I first stumbled across this book when I saw my flat mate, her nose buried in the book, so engrossed, the world seemed to have dissolved around her. On the few occasions that I looked up from my personal work, I would see a variety of emotions paint her face, pain and grief, being the most prominent. Two days later, she stormed into my room, book in hand and said the seven words that would change my perspective on life, in ways I had never imagined; “You need to read this book. Now.”
Once she gave me a gist of what the book had to offer, I knew I needed to read it.
The book spoke of a man’s journey battling addiction and surviving it. There were two reasons in particular that were fuelling me on. It is my personal belief that people who suffer from depression, tend to have addictive personalities and I wanted to understand better, the source and growth of addiction. Also, someone who at the time was very dear to me had just accepted their own addiction and I (having lost two friends to addiction) was hell bent on helping my friend out and somehow had the idea, that this book might in some way help.
James Frey talks of his incredible journey battling substance abuse and alcoholism. His brutal honesty, refusal to find faith in anyone but himself and the loyalty he projects towards the ones he considers his friends, during his time at the rehabilitation centre, makes his character unique and interesting to figure out.
Out of the many things that inspired me, one quality of James Frey that I found incredible was his ready acceptance. We, as humans, often find it difficult to accept fault and take responsibility for our actions. James never thought to blame the world or the circumstances around him for the situation he was in. He accepted fault and was ready to face the consequences for being the severe addict that he was.
During his time recovering, James’s brother gifted him a book on his first visit to the rehabilitation centre. This book, along with Leonard (another drug addict), Joanne (his psychologist), Hank (Joanne’s boyfriend and one of James’s first friends) and Lily (his love interest) spur James’s recovery. The book, Tao Te Ching, has the most powerful influence over James. He connects with it unlike the reaction he has to the Bible or the Twelve Steps, which leaves him feeling even more cold and bitter.
The book is a steady outpour of James’s reactions, observations, sensations and thoughts. There are no punctuations, no quotations and no line breaks. Often, it is difficult to comprehend whether the lines are just thoughts swimming inside James’s mind or are they dialogues being spoken between two people. James’s honest writing is extremely graphic as well. His descriptions of pain, withdrawal and anger are painfully raw. Upon reading, there were countless instances when I felt queasy enough to want to throw up, cried unconsolably because I connected with the thoughts and feelings, empathised so strongly that I had to curl up and gripped the book so tightly, the spine of the book almost broke since the pain being described was so real.
Each character described has their own demons. At the end of the book, James lists down what happens to each addict in the centre and your heart mourns and celebrates with each one of them, simply because by the end of it, you feel as though you’ve known them too.
The book definitely helped me better understand how to deal with addiction and made it a little easier for me to help and support my friend. I was also able to overcome the echoes of my own addiction.
James continued on to write another novel titled My Friend Leonard. I am quite keen on getting my hands on it along with Tao Te Ching, simply because I wish to see what in particular the Chinese wisdoms stated that influenced James to such an extent.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested or in search of a good book. It is an eye opener and a brilliant read!