"Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster," by Kristen Johnston (Gallery Books)
Kristen Johnston is best known as the brash alien in "3rd Rock From the Sun," which aired from 1996 to 2001. But that character's toughness has nothing on Johnston, who in a candid memoir discusses her lonely childhood, rise as an actress and battles with addiction.
In "Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster," Johnston reveals that she grew up mortified by her height (she was almost 6 feet tall by age 12), spent years in denial about an escalating addiction to booze and pills, and finally survived a near-fatal eruption of her intestines.
Serious stuff, but Johnston, now sober, recounts it all with brassy, almost defiant, humor, poking fun at herself while revealing how she used drugs and alcohol to mask how painfully alone she felt.
"I'm sure that there were many, many signs that I was killing myself, and I was probably given thousands of opportunities to change my life and make it wonderful, but once you've washed down a handful of Vicodin with a bottle or two of a full-bodied cabernet, even reading stop signs while driving a car becomes a tad tricky," she writes.
Part of what sets Johnston apart, besides her wit and frankness in dealing with the topic of addiction, is the brush with death that finally sets her on the path to sobriety.
In 2006, right after a play she was doing in London opened, a peptic ulcer in her stomach burst, aggravated by the 30 to 40 codeine pills a day she was taking in England to replace her stateside Vicodin habit. Johnston found herself alone in her apartment in crippling pain, covered in vomit and blood, and barely able to move.
The experience brings Johnston the revelation that, "Despite years of slowly killing myself, all I wanted, with more passion and ferocity than I'd ever wanted anything else in my entire life, was to live."
It takes time for her to put that thought into action. She leaves the hospital too early in order to get back to her play, and then nearly dies due to an infection. Even after that scare, she briefly continues to drink and take Vicodin until a blunt email from a friend serves as a wake-up call and sets her on the path to rehab.
The book has a breezy, letter-to-a-friend air to it, and it can easily be read in an evening. But Johnston doesn't shy away from the painful realities of addiction — all in an effort to help others battling their own demons. Now that takes guts.