Regaining Normalcy

Ninety Days, by Bill Clegg. Little, Brown, 194 pp.

Most addiction memoirs begin at rock bottom. They work through the rehab and the initial process of getting clean and then they end at sunrise on the day the subject is released back into the real world. And everybody goes home and is happy.

Not so. What makes Ninety Days different is its starting point. Clegg is driving back into Manhattan after six weeks in a mental hospital and a rehab clinic. He is starting completely at zero: he has no money, he has no career, and he has no boyfriend and no apartment.

What he does still have are the cravings. That, he’s very clear throughout the book, will never truly leave. An addict is an addict for life. But for someone who has just recently begun the recovery process, the milestone is to reach ninety days. Ninety days sober, it’s all it takes.

No one besides Dave knows exactly where I am. I could be doing anything. I’ve been in-patient for weeks, under the thumb of nurses and doctors and counselors the entire time. No more morning gatherings, group meals, and in-bed-by-ten room checks. I’m alone and uncomfortable.

Before rehab, before the mental hospital and before his previous book, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, Clegg was a literary agent with a successful relationship and a comfortable life.

In the time that it takes him to reach ninety days, Clegg figures out how to live his new life. Manhattan was the place he fueled his addiction, and coming back to that place is difficult; he must find a new lifestyle in his old location:

I’ve lived in New York for twelve years and I feel like I’ve never been here before.

Ninety Days is as much of a self-help book as it is a memoir. Clegg shares his story in order to help others in the same position. Through the help of his sponsor and the friends that he meets at the series of meetings he attends each day, he’s able to find a sense of normalcy in recovery, and he’s able to understand what it truly means not only to depend, but also to be depended on:

The idea [to call his dealers] sparks and with it a craving to use and then the plans to figure out how I can. Each of these times I think of Polly or Lotto or someone in the rooms counting days who I’ve given my number to, and each of these times I stop long enough to call Jack or Asa or Annie, and by the time I do the urge passes. And then, miraculously, the cravings disappear. The thoughts still come–I expect they always will–but the craving doesn’t follow.

Even for the non-addict, this book is a powerful read. In truth, everyone is an addict of some form. As humans, we have an innate tendency towards obsession. Whether the addiction is food, alcohol, drugs, or something less external, this book is a must-read first step in understanding the power of community, and the power of overcoming that which controls us.

Ninety Days became available in hardcover on April 10, 2012

This review was originally written for the Spencer Daily Reporter

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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