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Thematic Comparisons in the “Memoirs Wild” and “Ninety Days” Essay

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Updated: Jun 22nd, 2022

Introduction

Addiction books offer audiences a personal encounter with the lives of addicts and the intricacies that define their existence in societies, and the effects of their indulgences on close personal relations. Bill Clegg and Cheryl Strayed provide an elaborate description of their harrowing experiences of their journeys through substance abuse that the road to recovery in their memoirs Ninety Days and Wild. Despite the difference in the approaches adopted by the two authors in their journey to recovery, the two books share insights on several thematic areas related to addiction, substance abuse and recovery. This paper seeks to make a comparison of the prominent thematic considerations brought to the fore in the two memoirs and to identify glaring similarities and differences. The paper will similarly assess the effectiveness of the personal approaches taken by the authors and their possible impact on their intended audiences.

Addiction and Associated struggles

The topic of addiction and the struggles that addicts go through remains an important aspect for consideration while tracing the journey of recovering addicts. Ninety Days provides an elaborate description of Clegg’s first encounter with substance abuse following his decision to go on a two-month binge indulgence in crack and alcohol abuse that resulted in his addiction (Clegg 28). Through his narration, addiction emerges as an extremely daunting experience that results in unimaginable dependence on a specific drug or substance among users. Clegg’s struggle with addiction causes him to lose everything in his life, including his sense of self-worth and a company he co-founded following the exit of clients (Clegg 2). The memoir, therefore, highlights addiction as an injurious predicament that comes at a great personal cost not only to the affected person but also to those with whom they have close personal relations.

Wild similarly provides an elaborate recount of the author’s journey through addiction and the extent of its interference on her life. The death of Strayed’s mother to lung cancer aged 45 appears to have been the catalyst to her advanced feeling of despair, which drove her towards addiction (Strayed 8). The grief that followed the passing of her mother and the subsequent disintegration of her family provides an important background to her vulnerability to substance abuse. Her indulgence in drugs such as heroin and her subsequent addiction similarly resulted in additional losses, including the breakdown of her marriage to Paul. The author’s struggle with addiction also offers readers an insight into the typical lives of addicts and the significance of their decisions on their sobriety prospects.

While the devastation brought about by addiction in both instances is largely similar, the triggers to the same in each instance are quite different. Clegg’s addiction emerges to have been triggered by his incessant pursuit of gratification through overindulgence, while Strayed seems to have hit rock bottom as a result of grief. Additionally, the two authors chose different paths to recover from their addiction, with Clegg opting for the conventional rehabilitation method while strayed undertook a daunting eleven-hundred-mile solo hike without prior experience. Another significant distinction in the topic of addiction as postulated in both memoirs is the aspect of relapse. Clegg outlines his feeling of despair and hopelessness as he hit rock bottom following a relapse before hitting the ninety days of sobriety (Clegg 4). However, this is not the case for Strayed who recounts the hardships she faced during the hiking adventure, including her encounter with bears, snakes, and adverse weather conditions.

Relationship Perspectives

Drug and substance abuse often imparts a significant strain on personal relationships involving addicts and their immediate friends and family. The breakdown of various relationships similarly emerges as an important topic of discussion in both memoirs. In the first chapter of Ninety days, Clegg blissfully recounts the sense of privilege he felt after Dave had picked him up from Lenox Hill hospital (Clegg 1). The significance of this revelation is his realization that despite the many relationships he had lost, he still had somebody who could lend him a car and offer him a place to stay. While his relationship with his parents following his addiction is not prominently highlighted in the narration, the memoir refers to the new family of the 12-step support group (Clegg 11). Among the relationships that were adversely affected by Clegg’s alcoholic excesses include his eight-year relationship with Noah and his professional relationships with clients at his literary agency.

Strayed, on the other hand, paints a picture of a very close relationship with her mother and a non-existent relationship with her abusive biological father who had since abandoned them. However, as things began to unravel for her following the death of her mother, other relationships crumbled in the process. For starters, her family disintegrated with her stepfather and siblings moving away and keeping little to no contact with her (Strayed 156). Additionally, her marriage to a man she described as wonderful similarly resulted in divorce following her numerous infidelity incidences. The breakdown of these critical relationships would aggravate her susceptibility to substance abuse to unimaginable levels.

The journey towards recovery, however, offers both authors an opportunity to repair some of the broken relationships. Clegg’s relationship with Noah, however, proved unsalvageable, as he did not even consider the Manhattan apartment where they had lived a possible location for temporary accommodation (Clegg 2). Strayed similarly loses important relationships, including her marriage which she could not salvage given the irreconcilable differences that culminated in her divorce. Both Strayed and Clegg find themselves faced with unrepairable relationships, pointing to the devastation that substance abuse impacts close associates and companions. However, both authors engage in similar pursuits aimed at rebuilding their lives and developing new relationships with considerable success.

The Financial Implication of Substance Abuse

In many instances, substance abuse and addiction often come at a heavy financial burden to individuals, some of whom drain all their life savings to satisfy their desires of choice. This topic is also featured prominently in the two memoirs as the authors narrate their financial predispositions before, during, and after their ordeals. Addiction came at a heavy financial price to Bill Clegg who squandered all his finances and prospects of financial enrichment from his business exploits in the literary sector (Clegg 3). While he managed to scramble up finances to fund his recovery program he emerged from the program broke, unemployed, and without any prospects of securing gainful employment in an industry he had worked in for years (Clegg 6). Clegg similarly faced other financial challenges, including rent, legal bills, and hospital bills, which he could not establish how to dispense with upon his re-entry into society. The susceptibility of substance abuse addicts to irrational financial engagements is hence accentuated by Clegg’s narration.

Strayed on her part faced numerous financial challenges before, during, and after her stab at addiction. While Clegg had been actively employed for more than ten years, Strayed was underemployed and engaged in unfulfilling jobs such as waitressing (Strayed 86). Strayed had similarly accumulated thousands of dollars in student loan debts arising from her pursuit of a degree that she did not complete. Consequently, her forays into substance abuse and her subsequent addiction only served to aggravate her dire financial predisposition further. An analysis of her description of the eleven-hundred-mile hike reveals an ill-financed activity characterized by ingenuity in improvising gear and her access to bare minimum replenishment of supplies (Strayed 256). In effect, Strayed had to make do with limited financing occasioned in part by her excesses on the addiction front to overcome the vise. In this regard, both Strayed and Clegg share similar experiences with respect to their financial situations before and after their recovery.

Intimacy and Sexual Relations

Addiction and substance abuse portends significant challenges to the pursuit of intimacy and fulfilling sexual relations. This topic is significantly highlighted in both memoirs, given the tribulations that characterized Strayed and Clegg’s sexual lives following their indulgence in alcohol and drug abuse. For starters, substance abuse addiction often has a devastating influence on the moral compass of individuals hooked on the said substances (Giacomucci 144). In many instances, such individuals often find themselves getting involved in sexually irresponsible behavior with tragic repercussions as illustrated in both memoirs. In ninety days, Clegg’s two-month escapade was characterized by his indulgence in binge drinking and sex (Clegg 22). These actions contributed to the breakdown of his eight-year relationship with his companion Noah. In the weeks that follow his reintegration into society, Clegg also narrates the difficulties he experienced during his quest to develop intimate relations.

Intimacy and sexual relations are similarly covered on Wild with a significant highlight of the author’s dubious sexual history characterized by multiple affairs. Strayed even suggests that her heroin addiction came about following her introduction by somebody she was having sexual relations with (Strayed 175). Her sexual escapades also account for her divorce following her husband’s displeasure at her cheating tendencies. Strayed goes ahead to pack contraceptives alongside her books for her hike, thereby illustrating the significance of the topic of intimacy in both memoirs. This scenario best exemplifies the input of substance abuse and addiction on sexual impropriety among users and the subsequent crumbling of their committed intimate relations (Giacomucci 138). In effect, the topic on intimacy serves to highlight the psychological dimension of substance abuse among users in light of their apparent inability to develop meaningful relations.

The Journey to Recovery

The two memoirs make a detailed account of the steps that facilitated the pursuit and eventual realization of sobriety in both instances. What is, however, striking is the fact that in the two cases, the desire to pursue sobriety emerged out of the authors’ initiative. This is an essential consideration for the success of any rehabilitation initiative. Clegg made a serious analysis of his life and predicament as an addict while considering what that would portend for his future. Following these personal deliberations, he made a conscious decision to enlist for rehabilitation despite the financial challenges he was experiencing at the time (Clegg 24). Clegg’s journey through rehabilitation and recovery was characterized by numerous hurdles, which he overcame as a result of his deeply felt commitment to succeed. His relapse was one such setback that almost dimmed his prospects of recovery were it not for the personal initiative he had undertaken to reclaim his life.

Strayed similarly took a personal initiative to escape the stranglehold of addiction before flying out to California to kick-start her hiking initiative. Despite the challenges she encountered during the eleven-hundred-mile journey, her determination to succeed was informed by her deeply felt desire for a positive outcome. Faced by the fears of imminent danger following the snapping of tree branches outside her tent at night, Stayed would shout the words, “I am not afraid” to ease her tension (Strayed 216). This similarly points to her unwavering desire to endure all hardships as the price for her recovery. The fact that the two different approaches to rehabilitation result in the desired outcome points to the significance of one’s commitment to a course on the realization of set objectives. In this respect, the two memoirs utilize the topic of addiction rehabilitation and recovery to highlight the significance of individual input and commitment to change in realizing success.

Sobriety and its Prospects

The ninety days to sobriety emerges as an important milestone to the individual war against addiction as advanced by various addiction recovery theories. While Clegg makes outright reference to the ninety days, the difficulty in their observation, and the temptations that often result in relapses, Strayed takes a rather subtle approach. Clegg’s approach to maintaining sobriety following a stint at addiction is to confront the demon by its horns. From the outset, Clegg prevails on a rather hesitant Dave to drive him back to the thick of things in Manhattan where his substance abuse tendencies flourished (Clegg 3). In his submission, he fronts the idea that a recovering addict needs to go to the rooms or locations where addicts got to and remain sober for an enhanced appreciation of the initiative (Clegg 3). This assertion, however, seems to backfire on him as its results in his relapse, thereby adding additional strains to his recovery journey.

Strayed, on the other hand, advances the significance of the journey towards self-rediscovery as an important stepping stone towards an addict’s transformation to his or her pre-addiction self. Throughout the entire hiking ordeal, strayed recounts several highs and lows that reinforced her resolve to take up a sober lifestyle. The fact that her hiking adventure took three months to cover the eleven-hundred-mile stretch is similarly significant since it also alludes to approximately ninety days of indulgence geared to facilitate recovery. From a critical point of view, what emerges from the two illustrations is the fact that the path to recovery for drugs and substance abuse addicts is slow and pensive (Lookatch et al. 2145). As such, a lot of patience and determination are required to win this battle irrespective of the rehabilitation method one takes up.

Triumph and hope

Third parties often tell most drug and substance addiction stories and other immediate observers since they often end in the subject’s death or other catastrophes, including functional incapacitation. Ninety Days and Wild are, however, different in the sense that they were told by the actual subjects who recount their experiences in their own words. This was made possible given the fact that both Clegg and Strayed overcame all obstacles to emerge victorious in their efforts to rebuild their lives. Consequently, the memoirs treat readers to distinct stories of victory and triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. The narrations also offer hope to a multitude of individuals either affected or afflicted by substance addiction. Ninety days offers an incredible perspective to individuals faced with the problem of addiction on the challenges to expect while on the path to recovery through the standard Alcoholic Anonymous methodologies (Surdyka 22). Wild similarly alerts readers to the reality that the path to sobriety not only involves support group sessions but those innovative avenues such as the hike adopted by Strayed are also effective. The narrations available in both memoirs also offer victims of addiction the necessary encouragement to pursue recovery journeys of their own.

Conclusion

In conclusion, alcohol and substance addiction continue to devastate millions of families across the globe. Therapists and other interested parties face numerous challenges in their efforts to develop workable solutions to the menace. Efforts to address this issue through rehabilitation have often met serious setbacks following the tendency by affected persons to deny the existence of the problem. The journey through addiction highlighted by Bill Clegg and Cheryl Strayed in their memoirs serves to demystify the problem by highlighting completely different avenues of overcoming the vice. Audiences are poised to amerce critical knowledge on how to handle alcohol and substance addiction from either of the memoirs.

Works Cited

Clegg, Bill. Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery. Ulverscroft, 2012.

Giacomucci, Scott. “The Sociodrama of Life or Death: Young Adults and Addiction Treatment.” The Journal of Psychodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy, vol 65, no.1, 2017, pp. 137-143.

Lookatch, Samantha, et al., “Effects of Social Support and 12-Step Involvement on Recovery among People in Continuing Care for Cocaine Dependence.” Substance Use & Misuse, vol 54, no. 13, 2019, pp. 2144-2155. Taylor & Francis Online.

Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Vintage, 2014.

Surdyka, Michael. Fully Alive: Using your Individuality to Conquer Addiction. Michael J. Surdyka, 2021.

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