Monday, April 23, 2012

Ninety Days

 Bill Clegg
New York, Little Brown, 2011
191 pages     Memoir

Addiction and recovery is in the words of Bill Clegg “…a slow narrowing of a life until the loneliness causes enough agony to instigate change.” This is the story of one man’s finding his way out of the loneliness and into a changed life.

I am totally overwhelmed by this intimate look at one man’s struggle to get clean. One does not have to read Clegg’s previous memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, to pick up Ninety Days, read it and then pass it on to a friend or relative who is struggling. Someone said about Clegg’s first book “it turns out there is room on the shelf for one more addiction memoir…” I would say the same about Ninety Days. I couldn’t put it down.

Bill Clegg is a literary agent, a recovering addict, and an outstanding author. His is not a unique story; it is a story told over and over in recovery rooms around the country. What is unique about Clegg’s story is that it is not self-serving or self-pitying, as are many such memoirs, and that is what makes it all the more powerful. What he does in his writing is get into the mind of an addictive personality in ways that those of us in a non-addictive world can begin to understand addiction. He writes; “That craving, once it begins, is almost impossible to reverse. What my addict mind imagines, my addict body chases. It’s like Bruce Banner as he’s turning into the Incredible Hulk. Once his muscles begin to strain against his clothes and his skin goes green, he has no choice but to let the monster spring from him and unleash its inevitable damage.” 

He speaks to the power of the 12-step program, which has shown that ninety days has been proven to the turning point for addicts. If they can make it for ninety days, they are on the way to sobriety. At the meetings, participants announce the number of days they have been sober. Every time Clegg or one of his friends says “One day” your heart just sinks, because you know that they have relapsed. One of the most touching aspects of the book is the way in which recovering people look out for each other and care so deeply for each other’s recovery. One day after Clegg nearly succumbs to his craving, he is pulled in off the street by a recovering friend. He says, “I look around from sober face to sober face and wonder again how these people found their way. How will I. . .I’m in the room but not of it. Present but not part of. Saved, for a little while, but not sober. Not really.”

When Clegg flounders near the end of the ninety days, I found myself silently screaming, “No Wait! Think of how far you’ve come!” so completely had I become engrossed in his journey. Clegg helped me realize that for an addict, the journey is always just beginning, and an addict is always an addict and always one drink or one hit away from having to raise their hand at a meeting and say “One Day!”

It is also a book filled with hope that makes every day a new day; every day a do-over day. It is also filled with grace—the kind of grace that allows forgiveness, and help without condemnation, both for the person in recovery as well as those who surround him. He says:  “And I think that's the big revelation. It was, for me, going into the rooms of recovery, that my experience was so much like every other person's, and I had just been so convinced that nobody could possibly understand."

I received this book from the publicist. I am grateful for this look into Bill Clegg’s life.  You can find an interview with Bill Clegg on NPR’s Talk of the Nation:
An excellent review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

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