Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Letting Go of Pieces

One thing I re-learned in the Family Program at Hazelden was the necessity of letting go of things I can't control. Especially the behavior of an addict.

Reading James Frey's A Million Little Pieces made it tough to just let it go, because the book seemed so fraudulent and even harmful.

It wasn't just his self-portrait — I am so fucking bad and so fucking tough and so fucking fucked up and irredeemable and wounded and being the most stubborn and intelligent and desirable and totally fucked worst addict ever in detox who only cares about the truth and not this God bullshit and is the only one who can save myself such a lost fucking cause and even though the odds are a million to one still I will try. Will. Try. Alone. — but also, his portrait of recovery.

I can't speak for what Frey truly experienced, but he made up more than his criminal record. This new spokesperson for sobriety clearly wasted his time at Hazelden, refusing to listen, ridiculing what he did hear, and supposedly subverting every rule and protocol of treatment. He came out less intoxicated by substances, but still intoxicated with himself. (Page 394, for example, boasts 62 "I"s and 14 other first person pronouns.)

I'm not supposed to be judgmental, either.

Working the 12 Steps has helped, but it's thanks to Heather King, a memoirist and Hazelden alum, that I no longer feel the obligation to speak out or detail my long list of the inventions and contradictions and inanities in the book. Her piece in Publisher's Weekly does the job:

Drama is the movement from narcissism to humility, but Frey is exactly the same at the end of his story—minus the drugs—as he is at the beginning: an insecure braggart without a spark of vitality, gratitude or fun. "A ballsy, bone-deep memoir," Salon.com called it, but for any alcoholic worth his or her salt, throwing up blood, puking on oneself, and committing petty-ass crimes in and of themselves couldn't be bigger yawns. What's gritty is the moment, knowing you're dying, when the world turns on its axis and you realize My way doesn't work. What's ballsy isn't just egomaniacally recounting your misdeeds; it's taking the trouble to find the people you've screwed over, looking them in the eye, and saying you're sorry. What's bone-deep—or might have been if Frey had done it—is figuring out that other people suffer, too, and developing some compassion for them. Oprah speaks of "the redemption of James Frey"—but redeemed from what, and by whom? Sobriety, in my experience, isn't the staged melodrama of sitting in a bar and staring down a drink to prove you've "won"—as Frey does upon leaving rehab. It's the ongoing attempt, knowing in advance you'll fall woefully short, to order your life around honesty, integrity, faith.

So, in fact, is writing. It's every writer's sacred honor to "get it right," but perhaps the burden falls heaviest on the memoirist. As a memoirist, it seems to me, something has to have happened to you that you're burning to tell. You've undergone some kind of transformation that matters not because it says something about you, but because it says something about the world; because it touches on the mysteries of suffering and meaning.

(via and the family buick)


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