Amy Dresner: The Interview

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September 11, 2017
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Amy Dresner has been a literary trailblazer in the recovery world for quite a while now, since her days of writing at The Fix, as well as her current gigs with Addiction.com and Psychology Today.  Amy has a voice that speaks out loud and its brash and it’s funny and it’s ever so honest.  I met Amy online over a year or so ago, as I admired her work in The Fix and really enjoyed reading her true story articles of living in recovery.  I started emailing with her and we’ve been able to connect and become friends, because that’s what sober chicks do – we reach out to others that inspire us and whose work we can relate to.

 Amy’s memoir, “My Fair Junkie” debuted yesterday and she’s getting all the PR and accolades you can imagine.  And, well, she deserves it! I’m fortunate enough that I’ll be attending a book launch and reading this Friday in Los Angeles.  I can’t wait to be part of this magical ride she’s on and  give her a big hug – as she’s one of my inspirations who has been able to help me through some of my sober life challenges. 

 I enjoyed getting candid with Amy last week about her book and the experience of writing it.  I hope you will too.

 Interview with Amy Dresner

N:

You’ve been writing for a very long time and I’m surprised you hadn’t written a book yet; what prompted this for you, besides being clean and sober?

A:

Well I am 4 ½ years sober now. I’ve wanted to write a book for a while, so I had been chronicling my drug abuse, depression, etc. for years.  However, because I kept relapsing, I felt there was never a good arc to the story.  I never LANDED. So where was the story?  Also I was busy being a comic from 2008-2012.  It wasn’t until 2012 that I started writing about addiction and recovery for The Fix.  I think I had shied away from writing a book because I knew it would be really hard and it was!  Writing editorial is easy.   1800 words and you’re out.  A book is 80,000 words. I’ve been writing for The Fix for almost 5 years and I kept getting letters from readers asking me when was I was I going to write a book.  I told my former editor and he said I already had a book; that I could use some bits from my Fix pieces and use my community labor as the structure. At that point, I also felt that I had a transformation that was powerful enough and permanent enough that I was comfortable writing a recovery memoir.  And then it all happened very quickly.  My friend Amber Tozer, who had just gotten a book deal for ‘Sober Stick Figure’ passed on some of my writing to her agent, Peter Steinberg.  Peter absolutely loved my writing style.  We set up a phone call where I pitched him my book idea and then it was off to the races.  Peter has been amazing. He held my hand through the whole process, nicest guy ever – and he’s a good Jew! I wrote the first 50 pages and sent them.  He was like “slow it down by half”.  That’s the problem with being an ex-tweaker and from moving from editorial writing to book writing.  You have to learn to slow it down, have recurring characters, and then take them on a journey.  It’s a totally different animal.

 

N:

What has been the hardest part of the writing process for you?

A:

Reliving some of that stuff.  It was an emotional roller coaster writing the book.  I had to going back into that headspace of active addiction and suicidal idealization but without any excuses, denial, or substances to numb out. On top of it, I now had insight into all my behavior thanks to recovery.  But I knew that if I didn’t show the readers what an asshole I was then it would be impossible to show the transformation.  There was a lot of stuff I did NOT want to write about, but I forced myself to do it because I knew I had to be as honest as possible, no matter how bad it made me look. Fix readers have written to me and thanked me for being so honest in writing about the shameful horrible things I’ve done and that’s the main reason I wrote this book: so others know that they are not alone.

 

N:

How do you feel now that the whole world (or most) knows your story and in so much graphic and insightful detail?

A:

I feel really vulnerable.  I’m prepared that some will think it’s overly explicit or self-exploitive and judge me.  But those are not the people that the book is for.  Some people will think I’m brave but I don’t think I’m brave. I don’t know how to write any other way.  I don’t know how to polish or dilute things.  That seems dishonest in an addiction memoir anyway.  It’s not like I’m running for office.  But I will admit I was surprised (and yes thrilled) about how positive the official reviews were.

The way I deal with my shame is that I write about it, expose it.  I’m not that person anymore – thank god – but I did do those things.  I did the best I could at the time with the tools that I had.  I was in so much pain in this early sobriety that I picked up everything I could to numb out except for drugs and alcohol:  self-harm, nicotine and especially sex. It’s tough to be a woman and write about sex addiction and being the perpetrator of domestic violence.  Society sees those as primarily men’s arenas but they are equal opportunity, believe me.  I’m remorseful for those behaviors but I can’t go back and change what happened.

 

N:

I really liked how you would find something, like a syringe when you were doing your community service, which then brought back a memory for you.  Then you’d be able to go back into your story and share a specific incident.  Was that something that came easily for you?

A:

I had 20 years of struggle and relapsing and I didn’t want to do a linear addiction book. It thought that would be boring and repetitive.  I decided I would use things that I saw on the chain gang as a vehicle for a flashback where I could go back and tell some of those stories from my past. The late David Carr, the writer of “The Night of the Gun” had flashbacks in his memoir, and he is someone I really admired. People are layered and I wanted to talk about important things, besides being a self-absorbed violent junkie.  I did have some redeeming qualities.  I wasn’t just a drug addict.  For example, I worked for a quadriplegic while living in San Francisco and it taught me a lot. Here I was a Beverly Hills princess at 24 with a trust fund but I was helping someone who literally couldn’t get out of bed. I loved feeling needed.

 

N:

Throughout the book you wrote about your sex addiction, specifically on Pages 78 and 79, where you were talking about Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous – is that an experience you gained much from for your sex addiction?

A:

I didn’t feel like SLAA helped me. I know some people swear by it and think it’s the graduate program of AA.  Maybe I wasn’t ready for it.

I found the program to be very extreme, pathologizing everything.  There were very few people who ever raised their hands to sponsor and it made me think there are a lot of sheep, but not a lot of shepherds here. My AA sponsor told me that if did the steps in AA all the other stuff would fall away.  And that’s what happened.  The more I did the steps the more the other behaviors fell away.  I really believe that food addiction and sex addiction are just forms of alcoholism.  They both involve escapism, doing something to change how you feel.

 

N:

On page 83 there is a very witty and funny last paragraph, where you were talking about a girl in one of the SLAA meetings who was complaining about all the hugs she gets in the rooms, and your comment back to her, “Oh honey, I wish my problem was just hugs.  Try getting fucked by twenty-eight year old AA newcomers in the back seat of your car, and then we’ll talk.”

A:

Right, so when one gal said that she felt weird because people were giving her inappropriate hugs, I just couldn’t relate.  I then went to SAA, which is Sex Addicts Anonymous, but I was just cringing while 12 dudes talked about escorts and jacking off to porn. I didn’t relate to them either.  I related to the feelings of emptiness and loneliness but not the craigslist encounters.   I did find one female SAA meeting, and that’s in my book.  I made everyone extremely uncomfortable when I used the term “bone” as a verb.  They were horrified.  To be completely honest, when you’ve had a needle in your neck, it’s hard to take these programs as “life threatening diseases”.  Some experts say that sex addiction doesn’t really exist. All I know is I had a period where I was doing things compulsively that I didn’t want to do.

 

N:

I loved how you described your characters.  Specifically each person whether it was the physical part or a part of their persona, is that how you normally write or did you feel you needed to emphasize that for the readers and as a reminder to yourself, to remember the vivid details of that scenario?

A:

As a writer and former comic I am always observing people. I wanted people to get a clear sense of the characters but in a nice compact way.  I’m not a fan of long poetic excessive description. That’s just not my writing style. I’m too blunt for that. I feel different from other people (hi alcoholism) but especially other women.  I feel weird and goofy and sort of masculine, so I’m always comparing myself.   I’m a lanky desert Jew with a low-voice.  I tried to highlight that in the book  – how different I was from the other girls in the sober living.  An example was when my roommate was wearing Lululemon to the gym and perfect white sneakers, and I’m standing there in my crappy paint-covered sweats, old torn rocker t-shirt and dusty tennis shoes

 

N:

What is your hope for the book?

A:

Of course, my hope is that it sells well.  My dream is for it to be made into a series or movie. It has some really funny and rich characters.  People love stories where somebody falls from grace, hits the skids but then perseveres and puts it all back together.  But my true hope is to help break the stigma of addiction and mental illness. I grew up in Beverly Hills and graduated magna cum laude and none of this (rehabs, psych wards, jail) was in my game plan.  Addiction is an Equal Opportunity disease.  My “adventures” taught me a lot of humility, the universality of everything, and that we are all capable of anything.

 

I want to be involved in working with the mentally ill homeless at some point. I know that if it weren’t for the generosity of my friends and family, it could have easily been me.  It breaks my heart when I see them and I want to do something to help. I know there’s a way out.

 

Clearly we know Amy is capable of anything and everything, and in her story she finds her salvation and redemption, as her candid and illuminating Memoir shares.   The hope for her Memoir is a gift to anyone who needs hope or wants to not feel so alone, and to also be entertained.  As someone who has also gone through the trenches of recovery, Amy’s memoir showed me just how much Hope she does give to her readers, and to the recovery community as a whole.  Add in a slice of wit and entertainment, Amy’s memoir will have her readers laughing, crying and cheering for her the whole way through! 

 Bio on Amy:

Amy Dresner is a recovering drug addict and all around fuck up. She’s been regularly writing for The Fix since 2012. When she isn’t humorously chronicling her epic ups and downs for us, she’s freelancing for Refinery 29AlternetAfter Party ChatSalonThe FriskyCosmo LatinaUnbound BoxAddiction.com and Psychology Today. Her first book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean will be published in September 2017 by Hachette Books. Follow her on Twitter @amydresner. http://amydresner.com/

 

Amy Dresner_Wendy Hall Photography

 

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