The risk of doing this book was worth it because of those who are in it and because I've seen the desperation in people's eyes when they asked me, "What happened? How did you change?" I heard them tell me to write about recovery so that others might get the message and find what I have found. There are an estimated 22.6 million people in this country (9.2 percent of the population age twelve and older) struggling with substance abuse, and many more family and friends who often are just as tormented by the addiction as the person who is afflicted. It became apparent to me that with so many suffering and fewer than 10 percent getting any treatment at all, a book like this might not only be useful to those touched by addiction but also be instrumental in the effort to change public health policy, and to address the bigger question of what we, as a nation, pay attention to.
I remember showing up on the Washington Mall in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol to interview my cousin Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who excitedly told me that in 1969 Bill Wilson (the cofounder of AA) had spoken in front of a subcommittee of the United States Senate where he said that in the future, "AAs" would be free to express opinions about alcoholism if they spoke not as members of the group, but as private citizens." That future is here.
The doing of this book was both a giant pain in the ass and a gift of indescribable proportions. Asking for and scheduling the interviews was just as bad as I'd thought it would be, but every single time I sat down with one of these brave human beings, all the frustration fell away and I got caught up in the great drama and beauty of their "moments." Each conversation, for me, was a spiritual experience, one that enriched my own journey.
Based on his treatment of alcoholics, the psychologist Carl Jung was convinced that recovery was impossible without "a transforming experience of the spirit,"* and that was my focus of inquiry with each of the interviewees. I asked them to describe their moment of clarity—when that transformation began—in as much detail as possible. Then we talked about the changes in their daily lives, and what they understood about their transformation now that wasn't obvious to them then. Many of the people in this book felt it important to contextualize their experience of spirit and tell, to one degree or another, what it was like before their moment occurred. I left portions of these passages in, so far as they illuminated the experience.
These moments are as unique as the people who experienced them, and that's part of the magic. Some people embrace the notion of a Christian God, while others explicitly reject organized religion. Some are led to sobriety by dramatic, even near-death experiences, and others begin the journey with purely internal changes. But these moments share a deep, profound power, one that ignores class and celebrity, changing the lives of those in desperate need.