When you're doing coke for days on end alone, you don't imagine that you'll one day be telling CNN audiences about your addiction, let alone focusing your entire career on the topic. The coke-for-days thing is your secret, a deeply shameful one--not something you'd tell a lot of acquaintances, let alone strangers.
And then one day you realize this is exactly what you're doing.
So how do you get from coke on the couch to telling Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes about your former habits?
It was a few years after I got sober, when I realized that addiction was one of the most misunderstood topics out there, that I started sharing my secret life with the world. I, like most people, had always assumed that what was interesting about addiction was--well, addiction. You like substances a whole hell of a lot and do them until you can't do them anymore.
That part is actually, I came to see, incredibly boring. Doing cocaine night after night was eventually tedious to even experience so writing about that is almost inconceivably boring. Ditto boozing. Who needs to read passages about liquid gurgling down someone's throat and bottles piling up in the corner? What's fascinating about addiction is something I couldn't understand until I got sober: the way the addict's brain works and how that causes us to need to drown out the way we think with substances. People always talked about cravings and relapse and rehabs and drug-replacement but no one outside the 12-step world seemed to be discussing what precipitated--and thus could help arrest--addiction.
Landing on a seemingly misunderstood topic like addiction was thrilling.
Before that, my career had been primarily focused on celebrity coverage. But one day it became clear to me that everyone knew what Julia Roberts was going to say, since the Julia Roberts' of the world have publicists who urge them to say as little that's revealing as possible. When I saw that, celebrity culture suddenly seemed boring.
I have to confess that my passion for sharing about addiction isn't entirely altruistic. As a chronic attention-craver, part of my enthusiasm for the subject has to do with the fact that it's slightly shocking (less and less all the time, of course). I seem to intrinsically believe--whether it's true or not--that being an addict, even a sober one, makes me interesting. With celebrity reporting, I was really just a person who had the ability to press "record" on an electronic device.
The first time I wrote about drugs was for a 2004 Details magazine story about the Hollywood executives that were doing meth (this was actually breaking news then because it was back in the meth awareness dark ages, when people thought, as I wrote in the story, that the only people who did it were "dentally challenged characters on Cops or gay lotharios cruising bath houses").
I'd never enjoyed doing an article so much. I also loved to watch the most intense drug movies I could find--Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream being the ones on permanent loop. I relished when Christopher became a coke addict on The Sopranos. I swallowed Celebrity Rehab and Intervention whole. It was like I switched from drug addiction to media about drug addiction.
And so it seemed natural in a way that my first book would be about addiction. My first novel, Party Girl, a not terribly popular 2007 release, was the most thinly of thinly veiled accounts of my own experiences as a celebrity wannabe in 90's Hollywood. I created a character that was as self-absorbed and clueless about those character defects as she was about her burgeoning coke problem. In the novel, her narcissism only increases when she gets sober and is hired to do a column called Party Girl documenting her fabulous Hollywood life. (This, alas, was something of a departure from what really happened. I was indeed hired to write a column called "Party Girl" for Premiere magazine but it was really just a collection of quotes from celebrities that I gathered on press lines and at events where I was usually treated like a servant doing bidding.)
In other words, fiction, in terms of plot, was far more glamorous than truth. But the protagonist's personality was, I felt, accurate because it was based entirely on most addicts I know--people who subconsciously think they're the piece of crap in the center of the universe, feeling deserving of adulation while also consistently having cruel and self-hating thoughts.
The biggest synapse problem I've observed among addicts, in addition to the constant superiority-inferiority seesaw, is the fact we're addicted to manufacturing fear. Again, this is something I could only see when I was sober. Before that, I had thought of myself as fearless--I go on live TV and speak in front of large crowds! I rappel down buildings! I must be fearless, right?
In recovery I've learned that it's the tiny things, the things so-called normal people don't even think about, that make me quake. Say, being around someone I've very close to and not having enough to say. Say, managing sadness that may creep up. Say, people I love dying.
I don't mean that I'm sort of scared of these things. I mean that I am terrified of them. And my terror doesn't manifest itself with the thought "I'm scared." It comes up as depression or indifference or even nausea. I'm too scared, in other words, to even allow myself to feel scared and so my psyche finds a way to mask it into something I feel equipped to handle.
Recovery, of course, gives me an opportunity to work on my superiority-inferiority seesaw and fear addiction, which have improved immeasurably over the years. But Party Girl's lead character, Amelia, got all my issues and some. As a result, I received plenty of feedback that Amelia was unlikable. Though I was occasionally offended (I was always very open about the fact that she was based on me), it also made me feel like I'd accurately depicted an alcoholic personality.
My point is this: sharing these oftentimes not discussed aspects of alcoholism with people through writing has been incredibly gratifying and liberating--especially when people respond that they relate to it.
Still, writing about recovery isn't without its serious drawbacks. I've felt embarrassed that I've made such a big thing about being an addict. I've had people I know write Facebook posts deriding me for certain pieces and God knows how many negative comments on different articles. But it's a funny thing when you find a topic you're passionate about: you kind of let the naysayers say their nays and then move on. Yes, writing about addiction and recovery can be challenging. But so is writing about something you don't care about and pretending you do.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.