Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Book Review: Cracked, by Dr. Drew Pinsky

At thirteen and on my way to bed, I turned on the radio to hear a girl ask “Should I get my clitoris pierced?” Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of Doctor Drew’s. On the air, he’s calm, collected, and non-judgmental, at least as much as a doctor can be when callers are finding all sorts of innovative ways to do themselves harm.

That was ten years ago, and Drew still advises from the same time slot, ten to midnight pacific, Sunday through Thursday. I would’ve thought a book by the doctor would be long in the coming, but in Cracked (2003), one quickly learns why: this is a man who absolutely addicted to doing far too much. In addition to his studio time, he maintains the private practice his father started, works as the medical director for the Department of Chemical Dependence Services at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, to say nothing of the efforts required to be a loving husband and father of triplets.

While on Loveline, most of the issues discussed relate to relationships, sexuality, and communicable diseases, Cracked deals mostly with Pinksy’s time at Las Encinas, and focuses on addiction, withdrawal, and chemical dependency. Dr. Drew’s voice is as clear and collected in print as it is on the air, and readers see a bit more of the author’s humanity. It’s rewarding to learn a little more of the inner workings of the guy former Loveline co-host Adam Corolla sarcastically described as a “passionate, passionate man.”

We learn that Drew is troubled by many of the same things most people struggle with: he fights for balance in his life and relationships, he soldiers on despite being frustrated by setbacks, and he often wonders whether he really makes a difference.

Cracked offers Dr. Drew’s views on the disease of addiction as he struggles to help a series of patents at Las Encinas, and he selects a long enough list of them that the reader can easily see the pattern, the inevitable parade of addicts suffering in largely the same ways. There’s mostly comfort and tolerance shown for the patients, but Dr. Drew has no shortage of cynicism available for “the system,” which prevents patients from truly having a chance at recovery by hamstringing . He spends much effort focusing on people, relationships, as the primary struggle for a victim or an addict, and it’s inspirational to hear a physician emphasizing that the psychological and social aspects of addition are by far the most important in the long run.

More than he intends it, I think, Cracked is also a study of gender differences. Most of the patients Dr. Drew focuses on are young, victimized women, and it’s clear his heart truly pours out to them. Every generic Doctor’s checkup includes “open wide and say aaah!” Dr Drew describes the disturbing, unforgettable way that victims sexual abuse respond,: “the submissive manner in which they put their headback and open their mouths.” I felt a more than a little disturbed thinking of the disgusting treatment that all of these women must have experienced, the way that they’ve been scarred. One can see why it’s a challenge to have faith in the “goodness of humanity” in the face of such disgusting treatment.

In treating these victimized female addicts, Drew relates the way it’s difficult not to overstep his boundaries as a physician, the way he must constantly fight his biological impulses to nurture, comfort, and embrace these fragile young women. By contrast, the men in the book – far less focal – tend to respond to addiction with belligerence, and Dr. Drew fights his impulses to simply give up on them, constantly reminding himself that their inappropriate behaviors are the result of a disease, and that they are beyond the point of conscious control. His candor in discussing his dilemmas is refreshing, and highlights the influence evolution and biology have on the interactions between men and women. How many 6-year old boys are sexually abused by older, female relatives?

Cracked is honest, direct, and focused. It’ll teach you a lot about the disease of addiction – the way it actually effects real people, unburned by excessively heavy paternalism or rote toxicology.

One final note: Cracked is a slender hardback volume, and the publishers have clearly taken steps to print in such a way as to use up as much space as possible. It’s 270 pages long, but contains 26 chapters, and each chapter ends with about half a blank page, and the first page of each chapter contains a a full-page illustration, a series of “humpty dumpty” cartoons, and the text does not begin until halfway down the facing page. Combine that with wide margins and spacing, and I don’t think that Cracked would fill 150 pages in a more standard paperback printing. I picked up my copy at Barnes and Noble for a whole seven bucks, but I’m not sure that I would have paid the $24.95 retail for a copy.

Then again, sharing a copy of Cracked with your partner compares quite favorably to sharing a Hollywood movie and a tub of popcorn. A paperback version, also by Harpercollins, has just been released. Check it out.

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