By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York literary agent Bill Clegg's first memoir counted down two months spent blowing $70,000 on a binge of crack cocaine and male escorts in New York's boutique hotels while avoiding loved ones and the publishing agency he built and owned.
His newest book begins where the first left off with a new goal of 90 days. But this time around, Clegg is not out to kill himself with endless sleep-deprived, paranoid nights on cocaine. Instead, it's an account of getting sober and a journey of relapse and recovery.
"Ninety Days," released in the United States this week, is Clegg's second - and last, he promises - truth tale following 2010's "Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man." That book shocked the New York media world, pleased critics, and enamored readers with Clegg's wrenching, honest style and the tragedy of his rise and fall.
Rather than cashing in on his first book's sweeping success, Clegg, now 41, told Reuters in an interview he didn't feel he had any choice but to head straight into the next personal offering of his struggle with addiction.
"I just didn't have a finished feeling," he said, recalling how he kept on writing even before his first book was published and without knowing how that would be received.
But now, after "Ninety Days," "the well is dry," said Clegg. "It was the last drop of writing in me."
His new memoir begins with Clegg returning from a rehabilitation clinic to New York City, the tempting den of his many dances with drugs and alcohol. In an effort to stay sober, he joins an addicts support group, finds a sponsor, and begins a roller coaster ride to beating his habit.
Clegg doesn't compare "Ninety Days", which like his first memoir replaces some real names with pseudonyms, to the many recovery memoirs that have come before him, nor does he pretend to be an expert on addiction. It's simply his personal journey.
"I felt like for a long time I was the only one who ever tried to get sober but couldn't," he said. "And I would look around the rooms and I would see people getting sober and I just thought 'Wow, I am really the one person who can't get this.'"
Unlike his first book, which the reader spends mostly inside Clegg's paranoid mind following his harrowing descent as he is convinced he is being trailed by counter-narcotics agents, the second one explores the lives of several of recovering addicts around him - a community he feels indebted to.
"The truth is that, in my experience with other alcoholics and addicts, the story of recovery and the story of active addiction is very common. The experiences, the challenges, the feelings we have are so predictable in a funny way," he said.
RETURN FROM COCAINE ABYSS
The book follows Clegg's climb back from having no home, little money and no job back to being hired as literary agent at William Morris, where he remains to this day representing such high-profile names as Diane Keaton, Anjelica Huston and authors such as Lauren Groff and Nick Flynn.
Since "Portrait", letters of support have come from a range of readers, former addicts to New Yorkers carving out successful careers who relate to Clegg's painful journey of presenting one image to the world versus the lonely and desperate person he was inside.
Clegg's own theory on his former dual personalities is that many successful people are often over compensating for insecurities.
"Their compensation for that insecurity sort of begets success," he said. "The more success they get, the greater distance there is from this outside perception and inside reality."
In getting sober Clegg learned "the distance between that external and internal reality. The distance gets bridged and eventually there is an alignment to 'what you see is what you get'. And I am not hiding some secret truth behind this seemingly comfortable confidence, which is a facade."
He isn't aware if people ever discarded him in his professional or personal life due to his admissions, but if so, he deals with it in the even manner of many former addicts who have already faced their worst fears.
"If you are not comfortable having somebody who has been an active crack addict, an alcoholic, in your life, that is OK," he said. "That's a private decision."
And he knocks wood when he now describes himself as "happy," after spending so long in drug-induced distress.
"I was only ever able to change my ways and grow solely and painfully toward this happy life that I love right now through great pain. It took losing almost everything in my life to get me to get sober," he said.
As for whether he feels he will ever return to the seeming secret thrill of those dark days, Clegg says that unbeknown to most, recovery was the best high he has ever had.
"That first burst of sobriety which people in recovery often describe as pink cloud - I have never felt so exhilarated in my life," he said.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
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