James Frey was 23 and he had already been an alcoholic for 10 years and a crack addict for three. His memoir of six weeks in recovery, A Million Little Pieces, tells an unexpected story. In an unusual, clipped and scattered style, without traditional punctuation or chapters, it seems like he’s written down a sentence at a time on tiny slips of paper and assembled them later. The reader gets to pick of the scraps of Frey’s life very quickly and build a picture with increasing clarity as Frey gains that clarity himself. I’m not sure it’s great writing and I often wonder about the details of the story, but that’s not what interests me about the book (even if it is what seems to captured reviewers imaginations.) Frey doesn’t repeat the usual success story of following the 12 steps to recovery because following the 12 steps [also read Wikipedia's entry], for Frey, is about trading one addiction for another.
Instead Frey completely owns his failures and his success. When psychologists at the clinic tell him the chances against him are a million to one if he doesn’t follow the 12 step program which would require him to give up control of his life to a higher power. Frey responds that he’ll take that chance since it’s the only one he has; he cannot believe in a higher power. What will you do if you’re faced with a choice to drink or not drink? I will choose not to, he responds.
I often tell a story about how, when I was younger I was depressed. Not just sad, but what would probably be considered clinically depressed. It’s not a very interesting story so I won’t bore you hear, but I stopped being depressed by suddenly realizing that it was my choice alone and saying “I don’t want to be depressed anymore.” Often when I describe that story it’s not very satisfying to me or the listener. There’s nothing more to it than a statement. Reading Frey’s tale which is many orders of magnitude more overwhelming than my insignificant late teenage depression we still hear the same solution. “I’ll choose not to.” Not very satisfying, perhaps, but if you get it, amazing.
Frey describes with deadpan strength how he has finally decided to live. I try to live this way too, but I am not faced with the choices he is. He is told by the medical examiners that, thanks to the abuse his body has already endured, if he drinks or smokes crack ever again he will likely die. And still he chooses to ignore the advice of those caring for him and face his addictions head on without hiding behind blame, genetics or God.
Skepticality should interview James Frey. The Infidel Guy should interview James Frey. He is living proof that a rational philosophy can succeed in the face of overwhelming challenges. Is it right for everyone? Frey never says so, but with him around I’ve got a lot more justification for my world-view and at least one compelling argument that faith in a higher power is not the only path to salvation.
Apparently, while Frey seems to have come to his solution to addiction on his own, it’s not a new idea. Check out Rational Recovery for more info.