For most of my life, I understood alcoholism and addiction the way many people do: as an outsider, distanced from the disease, ignorant and judgmental to the pain and suffering it causes. As someone who has had multiple family members and friends struggle with addiction, I only understood the disease in the ways it impacted me. I got used to being hurt by their actions and their complete focus on drugs and alcohol. I never understood why they chose this path in life, why they risked losing everything, why they never changed even after being thrown in jail or visiting rehab time and time again. I constantly wondered: how could they be so selfish?
However, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to realize this wasn’t a choice they made willingly. No one chooses to be dependent on drugs or alcohol. The experience that completely changed my perspective on substance abuse was reading the book “A Million Little Pieces” by James Fray. A family friend of mine gifted me this book when I was 16 and told me it deeply impacted her, and she thought I might learn something from it. At the time I didn’t think much of it and placed it on my bookshelf with the twenty-some other books I had waiting to be read. When I finally got around to pulling it off the shelf again, I was mesmerized by the words Fray had to say and his experience battling addiction, alcoholism, depression, and suicide.
“A Million Little Pieces” is a memoir that documents James Fray’s harrowing experience of his six weeks in rehab after battling addiction for ten years at only twenty-two years old. Fray doesn’t spare any detail when writing this memoir; he accounts the entirety of his time in rehab, from his original detox off meth and every other drug in his system after his latest months-long binge, to his constant suicidal thoughts that fueled his addiction for years. Fray does not glamorize any second of his experience in rehab and refuses to romanticize the years of drug-induced haze he lived in throughout his teens.
This book is written in a conversational manner that immediately grabs the reader and sucks you into the horrendous realities of someone struggling with addiction. By writing directly and up-front, Fray’s matter-of-fact style of writing makes you feel like you are experiencing rehab with James. I felt like I was a part of his experience. For the first time in my life, I was viewing substance abuse from a first-hand experience instead of being on the other side of the addiction. Fray’s memoir made me put myself in their shoes and understand that no one chooses this life, and it is not easy to escape it.
Even though I have never struggled with substance abuse myself, I still resonated with many of the things Fray discussed, especially his battle with depression and overcoming trauma. Fray isn’t afraid to put all of his emotions on the table and ask tough questions about mental health and the realities of someone battling a substance use disorder.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is struggling to understand substance abuse and/or has family or friends battling addiction, especially if you would like a very personal and real account of the damage addiction can cause. I hope to read many more accounts from individuals who have struggled with addiction to better understand these perspectives and to keep educating myself on substance abuse.