I don’t usually write book reviews. I haven’t considered myself “a reader” in over a decade, because I have the attention span of an over-caffeinated squirrel. That said, I usually avoid celebrity war stories, because I find them either overly dramatic or hollow.
When I heard Kristen Johnston wrote a book about addiction titled guts – The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, I rolled my eyes. I was sure it would be just another whiny af tale; highlighting the “guts” it took to admit she had a problem with Hollywood and all her adoring fans watching.
A friend told me I would absolutely love it, so I put it on the list of books I’ll probably never read, but totally should. I told her I’d get a copy, but then instead (as I often do) I just went on living my life.
One day, after like the 50th time this friend was going on about this book, I conceded. I went to a few bookstores and couldn’t find it. Since Twitter is the best place to bitch about stuff, I bitched. And then I nearly died from shock when Kristen fucking Johnston replied to my tweet and suggested I try Amazon.
I was so rocked that she had taken the time to personally respond to me, and I actually fangirled. It’s important to note, I do not fangirl. I followed her on twitter, and immediately noticed how often she entered into conversation with people reaching out and struggling. She was actually trying to help them.
Is Kristen Johnston the first celeb/comedian to write a book about overcoming something miserable? No. She is, however, one of very few I’ve seen with a hand extended, willing to use her platform to do more than just promote it.
So, I decided it was possible I was wrong in my assumptions about the book and ordered a copy.
I started reading the day it arrived, and loved how wrong I was about the meaning of “guts.” (Sidebar: I do not typically enjoy being wrong). I will not spoil it for you.
As the founder of a non-profit organization, and a woman in long term recovery, I am no stranger to gut-wrenching stories. I feel, as a writer and human-in-progress, testimonies are the most valuable tool in assisting those still very much in the shit. Addiction is a whore, and wants those in its grips to feel alone and misunderstood.
Someone recently told me they couldn’t think of anything more painful than someone living in denial of their addiction. While I totally respect that opinion, I also totally disagree.
True denial isn’t very painful at all; because it’s fucking denial. People who live there don’t know they’re fucked, because they spend a bunch of subconscious time convincing themselves otherwise.
I have spent many years wrapped up, well into over a decade of recovery. Sometimes, I miss the joys of blissful ignorance. Distraction was like a warm blanket – a mask I could feel safe behind – a wall I could lean on and not collapse. In many ways it saved me.
Denial is an incredible coping skill, until it isn’t. Awareness is the dirty sonuvabitch.
I once heard a man say, “ I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” I was 22, and 100% smarter than everyone, so I brushed it off as something weird old people say.
Many years later, I understand.
“Faking it” ‘til we make it can prove dangerous for those of us with great acting ability – especially if we wouldn’t know “it” if it squatted over our face. In my experience, it’s awareness of the horrible things, full understanding of why it’s all your fault, and believing you’re stuck that’s the real killer. Or worse, acknowledgment of the fact that you probably could change things, if you could just step out of your own way, but not knowing how.
“Guts” invites us into Kristen Johnston’s thought process during the worst of scenes, and provides a front row seat for the final act — before the curtain fell. Her writing style is attractive and fun, and flows with the excitement of a rollercoaster ride you don’t want to end. I typically hate rollercoasters (hello – control issues), but I could not put this book down. I was hooked. The celebrity had me in both tears and water-spitting laughter before I finished the forward and introduction.
Her sarcastic (and sometimes dark) humor left me wishing we were friends. Reading about her adoption of “humor” as tool to cope with the angst of childhood had me at “hello.” We also get a glimpse at Kristen’s heart, and I fell in love with the story of “Jay” (seriously, grab some tissues).
There aren’t many people who get “it.” There is no such thing as “normal,” and we’ve all got our shit. Maybe you’ve never gotten drunk and woken up naked in a stranger’s bed. Perhaps you don’t have a box of Hostess cupcakes hiding under your bed in case of emergency. You might not obsess about the fact that the next scratch ticket might have you living on Easy Street for the rest of your life.
But you’ve got something, I promise. We all do.
Kristen Johnston not only gets “it,” she talks about it in a way that doesn’t make you wish you could throat-punch her. GUTS is absent the condescension factor present in so many other addiction/recovery memoirs I’ve read (or attempted to read). She addresses the devastating effects of awareness with so well, I was awed. The non-stop train of self-loathing, the fear of being “found out” and losing the respect of friends and family. And then, out of nowhere, a humor bomb.
It was awesome.
Thanks to every trash mag in the grocery store check out line, we know which celebrity is getting wasted or just entered rehab for the eighth time. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful for those who don’t just disappear and pretend it never happened.
Anyone – celebrity or not – who dares share their experience – especially given the stigma attached – is a hero in my book. But Kristen takes it a step further, and uses her platform on twitter to support and encourage others who may be feeling broken and alone. As busy as she must be playing the funny-as-hell role of Tammy Diffendorf on the hit TV show Mom, she still makes time for human connection and support.
Maybe anyone can write a book about their journey into recovery and sell it – I don’t know. What I do know is not everyone, book or no book, celebrity or not, will continuously gift their vulnerability to advocate for others still struggling.
Kristen Johnston does. And, in case anyone asks, I think that’s pretty great.
This book is a definite YAY from me.
*If you click a link and make a purchase, I may make a few cents for initiating the referral.*