In the mid-1990s, Kristen Johnston was starring on the hit NBC series “3rd Rock from the Sun,” alongside the revered John Lithgow and budding heartthrob Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She won two Emmy awards for her role, and the opportunities seemed endless as she snagged movie roles and endorsement deals. Meanwhile, she was struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol, which eventually led to a major health scare—a stomach ulcer that ruptured while she was on the toilet. She describes her rock-bottom moment in detail in her new memoir, “Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster.” Johnson was hospitalized, and entered rehab shortly after. She writes candidly about working toward sobriety—her story is her own, but it’s not unique. Take a look at these memoirists who bottomed out and lived to tell their tale.
New York Times reporter David Carr chronicled his descent into addiction in “The Night of the Gun.” As his drug use spun out of control, Carr lost his job and became a father to premature twin daughters. He recalls driving to a crack house with the babies in tow, leaving them in the car, and entering the house to get high. The night served as a turning point for Carr, who took the moment of extreme despair and turned it into a motivation for sobriety.
Known for his “did that really happen?” stories of his childhood, Augusten Burroughs picks up where his best-selling “Running With Scissors” left off with a sobriety memoir, “Dry.” Burroughs was a functioning alcoholic until his employer asked him to seek treatment, which he completed at a rehabilitation facility. The real battle begins when Burroughs arrives back in Manhattan, completely sober, a month later.
Joshua Lyon’s experiment with Vicodin started as research for a Jane magazine article. After purchasing some pills on the Internet, he spiraled, and ended up completely addicted to painkillers. In his memoir “Pill Head,” Lyon looks beyond his own history of addiction to address the problem on a greater scale, reporting on what he calls Generation Rx, and why it is easier than ever for young people to get their hands on potentially dangerous drugs.
In “Drinking: A Love Story,” Knapp details her life as an alcoholic, blackouts and hangovers included. Because of her privileged background, Ivy league credentials and success as a journalist, few suspected she had a problem—and even as her disease was taking control of her life, Knapp remained adept at painting a portrait of a person without a problem. She entered rehab at age 36—she said Pete Hamill’s classic “A Drinking Life” helped drive her to sobriety—and died six years later of breast cancer.
It took 20 years of sobriety for Pete Hamill to tackle the subject of his past experience as an alcoholic. His “A Drinking Life” moves from his childhood in Brooklyn to his days boozing in the New York Post newsroom with co-workers. Hamill isn’t shy about how alcohol changed his life, nor is he romantic about the struggle to stop completely—but he has not looked back.
Wurtzel became famous for her first memoir, “Prozac Nation,” which centers on her depression and the prescription drugs she relied on to ease it. Later, however, Wurtzel turned to other drugs, including the kind you can’t get at a pharmacy. From Ritalin to cocaine, she consumed and snorted in a quest to find happiness. She documented the events surrounding her addiction in “More, Now, Again,” a book which also gives her account of how she eventually stopped drugging.
Whether “A Million Little Pieces” is bitter truth or part-myth, one thing is for sure: James Frey was at one time addicted to alcohol and crack. His descriptions of his horrible experiences and eventual detox were enough to get Oprah hooked on his prose, and even if you take it with a giant grain of salt, his memoir is a gripping read.