Almost Famous—Until I Got Sober
After growing up in the shadow of her mother, Erica Jong, whose best-seller Fear of Flying made her a household name, the author yearned for fame of her own. She almost had it too—until she stopped doing drugs.
Most of my life, I wanted to be famous. The compulsion hit me when I was very young and watched my mother, the best-selling author Erica Jong, bask in the heady glow of literary fame. Her 1973 novel, Fear Of Flying, was a monster bestseller, and she was on a perpetual book tour. I grew up tagging along—at college readings, in the green room of Donahue, in the back of Town Cars navigating from one jam-packed event to the next. By the time I was old enough to conceive of having a career, I decided I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a famous writer, even if that meant giving up my chance to have children—I couldn't imagine dragging a newborn to a green rooms—well, that was a choice I was more than willing to make. I had watched my mother navigate fame, and I knew it was about sacrificing the things that make you happy for the greater glory.
But when I was a teenager I developed a drug problem that complicated my pursuit of fame. I wanted to be a drug addict. For some people, fame and drug addiction dovetail nicely—at least for a little while. However, I wasn’t one of those high-functioning addicts. Hard drugs, which in an alternate universe might have been one component of my fame (a writerly Kurt Cobain; an American Will Self), did me no good whatsoever. Ultimately, my fixation with heavy drugs didn’t make a bit of difference, since my dubious arc toward fame was cut short the moment I got sober.
But that’s jumping ahead. I never got to be the addict I could have been, but I did get close. By the time I was nineteen I was plowing though a couple of grams of blow (do they still call it blow?) every day. I loved every species of booze: martinis, wine by the bottle (red or white, rosé or Thunderbird—I wasn’t drinking for taste), vodka cranberries, Tom Collins—anything else that found its way into my hand. There were glamorous evenings spent vomiting on the beach, vomiting on myself, vomiting on my mother. There were blackouts, brownouts, nose bleeds, screaming fits, more nose bleeds, lost days, a Valium habit that wiped out my short-term memory; there was an utter depletion of my self esteem, days spent sleeping, nights spent wandering around clubs like Wax or the old Spy bar looking for a guy named Felix who had the “stuff.” I was a mess.
Since I grew up with a vision of myself as a degenerate drug addict, it made sense to me that I would eventually end up in rehab. Plus, it seemed like a very posh thing to do. After all, Liza Minelli went, so did Elizabeth Taylor—everyone who was anyone went to rehab.
My mother finally took me to rehab. It was November 1, 1997, and we flew coach on Northwestern Airlines. I was 19 years old. On that flight I had my last drinks—two vodka cranberries and three glasses of white wine—and some Klonopin for good measure (I remember popping a handful). We landed in Minneapolis, where I poured myself into an unmarked station wagon driven by a good natured but elderly ex-nun (at least that’s how I remember her; there is no actual evidence that a former nun ever drove airport pick ups for Hazelden). My mother took the next flight home.
I had always fantasized about going to rehab. Since I grew up with a vision of myself as a fuck-up, as a degenerate drug addict, it made sense to me that I would eventually end up in rehab. Plus, it seemed like a very posh thing to do. Liza Minelli went, so did Elizabeth Taylor—everyone who was anyone went. And it turned out I was actually pretty good at rehab. At first, I had an aptitude for brown-nosing the counselors in my wing at Hazelden, which was called Lily. I was adept at telling them and the other patients what they wanted to hear. I had the vocabulary of recovery long before I had the recovery.
And then the miracle came. I hate to use the word miracle. It seems so religious, like a word people use in a Red State, but it really describes what happened to me. Anyway, the miracle happened one day when I woke up in my bed in Lily, and I just got it. I got that I had a disease and that if I wasn’t honest, and if I didn’t do everything they told me to do, I was very likely going to die, or worse, not die….