Tuesday, October 11, 2022

A Tale of Addiction and Self-Aggrandizement

"A True Life Story of Addiction and Recovery," the subtitle to many a celebrity's memoir goes. These books sold so well that even the commoners began writing them and the publishers published them. So many flooded the market that addiction stories ran the risk of becoming boring, but writers soon figured out that they could still get money and fame if they beefed them up just a little bit. Along came James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and even Oprah fawned over it. Frey swaggered through prison cells, busted jaws, was on police most-wanted lists. A most harrowing tale of addiction and recovery, it was. The publisher was so anxious for a sure-fire best seller he didn't even bother to check the writer's story, which, of course, turned out to be a fraud. It didn't stop the addiction/recovery chronicle train though; so many of them came rolling off publisher assembly lines they soon became cliche. And then someone attempted to uncliche the genre. Nice try, but it still came out as a bunch of solipsistic bullshit.

The Night of the Gun by David Carr (subtitle: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own) is yet another addiction/recovery story without much more to say than the thousands that came before it. What the author did, however, was find a different way to say it. He packed up all his video and audio recording equipment, got in touch with all his old friends from his drinking and partying days and asked, "Hey, why don't I interview you talking about me?" Amazingly, they fell for it and we have a first person story not told in the typically narcissistic first person fashion. Well played, Mr. Carr. Very well played indeed.

Not all of the book is filled with his friends talking about him into his microphone. He, of course, has to take over some of the narration himself. Using bravado similar to the above-mentioned Mr. Frey, he often describes himself as a thug, and once as a "friendless thug." The "friendless" adjective doesn't jive with much of his story—playing Frisbee with his college buddies, phoning people to ask for advice on how to proceed with recovery options, road trips galore, and a family that constantly worried over him (his brother contacted David's creditors and worked out reduced payment plans for him). And of course "thug" doesn't really fit either, Carr was from a middle-class family ("My dad was and is a success by any objective definition," he says at one point, although he also whiningly claims that the $20 check his father gave him when he dropped Carr off on his first day of college bounced).

The machismo bluster gets embarrassing in places. "I can do a threat assessment when I walk into a room. I know how a cop acts when he is trying not to act like one, and that the smoother a bad guy is, the more menacing he actually is." There are times where he mentions slapping his old lady around, applying touches of regret and contriteness in an attempt to conceal the bluster. He makes no attempt at all to conceal the bragging, however, when he says that most people in the party, drinking, and doping lifestyle are wannabees, sometimes even referring to them as civilians, ostensibly assuring the reader that Carr is the real deal here. He even scoffs at someone else's unnamed autobiography, saying, "I knew he made it up."

You've got to hand it to him in one area though—name dropping. He begins one new chapter by telling us about partying with his buddy Tommy. A few sentences later he refers to this same drinking buddy as Tom. Then, he mentions his drinking buddy's wife—Roseanne. Could it be? Yes! Turn the page and there is a photograph of Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr. Well played again, Mr. Carr. Later in the book, after he's gone through more rehab stints, we are treated to a photograph of him and his young daughters with Barbara "Say No To Drugs" Bush. Autographed, of course.

A narcissistic whiner, a solipsistic attention whore, he goes through the endless revolving door of rehab, AA, therapy, and then throws the addiction/recovery memoir on top of it all to boot. AA meetings that start with "My name", "I am", and then endless yapping about yourself is a perfect home for people who believe themselves to be the center of the universe. Many drinkers, maybe even most, have woken up one morning to a "never again" hangover. They don't, however, rush to the phone and tearfully beg friends or relatives (who would very quickly tire of it) to take them to a detox center or rehab facility yet again. Between crying to his friends for help and getting them all 86'd from their favorite bars, Carr appears to be the epitome of the "high maintenance friend."

Carr expresses gratitude to the Minnesota taxpayer for funding much of his treatment. When he flopped into the Hennepin County detox, his caseworker Bob Olander hooked him up with state funded treatment. Many people flop into that particular treatment facility, most of them destitute and nearly wasted, but almost none of them get referred for taxpayer funded treatment. Olander referred his friend for treatment on the state's dime because Carr was a "white guy with skills and family." Poor familyless bastards without a vocation would be shown the door after their 72 hours were up with an encouraging, "Stay off the bottle, son."

He includes a 12-point sobriety checklist of uplifting vacuous slogans. Certainly he would get nods of agreement with obvious maxims like "Don't Drink. Go to meetings." Of course he throws in the old standby "Trust God." However, one of his aphorisms is quite puzzling here, even if it's the most important and relevant one: "Avoid writing or reading junkie memoirs."

What Carr doesn't get, like most rehab/therapy/treatment addicts don't get, is that it is their neediness for other people that is the source of their own misery. The stupid antics they pull when bar hopping with their buddies out of need for attention, the bragging/whining over those same antics that they repeat ad nauseam to anybody within listening distance, and then the desperate need they have for people to tell them, I worry about you, demonstrates their infantile clinginess to other people. Carr wrongly states, "A drunk alone with himself is in a terrible neighborhood." Yet it is these solo drinkers, those who drink for the love of booze alone, not drinking to impress and shock a pack of drinking buddies, that rarely end up begging drug/alcohol counselors to save their sorry asses.

About a third of the book isn't even about addiction/recovery at all. He tells us what a great writer, reporter, and editor he is. To put a veneer of humility on it, he adds that he needed to work on his management and people skills. Still, it's not enough to prevent an eye roll at the full-of-himself strutting around. Other included irrelevant side shows are an overly detailed account of his diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkins lymphoma and a "where-I-was-on-9/11" story.

There are too many moments of embarrassingly laugh-out-loud irony here to list them all. Perhaps the most absurd was when he stated, "Memoirs that ridicule recovery programs make me laugh." Carr himself, after having failed numerous times in recovery programs, can't recommend them heartily enough. Most people get themselves back on track after a bender simply by spending a day on the couch with Alka Seltzer and an ice pack. The downside, of course, is that they deprive themselves of the chance of writing a self-indulgent 400 page addiction/recovery pity party.

Hugh Blanton is the author of A Home to Crouch In. He has appeared in Dear Booze, The American Journal of Poetry, As It Ought To Be, and other places. He can be reached on Twitter @HughBlanton5