When I read about author James Frey in Poets and Writers July/August magazine, I marked in red the part where Frey said: Alcohol is not a disease. It is a choice.
I have always believed that. I was surprised to hear someone say it. I was more surprised because Frey was an alcoholic.
To say "I'm an addict and I'll always be an addict" seems self-fulfilling. What else could you be? I say this without being ever having experienced drug or alcohol addiction. But Frey proved the philosophy works. He proved it by staying sober.
Then when I read Frey was a fan of Charles Bukowski, I knew I had to read his book, A Million Little Pieces. Bukowski writes like no other, sparingly and raw and raunchy. He curses. He writes a lot about alcohol and sex.
In Frey's memoir, recently picked for Oprah's book club, Frey winds up in Hazelden, a well-known drug and alcohol rehab clinic in Minnesota. He gets there after a long and viscious spree that should've left him dead. He gets there at age 23 in the worst physical shape, from his decaying teeth to his rotting insides. He spends much of the beginning of the book violently vomiting, describing the toilet as a familiar friend, and describing the contents of his stomach.
Frey uses literary devices such as repetition of a word or a phrase. He writes sparingly, never uses quotation marks and disposes of proper punctuation. He gives the Fury in himself life by capitalizing the Fury. He curses plenty.
Hazelden uses Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program, and Frey fights it all the way. Instead he leans on a book his brother gave him, Tao Teh Ching, which offers simple wisdom such as: "There is simply what is and that is it," "Detach and become," and "Let go of all and you will be full." Eventually he passes the book along to Miles, one of his friends at the clinic, an addicted clarinet player and judge. Miles, like all the men at the clinic, is looking for hope.