I had told my tale, but recovery is a bigger subject than just one person; there's a community of voices out there, and each voice has a different story. The message couldn't come only from me. I knew a lot of people who had put down the booze and chemicals—people who took their own path toward sobriety—and all these different experiences were important. I realized that a collection of these stories, in different voices, would be more meaningful and powerful than any single recollection could be. There were two things that united us all: one, we were all addicts, and two, as recovered addicts, we had all experienced some form of what I call the "moment of clarity." So I decided to interview those people I knew who had something to share and who were willing to open up their lives in order to serve as inspiration to others.
I sent out e-mails to four people I knew in recovery. The response surprised me, leaving me with a sinking feeling that getting people to share an intimate, profound moment that altered their life forever might not be as easy as I had imagined. The movie star I had known for years and who I was sure would say yes—said no! He didn't want to make pronouncements about recovery or pose as an expert. The other movie star, someone I barely knew at all, said yes without reservation. A man I'd known in recovery who had a story to tell wanted to keep it private. Then there were the journalist and the rock star, both of whom I never heard back from.
Clearly the road to getting people to open up about their "moment" was going to be bumpy and full of unexpected turns.
A good friend told me, "Don't worry, Chris. Whoever's meant to be in the book will just show up." And that's pretty much what happened. I kept asking people, looking for people, letting people show up.
An old friend I had no worries about pulled out at the eleventh hour, saying, "I just don't want to dredge all that up again. The last time I talked about my recovery the newspapers crucified me." Several others had second thoughts as well and pulled out of the project at the last minute. I began to understand why it is so difficult to change the way we view addiction in this country. If accomplished, talented, well-thought-of members of society are wary about the stigma of the disease of addiction, what about those with less power and standing?
I came to understand in doing this book just how difficult it is for addicts and alcoholics to stand up and talk about their disease, whether because of stigma, misunderstanding the tradition of anonymity in twelve-step programs, or the very real threat of losing one's livelihood or insurance coverage. Claiming one's recovery publicly is an act of moral courage often resulting in nasty consequences, occasionally coming from those in the recovery community itself. A friend sent me an e-mail where he went on a bit of a tirade about the "racket" of the new wave of "I'm in recovery," where addicts and alcoholics play fast and loose with programs founded on anonymity. I didn't write back to explain that the tradition of anonymity in twelve-step programs didn't mean one could not speak publicly about their recovery but that it simply governed their anonymity with regard to their membership in the particular twelve-step program.