Matti Baldassari, MA, LMFT
Helping the Fairest Junkie of Them All: The Desperate and Brave Sobriety of Amy Dresner
by Matti Baldassari, MA, LMFT
As another memoir written about addiction, the message in Amy Dresner’s My Fair Junkie is blaring and unique. Published by Hachette Books in September of 2017, the book deserves a couple of disclaimers straightaway. First, Dresner’s account of her descent into drugs is not for the faint of heart. She tells the story like it is – graphic, crass, and at times, disturbing. It is an off-color and salacious recounting of the real disorder and desperation that is the life of a deeply entrenched junkie. That’s the first disclaimer.
Second, My Fair Junkie is not a book for the client in early sobriety. The depictions of the drug cravings are all-too-real and completely palpable. While reading this book, you “feel” the distress and inner pain of Dresner. It’s moving and compelling, but on a different level than the empathy that helps define a salient therapeutic approach. Ultimately, such an account is too intense and even potentially dangerous for a newcomer struggling with the challenges of sobriety.
Given such disclaimers, the pertinent question becomes what is the value of Amy Dresner’s My Fair Junkie for a therapist? Dresner’s book provides definitive insight into the mind-set of clients struggling to stay sober. As the subtitle states, this is what one woman learned from “getting dirty and staying clean.” It is a visceral, yet crystal-clear rendition of the emotions that make the addict reach for the syringe and embrace actions repellent to normal society. Once a working comedian in her professional life, Dresner is an incredibly sarcastic storyteller. Her sarcasm, although potentially unnerving, provides deep insight into the inner workings of the troubled, addict mind.
The valuable parts of Dresner’s story are the clear depictions of the few saving graces in her struggle with sobriety – work, a semi-committed relationship, and routine. Also, the book reveals the black-and-white excess of the junkie trying to stay clean in clear terms along the way. After all, her thirst for mind-altering experience is far from small. Dresner writes about picking up her soon-to-be boyfriend: “He gets into my car as I am blasting music, chain-vaping and drinking a five-shot latte” (224).
She self-proclaims her “obsessiveness and gluttony” as the addict on a tenuous edge of early sobriety with wit (224). Indeed, therapists working in treatment or with the newly sober will recognize these extremes as an inherent part of the struggle of the first year or more of a client’s recovery.
As Dresner battles the inner demons that keep her locked in torturous cycles of relapse and substitute addictions, she sums up her struggles quite succinctly: “When you’re newly sober, you are looking for any distractions from your feelings…After years of numbing out with booze and drugs, suddenly experiencing my raw emotions, with nothing to take the edge off, felt uncomfortably intense” (183).
As an ex-junkie, she admits her difficulty with “being patient or tolerating ambiguity” (209). In fact, the memoir reveals the quintessential black-and-white thinking of the absolutist in every addict. Cognitive distortions abound in this account, and it may help therapists recognize and treat such difficulties in their clients.
Beyond the lingering challenges of what some might call her “addictive personality,” Dresner also reveals the coping skills that have helped her tame the beast of addiction. After being sentenced to community service on the streets of Hollywood, she is quite indignant at first. As time and routine kick in, however, she finds an unexpected and long-awaited solace. Dresner learns quickly that having structure helps with emotion regulation. At the end of the community service experience, she is happy to find that, “I finally have a work ethic . . . miracles do happen!” (66).
Dresner has stumbled upon a key to the success of clients in early sobriety; structure, routine, and hard work. As therapists, this lesson can inform our approach and provide a crude roadmap for sustainable sobriety. What’s more, by the end of the book, she is finally “feeling” her feelings, which she had been numbing through drugs and other process addictions. Indeed, a primary goal for many of our clients – whether they are addicts or not – is to be mindful of emotions and communicate them authentically in interpersonal relationships.
By the end, Dresner appears to be gaining a touch of emotional intelligence as well as sober time. For the therapist who hopes to provide skills and insight to struggling clients, listen closely. True-to-life, Amy Dresner might be the fairest junkie of them all – just don’t be surprised if you are shocked by the desperation and courageous rise of the protagonist in this modern “fairy tale.”
Citation: Dresner, A. (2017). My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean. New York, NY: Hachette Books.
Matianna Baldassari, MA LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and certified SMART Recovery meeting facilitator at Pacific MFT Network in Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach. Matti specializes in private practice at helping clients struggling with addiction, anxiety, mindful living, and stress relief. She can be reached at email@example.com or 424.254.9611.