gave him were the major events of his reconstruction as a workable human being. (Taoist sayings such as “If you understand that all things change, constantly change, there is nothing you will hold on to, all things change. If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t do. Trying to control the future is like trying to take the place of the Master Carpenter. When you handle the Master Carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.”)

A serious alcoholic from the age of ten (to the point of passing out almost daily), at twenty-three he knew that if he drank again it would be immediate suicide. He came to the understanding that everything is a decision. Events do not make a person do things, behave as they do.

James: Every time I want to drink or do drugs, I’m going to make the decision not to do them. I’ll keep making that decision until it’s no longer a decision, but a way of life…………………….I’m going to live my life. I am going to take things as they come and I will deal with what is in front of me when it is in front of me. When alcohol or drugs or both are in front of me, I will make a decision not to use them. I’m not going to live in fear of alcohol or drugs, and I’m not going to spend my time sitting and talking with people who live in fear of them. I am not going to be dependent on anything but myself.

It takes an enormous will to live this way. Very few people have that kind of inner discipline. It would be a very different world if they did, for sure.

Posted by leya at December 22, 2004 01:23 PM