Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Bill Clegg Q&A Part 1: Why I wrote PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT

A couple weeks ago, I reviewed Bill Clegg’s popular new memoir about addiction and recovery, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, without the benefit of contacting the author. I’d had a few questions for him after reading the book, and his people at Little, Brown didn’t get back to me…

But the morning after I filed the review, Bill himself did.

Bill Clegg, author of Portrait of an Addict

Bill Clegg, from his book jacket

He contacted me on Facebook. And while he was on vacation in upstate New York last week, we corresponded about my questions.

He was generous enough with his answers that I’m running them in two parts.

Today in Part I he talks about how he chose the particular style for his memoir, and why he wrote the book.

In Part 2, he’ll talk about how he stays sober after five years off crack and vodka.

Q&A with Guinevere and Bill Clegg, Part 1

Guinevere: One reason I started Guinevere Gets Sober is to educate readers about addiction, a disease that’s not widely understood in the culture. Your memoir, strictly in the form of a literary narrative, shows a number of myths to be false… And yet you’re getting some critical response, from Amazon readers and elsewhere, for being the only white boy who ever smoked crack: a myth. (My sponsor is a white former crack user, now a doting grandma and successful employee for a major nonprofit. I mean, I know this could read like, “I have A LOT of friends who are white crack-heads!” I don’t mean it that way. I hope you know what I mean.)… How did you commit to the literary narrative form, and to excluding any contextualizing information about addiction and recovery that might have helped dispel more myths?

Bill: I’m not a sociologist or an expert on addiction or alcoholism.  And when I was trying to get sober there was no expert’s theory or finding, no statistic, and no context that could help me. The only things that could help me were other alcoholics and addicts and the stories they told me of how they used, what that was like, how they got sober and what that’s like now. I found myself in them and I discovered, finally, that I was not alone. And the stories I related to were from people of every race, every economic background, every gender. One does not have to look the same or come from the same place to identify.

G: Another myth is that alcoholics and addicts drink and use “for the fun of it”, to make life one big party; another is that we’re morally deranged or corrupt.  Is this why you drank and used, or did you find yourself using drugs for other reasons? I saw the narrator using to make himself smaller in his life, to thwart his own potential so he wouldn’t have to live up to it, to sabotage his blessings and achievements (a successful agency, a beautiful apartment, a reliable relationship, etc.) because the sabotage felt more familiar and safe; and to dull historical pain. Does any of this resonate?

B: My drinking and my using was, from the beginning, a lonely project.  I started drinking alone in my room at 12 years old and ended up drinking and drugging in a hotel room alone at 34. The in-between time with people and parties was lonely, too, because I knew I couldn’t drink and drug like everyone else. I would always be worried about getting more, not running out, the next day and the impact it would all have. Also, drinking for me was a way to escape the discomfort of interacting with other people. And the discomfort came because I wasn’t successful, because I was successful, because I was in love, because I wasn’t in love—the discomfort came from everything, and the need to drink and drug away that discomfort was always present.

G: How do you think this book speaks to, say, Rosie and Marcus, and “everyone still out there?” (Maybe they won’t read it, but how have you imagined it speaking to addicts—and those who care about them?)

B: My hope is that the book will illuminate how unmanageable alcoholism and drug addiction is. How horrible, lonely, destructive and deadly it is. I tried for years to just have a few drinks, not ten or twelve; to come home at midnight instead of nine in the morning; to tell the truth to the people I love. I failed at all these things and so much so that I wanted at the end only to die. If anyone recognizes themselves at any point in the story and sees the direction it went for me, sees where it will go for them and it frightens or educates or inspires them enough to step off and get help and not go where I went, then having the book in the world will have been worth it to me. I dearly hope Rosie and Marcus found their way out of the darkness of addiction and into sobriety. It is such a miserable life as an active addict and a dangerous one—and on the other side, sober, there is a life for them and all like them that is beyond their wildest dreams.

Go to Part 2


  1. G – thanks for this great interview with Bill Clegg. I’m looking forward to the next installment. I’m forwarding your blog site on to my daughter – 93 days clean and sober – a ‘former’ (is this an accurate term?) heroin/crack addict. Much of what Bill says regarding his addiction is very similar to what my daughter has expressed. It helps to read it, and ponder it, and process it all towards a better understanding of this devastating disease.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to Bill and posting this thoughtful interview!

  3. hi g,

    i’m going to the beach on vacation next week and i’m buying this book to take with. thank you.


  4. Very interesting interview. I thought it was interesting that the reason for drinking/drugging was a general discomfort with everything. How painful that must be.

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