Today I am beyond thrilled to provide you a review of the novel My Fair Junkie, written by Amy Dresner–who writes for many of the same sites I do (and more) but has been doing so for a lot longer–followed by an exclusive interview and then (yep, there’s more!) a chance to win a free copy of this honest and revealing book about addiction, mental illness, and recovery. I know I missed a week of posting. I hope this incredibly cool interview and contest makes up for it.
Amy Dresner is a former professional comic and everything-fiend. She’s been a writer for theFix.com since 2012. She’s also written for The Frisky, Refinery 29, Salon, Addiction.com and Daily Tonic/Vice. “My Fair Junkie: A memoir of getting dirty and staying clean” published by Hachette in September 2017 is her first book. Find her on Twitter: @amydresner, Instagram: @amydresner, and Facebook: @amydresnerofficial
Review of My Fair Junkie: A Memoir Of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean
These days, it’s not as hard as it once was to find a writer willing to share her experience of mental illness and/or addiction–at least on some level. It is, however, extremely hard to find one who is willing to put it all out there, even when “it” is pretty damn unflattering in the eyes of the conventional world. Amy Dresner is that rare writer. She shares her experience of methamphetamine and alcohol addiction, sexual promiscuity, mental illness, and various forms of rehabilitation with gut-wrenching honesty. Her writing is visceral but not exploitative; emotional but not pathetic; blunt, but respectful. It’s a book that leaves readers rooting for Dresner even as she leaves them to seize on the floor from a speed shot.
Yet even though she reveals sides of herself that make her sometimes looks downright psychotic, reading her book–to a downright psycho like me, at least–feels like hanging out with the bestie I always wanted but never had. Dresner’s willingness to indulge in self-criticism without getting whiny, describe the grit of addiction without glorifying or demonizing it, and even admit the nuanced reality of 12-step recovery makes My Fair Junkie a rare gem among a new barrage of books that claim to tell-all but instead often just rant. Well Dresner rants, but she also bears her truth, and the outcome is a must-read memoir.
Dresner comes from a rather well-off background. This means we see what addiction and recovery look like for those with resources and supports. I have mixed feelings about that. Often in the movies and other media we experience the hollow-eyed, stereotyped addict living out of a van. That gal (and guy) exists–I’ve been her. I strongly believe we need to hear more from her–a whole lot more–but a lot less about her. The impoverished “junkie” needs her say, too. That’s why I write what I write. But I think it’s also valuable and necessary to understand that addiction doesn’t always look like a guy wrapped in a dirty blanket on the street, and Amy provides that insight. Join her journey, and in doing so read the rare writer who can pull off lascvious sex scenes without sounding pornographic or overpitiful. Yep, you get all that in My Fair Junkie.
I highly recommend this book; especially to those who have family members or friends going through addiction and wish to gain better understanding about what you loved one is experiencing. You won’t find a memoir more frank or relevant on the market today:
Exclusive Interview With Author Amy Dresner
What inspired you to write this memoir? Lots of people experience addiction, but not everyone writes about it at all, much less a whole book. What made you want to tell this story, and what are your hopes for it?
I’d had been writing for theFix.com for over 5 years and readers would write to me and say “I love your articles! You need to write a book!”. The truth is I’d been chronicling stuff for “a book I would someday write” for years. But writing a book is a different animal than writing editorial and I’ve always been afraid of words like “narrative arc” and “structure” and “outline”. However it was the obvious next step.
I wanted to tell this story because I wanted to give people hope. Period. I also wanted to help give people that haven’t experienced addiction (or don’t truly understand it), an inside peek into the compulsive unruly mind of the addict, the yearnings, the emptiness, the self-loathing.
I also wanted to help break the stigma. I’m the exact type of person with the specific upbringing that you’d think none of this stuff could ever happen to. I wanted to show the world that addiction happens to everyone. It is evilly equal opportunist.
I’d say hopes for the book are being fulfilled. I get messages everyday by people saying that they laughed, cried, cringed and more than anything were inspired.
How long did it take to write?
Once I had a nice fleshed out 150 pages that my agent approved, I had six months to finish. So I’d say all in all, nine months.
Was it ever triggering to write about these experiences? Did you ever relapse because of it, or need help getting through certain parts?
It was definitely triggering to write about this stuff but not in the way that you’d think. I never wanted to use. It was more about getting flooded with self-hatred and shame and confusion. I didn’t recognize the person that I was writing about but yet I know I could be back there in a second and it was hard to hold those two contrasting thoughts at the same time. That cognitive dissonance was upsetting.
I never relapsed but I did take breaks writing some of the heavier stuff…especially the parts about my sexual addiction which I found truly challenging to be honest about.
At the end of the book, you describe what sounds like one of the first “healthy” (ish) romantic relationships you’d had in a while, but then on The Fix you recently published an article about five reasons why you might never date a normie again. Can you tell us what happened there at all, or how you’re doing now?
You missed the piece before that on the Fix called “My First Sober Heartbreak” that is well….a fucking heartbreaking piece of writing. I’m not exactly sure what happened. It wasn’t my choice. He had a lot of “life stuff” happening and I don’t think he felt equipped to be on what he called “the rollercoaster of the book stuff”. He sort of just disengaged and shut down. Maybe he just fell out of love with me. I really don’t know. I always knew he was a “flight risk”.
I survived. I didn’t fuck my way through this break up. I lost a lot of weight (and I’m already slim). I started smoking again. I cried a lot. Now I just feel sort of shut down, closed for renovation. I’m focusing on my career and not jumping into anything new. The upside of that relationship was that I showed myself that I could be a great girlfriend and I didn’t know I was capable of that before. I was and can be a good partner but in trying to prove that, I think I gave too much. So lesson learned.
You write about having mental illness in addition to addiction; do you think these play(ed) into each other at all?
Oh God yes and I know I’m not alone. There is a high comorbidity between substance abuse and mental illness. I’ve always been depressive so uppers were an attractive way to self-medicate. And in general, I’m still moody and will always be a person who has big feelings. Although I don’t think my addiction is the direct result of my mental illness (I know there’s a huge genetic component from family history), I think my mental illness and instability made it harder for me to get and maintain sobriety.
What role did/do friends and family play in your addiction and recovery?
Neither my close friends nor my family ever gave up on me. My parents continued to put me into rehab after rehab, never losing faith. My mother is sober for almost 40 years. I have a lot of sober friends now that I stick close to. I think both my parents went to Alanon briefly but didn’t really connect to it. My father coined a phrase when he was going to Alanon that they still use up in Ashland: “You used to be able to ruin my life. Now you can’t ruin my lunch!” I feel very grateful that my parents stuck by me for so long. It wasn’t looking good there for awhile…
You wrote some unflattering things about AA and said you’ve gotten some pushback from that…but you also seemed to have stuck it out. Why did/do you keep going–do they also offer something helpful in spite of these issues?
I talk openly and honestly about the sexual predatory behavior and bizarre power hierarchy that arises in AA. Some people think that will put newcomers off going to meetings. I disagree. Also I wasn’t writing a book for or about AA. I was writing a book about my experiences, good, bad and ugly.
I still go to meetings and have a sponsor and sponsees. I believe the program is very helpful to some people, myself included. The basic ideas are not new: amends, surrender, service. These can be found in the world’s religions and psychology. I think the AA program is basically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy if you remove the semi-religious component. My bone to pick, if I have one, is with the behavior of people in the fellowship and that fundamentalism and righteousness that some people in the program adopt.
In your mind, what would the “perfect room” look like?
They’re not just in my mind, I go to them. I have meetings where people share honestly, are modest, self-effacing, humorous, inclusive. They exist. They tend to be smaller meetings where people know each other, respect each other and there’s no jockeying for some fake social capital. It’s just a bunch of alcoholics in a room sharing their truth and helping each other. No ego, no agenda.
If it’s not too triggering, can you talk about what the allure of speed and other drugs were, even while you were having seizures and almost dying?
Speed made me feel superhuman. I felt connected to everything, was endlessly creative, bursting with energy, full of confidence. Until it didn’t.
Cocaine was different as I was shooting it. But it was like this euphoric rush, followed by boundless shaky energy and horniness.
And both made me feel immune to the world. They were my armor when I felt too fragile to be on the planet, being me.
What keeps you sober now?
I know using is just not an option anymore. I’ve had a real shift and there’s no going back. Plus I’m older and I’m afraid I would stroke out or die. I also have mad respect for my addiction and know that it takes me to really dark places extremely quickly. I’ve done the experiment over and over and the result is always the same: bad. I also have a healthy fear of my epilepsy. I finally have it under control with medication and I’m not interested in playing around with that… despite how much fun flopping around on the ground, breaking teeth, cracking your head open and losing your license can be.
Are there things you still struggle with that you’re willing to share?
I put down the cigarettes but now I vape again like a douchebag. I wish I didn’t use that crutch of nicotine but it’s something I am using right now. Won’t be forever I hope. I struggle with meditating and going to the gym. Those two things make me feel sane but if I miss one goddamn day, which I have, I lose my mojo and it’s super hard to start again. I’ve very addict-y that way. I’m doing something everyday or I’m not doing it at all.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was a little girl. I used to write stories when I was young. My father is also a writer so it’s been something present in my household since as long as I can remember. I wrote for some magazines in college but it wasn’t till 2012 that I started writing again professionally.
Sex scenes are notoriously difficult to write, and your book has a fair share. How did you pull them off?
Did I pull them off? That’s good to know. I just told the truth. Again my dad wrote soft-core porn in the 60’s so maybe I inherited the sex scene writing gene. I wrote those scenes like I was telling a friend. No frills, no embarrassment, no embellishment. Just bare bones. And as I said, that stuff was the hardest to write. It’s hard to be really really honest about sex, especially when it’s sport-fucking or you’re being treated like a piece of meat.
You have a really blunt writing voice–what’s the thought behind choosing to tell your stories and ideas in this really direct way that some other writers on similar subjects shy from?
I don’t really feel like I “chose” that voice, that’s who I am. I am blunt, filterless so I’m just writing the way that I am. It never occurs to me : oooh, that’ll embarrass people or piss them off. I just write my truth. That’s all you can do. It’s just you and the page. And from the messages I receive, it is exactly that “rawness”, that “realness”, that people find refreshing and connect to.
Do you write on other topics or are you exclusively an addiction/mental health gal?
I’m mostly confessional, autobiographical. I’ve written some interview and reporting pieces for the Fix: book reviews, movie reviews, etc. I’ve written some stuff about relationships. I can write about anything. I just have to care about it.
Do you have plans for another book, or what’s next for Amy?
Yes another book. I don’t want to be a one hit wonder. I have some ideas but nothing concrete yet. We are actually in negotiations for a series based on “My Fair Junkie” so that’s exciting.
Final thoughts or advice to other writers hoping to publish a first book (*cough* me *cough*)?
Build your platform. Agents and publishers want you to come in with an audience base. Write for magazines, websites, etc. That’s just the name of the game now. Have your own unique voice and a great story to tell. Be fearless. And don’t read reviews or comments! As the cliché goes, “If everybody likes you, you are doing it wrong.”
Thanks for coming on Betty’s Battleground, Amy. I love you book, but may relate to your interview answers EVEN MORE. I hope one day we get to meet in person, or maybe even collaborate on something. You a truly awesome. For now..let’s give these readers a chance to get a free copy!