It seems so benign.

Seriously, what’s the harm in a bite of chocolate? A grande latte? One more can of cola, yes to the caffeine? A bakery doughnut with sprinkles?

None, that’s how much. Life goes on if you partake. The world won’t come to a complete standstill if you indulge in that seductive, legal-but-forbidden treat. You know it. Everybody knows it.

We all have our addictions – some more innocuous than others.

In the new book Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg, Clegg’s addiction was far from harmless. In the end, in fact, it almost killed him.

And it all started out so innocently.

Like many college students, Bill Clegg and his roommates enjoyed a good time. They smoked a little pot, drank and serial-dated women, pulled pranks, did cocaine, and got high again. Yes, it got them into trouble – they were kicked out of college – and Clegg was sometimes too wasted or hungover to function, but it was fun.

His introduction to smoking crack came from the first man he ever had more-than-fleeting sex with. A hometown lawyer, a man Clegg had known forever, invited Clegg to his apartment for a drink. They talked about the man’s kids and his wife, made out a little, then the man disappeared into the bedroom. He came back with “milk-colored crystals” and a clear glass tube.

After his first gulp of crack, Clegg says of himself, “He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it.”

And from then on, he needed it all the time.

But that – the night of firsts – that was all before Clegg repeatedly lied to his friends and family. It was before he left his boyfriend, Noah, at an important film festival in order to fly home to get high. It was before he slept with other men in seedy hotels, wore the same sweater to filthy tatters, and didn’t bathe for weeks. His first hit from the clear vial was before his business partner changed the locks, and before Noah did the same on their shared apartment.

And it was before Clegg nearly died from the drug that had ruined his life.

Reading Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is definitely a different kind of experience. This book makes you squirm, and you’ll want to try to get through each page as quickly as possible, not because the story is good (which it is), but because reading about what author Bill Clegg lived is hard to endure.

Start-ing with a major binge, then moving back and forth between childhood memories and fuzzy recollections of being high, Clegg walks a tightrope between wry humor and wrung-out horror. Early memories are written in third-person, giving them a remote feeling and adding more tenseness to this already-raw memoir.

If you relish a tough-to-read story with edge, you’ll want this one. Like any craving, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man will be impossible to let go of.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichen-meyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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