Set in the Northern California in the 1980s and 90s, the novel opens with twenty-three-year-old Randall Grange in The Facility, a 30-day rehab program for drug addicts and alcoholics. A social worker has convinced her to seek help for her troubled life after Randall arrived in the hospital following a night of drinking and waking up to discover she’d been drugged and being raped.
By age eight, Randall already knows her family is not normal. She has a troubled relationship with her cantankerous alcoholic father, who she’s convinced never wanted her in the first place. Her submissive mother rarely stands up for herself or Randall and drowns her issues—including the very public affair her husband is having with his own brother’s wife—with pills and alcohol. Both parents favor her older brother Robbie, and Randall often feels like a stranger in her own home.
Her Aunt Flo and Uncle Hank provide the only nurturing Randall receives as a child. They live in a beautiful cottage home with a large garden, a special swimming pool, and several treasured cats, and Randall is a constant visitor.
At age eleven, Randall learns from Uncle Hank that he has a box of money, gold and gems, hidden under the floorboard of his garden shed. He shows her the contents and asks her to keep it a secret. A few weeks later, when he slips and falls to his death on the pool patio and dies, Randall is convinced she’s responsible for having neglected to clean up her suntan oil spill the day before.
Heartbroken and guilt-ridden, Randall’s relationship with her aunt becomes strained; she doesn’t mention Uncle Hank’s hidden box, however, because she assumes Aunt Flo has seen it when she notices her wearing a big new ring at his funeral. It was the ring Uncle Hank had made for their 30th anniversary, a few weeks before he died, using several of the gems he had in the hidden box.
With Aunt Flo unavailable, not many friends, and both parents at work, Randall is anxious and lonely and begins to help herself to her Mom’s pills. Her drug use escalates throughout her adolescence, and she adds alcohol to the mix when she can. Her teenage years are filled with drunken episodes and horrific experiences, including the death of her dad (just days after she wrecks his favorite car); a sexual relationship and pregnancy with an underage boy; a lost opportunity to forge a relationship with a half-sister; and Randall’s first abortion, which she funds by breaking into Uncle Hank’s shed and helping herself to some money from the undiscovered treasure box he left hidden there.
At eighteen, she gets a job as a store checker and starts a relationship with her abusive, married boss in exchange for drugs from his pharmacy. It doesn’t take long for her to become a full-blown addict and even more of a mess.
In the next few years, Randall’s life spirals downward as she continues a relationship with her boss, who she believes will one day leave his wife and marry her.
By twenty-three, Randall’s drug use is off the chart, and she isn’t interested in stopping. She has her second abortion after her boss/boyfriend demands it. Weeks later, she overdoses at a party, is raped in a car by a stranger, and then manages to exit while the car is still in motion. This lands Randall in the hospital, bringing us back to the opening scene of the book. The Facility turns out to be full of druggies and alcoholics, and Randall’s convinced she doesn’t belong there. A bit of honesty and empathy and from the staff convinces her to stay, and to confess her secrets and to make an effort to change her life.
Just before she’s released from the facility, Aunt Flo pays her a visit, and Randall confesses her pent-up emotions about her belief that she was responsible for her uncle’s death. Flo tells her in no uncertain terms that it was not her fault; Uncle Hank died of a heart attack. Randall is floored by this information and leaves the Facility a few days later with a different outlook on life; her guilt lifted. When she later visits her aunt, she discovers that Flo has had troubles of her own since Hank’s death. She has no money and owes thousands in back property taxes; she fears the county will take the home she and Uncle Hank built. Randall realizes that Aunt Flo still doesn’t know about the hidden box. Randall has to make a critical decision, to give up what possibilities the money might provide her, or to help the one person who’d been a stabilizing force in her life as a child. Randall’s willingness to retrace her journey to rehab is revealing, healing, and liberating.
How to Grow an Addict is a story about a life that’s destined to crash, and the determination it takes to turn it all around
Targeted Age Group:: women
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to write a book that accurately reflects the impact a dysfunctional family can have on a sensitive child. I know many recovering drug addicts and alcoholics who lived in a state of despair for years before hitting bottom and getting help. Most of them came from a family similar to the one outlined in my novel. I’ve been in recovery from drug addiction for more than 30 years, and I’ve had for the past fifteen I could (should) write a story that non-users could relate to, and that problem drinkers and drug users could identify with.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
This might sound weird, but a few of them came to me. I think Randall began talking to me years before I began writing about her. Some of the other characters, such as her father, are based on men I’ve known throughout my life (unfortunately).
How to Grow an Addict: a novel
Excerpt from Chapter 10
Aunt Flo got married again in February of 1989, only this time she married a man with “real money,” according to Dad. Arnold Smythe and Aunt Flo had a Valentine’s Day wedding at a fancy yacht club not far from his house in Malibu. It took an hour and a half for us to get there. That’s an hour and a half of Dad driving while swigging from a fifth of Jack Daniels and listening to his favorite Waylon Jennings cassette so loud that it was almost impossible for me to talk to Mom about why I shaved my legs even though she’d told me not to. I’d been asking her for months about shaving because I knew lots of girls who were thirteen who shaved their legs and underarms, and some who even shaved their privates. I begged Mom to let me shave and even made her have a close look at my legs one day, outside in the sunshine, but she said there wasn’t enough hair on them to shave off. She told me to rub my legs with lotion.
I tried the lotion but it didn’t do much to hide the hairs, and although I did my best to ignore it, I found myself thinking about it all the time. Sometimes at school I’d sneak off to the bathroom just to have a look at what was happening with my leg hairs. On the morning of the wedding, I found ten new little black hairs on my right shin. I thought about plucking them out, like I’d done to the ones on my left leg, but there wasn’t time, so I used Dad’s razor while I was in the bathroom. I’d watched Dad shave a few times, so I knew I was supposed to put shaving cream on my skin first, but the shaving cream can was empty so I just used water. It took forever for the bleeding to stop, and even though I put flesh-colored Band-Aids on the seven or eight places where my skin had come off, red was showing through them. Mom noticed right away. She yelled at me most of the morning. “I went to a lot of trouble and spent a lot of money on that beautiful dress you have on. Now no one is going to notice because they’ll be too distracted by your bloody shin.”
The outfit Mom bought for me was a bright yellow satin midi dress, complete with shoulder pads and puffed sleeves. She got it because she thought it matched the purple satin minidress she’d bought for herself. Dad was supposed to wear the tuxedo she rented for him but he didn’t. Instead he wore his black jeans and cowboy boots and put a brown suit jacket on, but only after Mom insisted he wear one. Aunt Flo gave Dad a dirty look when she saw him and mentioned something about his bad dress sense and bad manners. She loved my outfit, though, said it was a nice style for me. “Not many people can wear lemon yellow as well as you. And with those beautiful earrings you look like a princess.” She also liked my red headband and lip gloss, and she didn’t mention my Band-Aids.
A few people did ask me about my leg, and I told them about a stray dog that had attacked me when I was taking the garbage out the night before. I think they believed me. Even if they didn’t, after my second glass of champagne, I didn’t care. I was dancing by myself next to the bar when I saw Mom motion me over to the reception hall kitchen area. “You promised to help me pass out wedding cake, remember?” she said.
“Sure Mom, I’m only here to serve,” I laughed.
I winked at Mom as I picked up two plates of wedding cake and tucked little forks under the cake like she suggested. I was about to walk out to the reception hall to pass them out when I heard her say, “Don’t forget the napkins—and why are you so happy? Have you been drinking?”
“Just the glass of champagne Aunt Flo gave me for the toast,” I lied.
Mom gave me her half-grin, eyebrows-up stare, the one she always gave me when she was upset with me, but I didn’t respond. Instead, I picked up a third plate and placed it a bit higher up on my forearm and pretended I was one of the Denny’s waitresses I often admired—the ones who could carry four or five plates at one time, cradling them all the way up their arms. I was doing a pretty good job passing out cake until I slipped and dropped a piece at the feet of Aunt Flo’s maid of honor, Helen, and it got all over her silver shoes. While I was stooped over trying to pick up the cake, I heard Helen tell Aunt Flo that I was either drunk or a complete spastic and that I shouldn’t be allowed to hand out anything.
“I’m sorry, Helen, the plate just slipped out of my hand,” I said.
The next second Mom came running out from the kitchen with a dishtowel and bent down to wipe the icing from Helen’s shoes. Helen told her to stop and took over cleaning her own shoes. “You should attend to your daughter. She doesn’t look well,” Helen said.
Mom pushed me into the ladies’ room. “What’s wrong with you? No one gets drunk from one little glass of champagne. You’d better not let your dad see you in this condition,” she said.
“He’s too wasted to notice,” I replied. “He might be, but I’m not,” she said.
She made me splash water on my face and said I needed to get something in my stomach, including a cup of coffee.
The buffet table had so many different types of food on it that I couldn’t decide what to eat, so I just stared at the chicken until Mom jerked the plate from my hand, said something about hating being a mother sometimes, and then piled as much food as she could onto it before handing it back to me and telling me to eat every last bite. I took a seat at a table occupied by a really old man who seemed to be asleep. A few seconds later, Mom walked up behind me with a cup of coffee.
“I put three sugars in it, so drink it all. I’ll check on you later, but I need to get back to your dad before he drinks the bar dry,” she said.
It took me a while to eat the potato salad, corn on the cob, prime rib, and roasted chicken, but I did. I also finished the half bottle of beer someone had left on the table.
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