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Exclusive Letter from Susan Juby
A couple of weeks ago a friend called and asked if I was on drugs.
 
“Excuse me?” I said, somewhat offended.
 
“My friend said she heard you were on drugs."
 
“Uh, no,” I replied.
 
And then it dawned on me. The new book. There had been a write-up in a local newspaper.
 
I tried to explain. “I am not on drugs. At least, not any more. Anyway, I was more of a drinker, really.”
 
I could sense my friend trying to come up with a polite response and I could understand her difficulty. You see, I’m a clean-living unit. I haven’t had a drink or done any drugs since I was twenty years old. That’s twenty years ago now. Sometimes I forget that I ever had a drinking problem.
 
But I did. I had a serious problem. That's what Nice Recovery is about.
 
The book came into being partly because when I allude to my troubled teen years during talks, people often asked why I didn’t write about that phase of life. (Because I’m not crazy was my instinctive response.) Then, my agent asked if I had any ideas for a non-fiction book. I said I thought a lighter side of recovery book for young people could be good. You know: what to expect when you’re in detox, Treatment Center 101, interviews with young people in recovery, etc. I would write a little bit about my own experiences in there to flesh it out.

Well, as the book developed I was asked to write more of my story and then a little more. Before I knew it, the book contained nearly 200 pages of The Susan Juby Drinky Pants Chronicles as well as another 100 or so pages about recovery and other people’s experiences. (I wanted to call the book: Drinky Pants: A Quitters Tale, but was talked out of it by more sensible people).
 
The more I wrote, the more anxious I became. Was I really going to tell people this stuff? I’d kept my history as a drinker and drug user private. I have friends that I’ve known for nearly twenty years who have no idea why I don’t drink. Was I really the right person to write a book like this? It’s not like I had some spectacular drinking history that involves dead people, trips to Betty Ford or a habit of turning tricks in truck stop bathrooms.
 
One of the reasons I wrote it is that the majority of the people entering recovery (i.e. treatment, twelve step programs, addictions counseling) are young now. The average age of people seeking treatment for addiction has dropped from mid-fifties to early twenties in the last thirty years. People are hitting bottom early and they’re hitting hard. If they’re anything like me, they equate being sober with being bored, and being bored as only marginally preferable to being dead.
 
The truth is that being sober isn't bad (in fact, it's wonderful), but it takes some getting used to. That was a part that seemed to be missing in a lot of the books about addiction. Many seemed to end with a sort of "sober ever after" conclusion or they focused on relapses. Both kinds of stories are important and the emphasis on the addiction part makes sense. Lots of addicts and alcoholics describe their “love affairs” with their substance of choice. When one party leaves the relationship, the story is over.
 
But it’s not, really. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t disappear or get instantly normal or well-adjusted when I quit drinking at twenty. I just got left with my very, very uncomfortable and immature self. Then I had to begin the journey of growing up without drugs and alcohol. I’d been using them as my main coping mechanism since I was thirteen years old. I hadn’t gone a week in seven years without having at least one blackout, or, as I thought of them "personal time outs". Relentless reality was a bit of an adjustment.
 
The book is about what it’s like to sober up when you are young and most people your age are just starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I was never of legal drinking age in the U.S. and could only drink in bars in Canada for just over a year.
 
Young people who are faced with the prospect of sobering up may not have lost all that much "stuff" in the traditional sense because they never had it to begin with. Losing your minimum wage at the pet food mart is not the same as losing your house and kids. That said, even though teenaged drinkers and druggers don’t get a chance to accumulate much materially, our losses are as real as any others. Passions, self-respect, friends, relationships, trust, hopes for the future. All of it gets damaged or lost.
 
Nice Recovery is the story of why I started drinking at thirteen, what I loved about it, what it did for me, and ultimately, what it took away. Drugs are part of my story, but for me they were a bit like the appetizer before a steak dinner. They made everything a little fancier and more fun, but booze was always my main course.
 
After I sobered up I slowly discovered that life outside of the bottle is full of possibilities. One thing sobriety gives those of us who pursue it is the opportunity to get back some of what we've lost. Sometimes we also get things we never dared to hope for. For example, I could never have become a writer if I hadn't sobered up. If you ever read any of the deathsuckingly awful poetry I wrote while loaded, you'd agree.
 
The final third (and my favourite part) of Nice Recovery is based on research and dozens of interviews I did with young people in recovery. The final part of the book explores a variety of recovery options such as treatment centers, twelve step and other programs, as well as therapeutic methods. Those chapters alternate with profiles of young people in recovery, all of whom float my inspirational boat. The people I interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds and are recovering from addictions to crystal meth, pot, heroin, ecstasy, pharmaceuticals of all descriptions, as well as alcohol. What I learned from them is that the underlying issues are the same, no matter what you've been into or where it has taken you.
 
The book is intended to track one person’s journey through adolescent addiction into recovery in the hopes that it might offer solace or at least entertainment to people who are struggling or people who know people who are struggling with addiction. I hope it will also be interesting for people who want to know what recovery's about. (Be forewarned: I was kind of a screw-up in the early days. The title "Nice Recovery" refers to the people I interviewed and the larger goal we seek as opposed to me and how awesome I am.)
 
I really hope the book will be useful. Even though it has given me many a sleepless night and an eye twitch that last nearly three months, it also reminded me that I came from a dark and deeply undignified place. There’s a reason I have continued to be active in recovery for twenty years, a reason I celebrate every person, young or old, who decides to tackle the beast and sober up. It’s because I believe that there’s a nice recovery available for every one of us who genuinely wants one. At least, that's my hope.
 
xox