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'Portrait Of An Addict': One Man's Rise And Fall

By the time Bill Clegg had reached his mid-30s, he'd checked all the boxes that would allow him to be defined as a success.

He was running his own literary agency. He'd come to terms with his sexuality and was in a steady relationship with another man. He was earning a good salary.

But there was something else: Bill Clegg was a crack addict. And all those outward trappings of success collapsed over a period of two months in 2005, when his addiction took over his life.

He recounts the story of his prolonged drug binges, extravagant spending and promiscuous sex in his new memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man.

Clegg tells NPR's Guy Raz he first started writing while he was in rehab.

"I was writing down memories of that period of two months when I was doing drugs 24 hours a day," he says.

"It was sort of like surfacing from a nightmare," he says. "And in that same way that one surfaces from a dream or a nightmare and you're aware of certain details, I sort of had this sense that they were going to disappear, and I'd no longer have access to them.

Clegg says his time in rehab was fraught with paranoia and that at times he couldn't distinguish between truth and illusion.

"So I felt like if I wrote down as much as I could remember then, later I would be able to distinguish between illusion and reality," he tells Raz.

The drugs pushed Clegg out of his business, away from his boyfriend and near death:

"I was furious to be alive. ... I actively tried to end my life with an overwhelming amount of crack cocaine and a bottle of sleeping pills, and a bottle of vodka," he says. "There was a very conscious expectation of not making it."

But Clegg did. He has recovered his life and lived to tell about it. He says that part of his recovery is remembering the pain of his habit and sharing his story with other addicts and survivors.

"In that way, I'm perpetually re-examining, re-occupying that time and the harm that I caused," he says. "When I wrote this, obviously many of the memories and the specifics of them were very painful. Its very difficult for me to remember the pleasure in the drug, because it was so despairing and paranoid and frightened and panicked, and horrible, which is a gift that that is my only memory of it now."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.