William Cope Moyers begins his memoir with an action film flourish. A desperate man is holed up in a rundown apartment in inner city Atlanta, men pounding on the door and demanding he come out. We soon learn that the apartment is a crack house, the desperate man is Moyers, and the cinematic, tension-filled scene we are reading is actually an account of an intervention initiated by his family.
It is a strong opening. It is also the first suggestion of a recurring flair for drama that could remind some of the too-dramatic-to-be-true approach of a James Frey. That author’s discredited pseudo-memoir, A Million Little Pieces, has managed to remain a best seller despite clear proof that much of it’s self-aggrandizing posturing was made-up. It is a given that the publishing industry needs to sell books. However, this all too often results in sensationalized addiction stories that quickly catch the book buyer’s eye and pander to curiosity more than encouraging understanding or compassion. Fortunately, Moyers and his co-author, Katherine Ketcham, avoid this approach.
Broken relies less on moments of drama and more on a commitment to depicting the real impact of addiction and recovery on everyone involved. This means, for sure, Moyers, who offers many an honest and unadorned expression of past or current states of mind, (courtesy of excerpts from journals he kept throughout his recovery). But it also means the reader gets to read the words of others close to the addict, including Moyers’ father, the journalist Bill Moyers. These other perspectives, from family, friends, peers and professional supports, provide a thorough and honest account of the impact of addiction. The pervasive fact that addiction effects everybody is likely to become a cliché if it is not shown and described with the kind of openness and depth that Moyers and Ketcham demonstrate throughout this book.
While effectively telling the story of one person’s journey through addiction to recovery, Broken is also something like an anthology of 12 Step Wisdom. Using his pre-recovery self as test subject, Ketcham and Moyers make sure that as many facets of the 12 Step approach to sobriety are utilized and explained. This may not sit well with those readers critical of the dominance of 12 Step Philosophy in substance use treatment and the disease-model of addiction in general. However, the candor with which Moyers describes his behavior during his drinking and drugging days, and his detailed sharing of what his thought process was like during the thickest periods of resistance and despair, should quell many suspicions of undue bias. Overall, Broken is a hopeful and conscientious addition to the growing number of books about addiction and recovery.
© 2008 Bruce MacDonald
Bruce MacDonald is a mental health case manager and co-facilitator of a concurrent disorders group working in Toronto, Ontario.
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