More, Now, Again:
Elizabeth Wurtzel wants everyone to know she’s damaged goods. Her first book, Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America, made best-seller lists while earning criticism for its self-indulgent, painfully detailed chronicle of her clinical depression—the hospital stays, the late-night hysterics, the litany of drugs that never seemed to work. That book—with a prologue titled “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die”—read like a long diary entry, a voyeuristic glimpse into the mind of a terrifically sad but talented and successful young woman. And though Wurtzel’s articulateness about the disease she deems “the black wave” was often absorbing and on target, the question begged to be asked: What gives a 26-year-old nobody the audacity to publish her memoir, as if the rest of the world would care about her short life story? But it turned out that plenty of people do; droves of the young and depressed write letters and show up at Wurtzel’s book signings to thank her for sharing her experience, thus making their own a little easier to bear.
Wurtzel’s self-absorption continues in her new book, More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction. She tried to take a break from navel-gazing to research and write Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, whose initial focus was a study of women labeled overbearing or crazy throughout history—Delilah, Hillary Clinton, even Amy Fisher—but which was actually filled with plenty of me-me-me and became known more for its cover shot of a topless Wurtzel giving the finger than anything else. But with that book, she also effectively excused herself from life. Hiding out in a sunny efficiency in Florida, removed from her New York friends and urban lifestyle, Wurtzel seemed to finally find the secret for survival:
This is my idea of heaven. I’ve got a TV and a VCR, I’ve got fifty-one channels of cable, I’ve got a view of the Intracoastal, I can laugh at the pathos of human existence all day long because it does not matter anymore. I’m gone. I will never go on another date again. I will be all mind, no body, because I have dropped out.
I owe Doubleday a book, I will be honorable about completing it, but beyond that, it’s over between me and the world. Things have not gone very well between us. Fare thee well, my dark star.
And her newfound “contentment”—after years spent searching for the right antidepressant or a therapeutic breakthrough—came courtesy of Ritalin.
The drug, which is normally used to treat children with hyperactivity problems, was prescribed to Wurtzel after she had seemed to kick her cocaine habit and her doctor thought that her normal antidepressant regimen needed a boost. Ritalin helped her concentration and gave her energy; Wurtzel eventually reasoned that if a little of a legitimately prescribed drug did her such good, a little more couldn’t hurt. And when she started to miss the physical sensation of snorting coke—the “burst” in her brain—she discovered she could easily crush her Ritalin tablets into sniffable dust. Wurtzel was soon ingesting more pills than she could keep track of—”I am in a place where there is no difference between May and December, and the only time that matters is the minutes between pills when all I think about is my next line”—and when she ran out of excuses to more quickly get new prescriptions, she went back to blow: a little bit to finish her work, a little more to get through the book tour, just once more after rehab to prove she could handle it.
More, Now, Again is divided into six sections—”Revelation,” “Research,” “Remedy,” “Relapse,” “Recovery,” and “Redemption”—though if you don’t pay attention to the labels, you’ll have a difficult time telling one from the other. Except for the four months she spent in rehab and the six months she was clean at the end of the book, Wurtzel devoted most of her waking hours from 1996 to 1999 getting high, trying to score something to get high, or obsessing over the proper place to get high. Whereas Prozac Nation was an insightful and sometimes humorous examination of living with depression, More, Now, Again is often little more than a matter-of-fact log of increasingly desperate moments. Wurtzel spares no detail, no matter how ugly: “Coke and fucking and porn…is how I spend the late fall of 1997. I watch porn alone also. With [her married lover] Ben, without Ben, with my fingers on my clit, or just letting it play in the background while I write.”
Though Wurtzel then admits that this is “gross” and that she’s too embarrassed to tell anybody, you’ll already be feeling a little gross and embarrassed yourself and wonder what eventually persuaded her to air such laundry in so public a forum. Then you realize it’s pure Wurtzel: Whether she’s describing how she would cut up her legs as an 11-year-old or give her neighbor blowjobs when she was 12, she uses the stuff she can’t talk about while it’s going on as fodder for books meant to illustrate the depths to which she has plunged. (Wurtzel did make a departure from this formula in her third book, Radical Sanity, a thin paperback with dubious advice about ways to feel good, boasting chapter titles such as “Embrace Fanaticism” and “The Only Way to Get One Person Off Your Mind Is to Get Another One on Your Body.”)
Like Prozac Nation, More, Now, Again is most compelling when Wurtzel goes beyond the litany of where, when, and how and gives the reader insight into what might have led such an accomplished and undeniably attractive woman to choose a life where drugs are her only real relationship. Her predictable answer is that it’s the very uberwoman veneer that fuels her addiction, her attempts to shield herself from further disappointments, especially romantic:
I never quite live up to what I’m supposed to be. I’m one of those women whom people call a dynamo, a powerhouse, that kind of thing. I practically raised myself; I’ve been working since I was in high school, supporting myself since college; I’m tough, I’m scrappy, I’ve got my own money; I don’t need nothing or no one. So whenever I get involved with some guy, he’s shocked to find out that I’m so human. I have such needs, a welter of needs…sometimes I see them start to hate me for being such a sad girl, after all. We’re all hurt and disgusted by the bait-and-switch, like I never asked for this, where did that other person go?…
That’s why I do drugs: they fill the lacuna between who I am and who I want to be; between what I think and what I feel.
Wurtzel actually encapsulates her reason for drug use more succinctly early on, for once shunning wordy analyses and rationalizations for a simple, honest unburdening: “Here is how heroin—how all drugs—makes me feel: Quite simply, it makes me feel okay to be me. Here is how I feel not on drugs: I hate me.” Her mistake is that when it takes another 300 pages of self-loathing to get her respectable, clear-headed self back, her fans may start to hate her, too.
As you might expect—given the fact that it was published at all—More, Now, Again ends happily, though it feels falsely so. Wurtzel moves back to Manhattan and suddenly becomes vigilant about therapy and various 12-step meetings around town, and as is typical of recovering addicts, she claims to have found God. “Redemption”—which kicks off with a chapter titled “The Lord Is My Shepherd”—takes up only the last 30 pages of the book, which may be enough to convince newcomers of Wurtzel’s enlightenment but will read like a lie to anyone who’s followed her work. Love her or hate her, it’s impossible to immerse yourself in her every thought without feeling as if she’s familiar, and as anyone who’s friends with a self-destructive person knows, promises may be frequent and sincere, but old habits die hard. With an addiction that’s chemical and a long-suffered illness that’s mental, it’s hard to believe Wurtzel truly expects that Jesus will save. CP