Study Guide

A Million Little Pieces The Twelve Steps

By James Frey

The Twelve Steps

Watch Your Step(s)

The central component of A Million Little Pieces is the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step Program… and the fact that James finds the whole process an "utter bulls*** fantasy fairy-tale piece of crap" (3.1.420).

James disparages not just the program itself but also any person who has ever followed it, whether it worked for that person or not. He says, "I think the thing is f***ing stupid and I wonder if keeping an open mind at this place is the same thing as having an empty mind" (2.3.110).

Why is James so against this proven program? Well, he believes that "addiction is a decision" (3.3.241), not a genetic problem or the result of other factors—just a decision. Unlike other people, James just decides one day not to be addicted. From the beginning, he's been talking about how in control he is: "I am in complete control of what I'm doing and what I'm feeling" (1.8.267). If that's true, why did he choose addiction in the first place?

The Tao of the Twelve Steps

James may not care for the Twelve-Step program, but he does choose another book to guide him through his recovery process: the Tao Te Ching, which he says "feeds me" (4.1.224).

The funny this is that James ends up picking things from the Tao that are also part of the Twelve-Step program; this shows us that he picks and chooses what he believes in, just because he can. For example, he believes in making amends because "what is important is the act of apologizing, the act of admitting fault, the act of asking for forgiveness" (1.8.265). Wait, is it just us, or isn't that a huge component of the Twelve-Step program?

(Let it be noted that James rarely does apologize over the course of the novel.)

James seems to like the Tao just because it doesn't force any particular set of rules on people. For example, the first poem in the book says: "The Tao is that which has no name and is beyond any sort of name." That leaves a lot of room open for individual interpretation. There's no big guy in the sky telling you what to do in Taoism.

We have to wonder: Does James decide to go with the Tao just because it's something that isn't expected of him? Just because it could almost be considered countercultural? After all, this is a guy who will choose just about anything that isn't mainstream; he even revels in the fact that he's one of the 2% of people who ignore the Twelve Steps and don't relapse. Maybe that's the Tao of James: do whatever it takes to defy expectations.