During the last several years, I've read more books about addiction than I can remember. Scientific books, self-help books, memoirs, books about rehabs, etc. If there's a book out there about addiction, chances are I've read it. Or it's on a bookshelf waiting for me to read it because my wife and I have our own little addiction library at home.
The other day, on a day off from work, I finished reading one of the better memoirs I've read. In fact, I read the entire book in one sitting, which is unheard of for me. (I'm a pretty slow reader. I'm a perfectionist and I like to read slowly so I make sure I don't miss anything. It's a sickness, really.)
The book that had me hooked right from the Foreword--and made me spend most of my day off on the family room couch--is GUTS: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster by Kristen Johnston.
Johnston is an actress who is probably best known for her Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Sally Solomon in the late-'90s/early '00s comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun. She currently stars as Holly Franklin in the TV Land comedy The Exes. She's also a recovering addict.
GUTS is an incredibly honest, sobering (pun intended), and hilarious memoir. Hilarious in parts for sure, thanks to Johnston's wicked sense of self-deprecating humor. But the book is very serious, too. After all, addiction in and of itself isn't really funny.
One of the most serious and honest parts of the book takes place while Johnston is hospitalized in England on New Year's eve 2006:
"....I heard a loud bang. Because I'm from New York City, I almost ignored it, assuming it was just someone being murdered. Then, out of the corner of my eye, a burst of orange. I looked up from my bed out the window, and I saw the most glorious, enormous splashes of color lighting up the skyline. Fireworks! I could even hear the 'oohs' and the 'aahs' floating up from the celebrating crowd.
To this day I don't know exactly why, but for some mysterious reason, this was the moment that sanity finally chose to break through the madness that had held me in its iron grip for so many years. With no warning, I was struck by this thought:
There are people in that crowd who are looking at the same fireworks I am right this very second who are STONE COLD SOBER. There are people in that crowd who don't feel the need to touch the back pocket of their jeans constantly to make sure the six pills are still there. There are people in that crowd who are simply enjoying the spectacle, without wondering if they have one refill left at the pharmacy, or if they would have to call yet another doctor. There are people out there RIGHT NOW who are with their loved ones and are just happy to be alive.
Grief overwhelmed me. True, real sorrow not for me, but for finally seeing the truth of what I was. A selfish, self-serving, loathsome creature who did nothing to better the world. I finally truly felt the weight of all the pain I had caused, all the tears that had been wasted on me, all the gifts that had been given to me that I had just carelessly frittered away, and all of the thousands of hours I had spent obsessing about something as ridiculous, boring, and stupid as me.
I don't want this life anymore, I thought. I can't bear who I've become."
That's some powerful stuff, isn't it?
So is this, which is my favorite passage from the book:
"I knew that I needed to start accepting that I was me--and I needed to do it pronto--because life, it is short. And the very notion of spending the rest of my life still desperately wishing I was anyone but me? Unacceptable."
Take it from me: GUTS is a book you'll start reading and won't be able to put down. And when you're finished with it, you'll admire the hell out of Kristen Johnston for putting her addiction, her life, and her soul "out there" for everyone to see. And for helping to break the stigma associated with addiction. ("I believe, without a doubt, that the shame and secrecy that shroud the disease are just as deadly as the disease itself," she says in the book's Epilogue.)
It should also be pointed out that Kristen has donated a portion of the book's proceeds to SLAM (Sobriety Learning And Motivation), a group she formed that is dedicated to starting the first sober high school in New York City/New York State. You can learn more about SLAM at SLAMNYC.org.
"Silence equals death.
I won't stay silent any longer.
I hope you won't either."
(Note: Excerpts from GUTS are © 2012 by Kristen Johnston. All rights reserved. You can follow Kristen on Twitter at @kjothesmartass; visit the GUTS website at http://www.gutsthebook.com/; or preview and buy the book--and read its terrific reviews--at Amazon.com.)