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Recovery's New Poster Boy: A Famous Addict Shares His Bumpy Road to Sobriety

Bill Clegg's first addiction memoir shocked readers. We talk to him about his follow-up -- and his newfound fame

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My involvement in her recovery and connection to her was the thing that stopped me from walking through that door. Somehow the pull of my feeling of usefulness and responsibility to Polly was greater than my desire to use. That was the first time anything stood between me and a drink or a drug. And I turned around and walked away. Very soon after that, the obsession to use and to drink lifted, which was something that hadn’t happened in all of the time that I had tried to get sober.

To me that reminds me how important it is to stay connected to other people in recovery. To me recovery is sort of moving from the first-person singular to the first-person plural. For me as an addict, I can get very consumed with my own anxieties and worries and struggles and ambitions. And if I get too wrapped up in those thing and lift away from my usefulness to other addicts, I’m most vulnerable to relapsing.

In the book, you enter a lot of spaces in which people are meant to be anonymous. There must have been tension between describing the people and wanting to preserve their privacy.

I felt very comfortable talking about my experience getting sober without naming the program of recovery that I’m involved in. And in the instances where there are people in the program that I got sober with and who are still in my life, I spoke to them about the fact that I was going to describe our experience and went to lengths to protect their anonymity and their privacy and followed their lead in terms of what they were comfortable with and what they weren’t. The main point is to transcribe my struggle to get a toehold in sobriety and maintain it. I didn’t feel that the focus of the book is on anyone else’s recovery necessarily, outside a handful of relationships that I had and still have.

One person in the book about whom this question arises is the character of Asa, whom you describe extensively as he helps you during your early sobriety. I’m assuming you weren’t able to get his permission to write about him.

I didn’t think so. He was, he made it clear at a certain point that he didn’t want to have any contact with me because he was no longer sober. But I’m very happy to report that he’s come back into recovery and is sober. He knows that he is in the book, and that he is well masked. I went to great lengths to protect his privacy.

You’ve been the rumored “muse” of a few projects that have gotten coverage in the media in the last few months. How does it feel to be the subject of that kind of attention?

I don’t really have anything to say about that.

One of those projects, the film “Keep the Lights On,” recently got a distribution deal. Did you have any participation in that?

I guess I can’t really speak to any books or films that any other people wrote that I may or may not be connected to by speculation in magazines and elsewhere. It’s not my place.

Fair enough. Going back to your book, the most famous recovery memoir in recent years is the controversial “A Million Little Pieces,” by James Frey, which you allude to in the book. Did other recovery memoirs affect your way of thinking about this book?

You know I haven’t read, probably very consciously, other books of addicts and recovery — but particularly in the last seven years, when I’ve been involved in working on these two books. People I got sober with would use this phrase, “compare and despair.” I probably internalized that while getting sober and set out not to read other books about addiction and recovery when I was writing these. I would probably think they were better writers than me, or be affected by it so I just felt like in the writing of these books, I just had to follow my own instincts.

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