How to Grow an Addict is a coming-of-age story that traces Randall’s descent to addiction rock bottom through the 1980s and early 90s.
The story opens with twenty-three-year-old Randall Grange in The Facility, a 30-day rehab program for drug addicts and alcoholics. A social worker has convinced her to seek help for her troubled life after Randall arrived in the ER following a night of drinking, drugging and being raped.
By age eight, Randall already knows her family is not normal. She has a troubled relationship with her cantankerous father, who she’s convinced never wanted her in the first place. Her submissive mother never stands up for her and drowns her own issues—including the very public affair her husband is having with his own brother’s wife—with pills and alcohol. Both parents favor her older brother, and Randall often feels like a stranger in her own home. Her Aunt Flo and Uncle Hank provide the only nurturing Randall receives as a child. They live in a beautiful cottage home with a large garden, a special swimming pool, and several treasured cats, and Randall is a constant visitor.
At age eleven, Randall learns from Uncle Hank that he has a box of money, gold and gems, hidden under the floorboard of his garden shed. He shows her the contents and asks her to keep it a secret. A few weeks later, when he's found dead in the swimming pool, Randall is convinced she’s responsible for having neglected to clean up her suntan oil spill the day before.
Heartbroken and guilt-ridden, her relationship with her aunt becomes strained; Randall doesn’t mention Uncle Hank’s hidden box, however, because she assumes Aunt Flo knows about after she notices her wearing a big new ring at his funeral. The ring Uncle Hank designed and had made for their 30th anniversary, using several of the gems he had in the hidden box.
With Aunt Flo unavailable, not many friends, and both parents at work, Randall is anxious and lonely and begins to help herself to her Mom’s tranquilizers. Her drug use escalates throughout her adolescence, and she adds alcohol to the mix when she can. Her teenage years are filled with trouble, drunken episodes and horrific experiences, including the death of her dad (just days after she wrecks his favorite car); a sexual relationship and pregnancy with an underage boy; a lost opportunity to forge a relationship with a half-sister; and Randall’s first abortion, which she funds by breaking into Uncle Hank’s shed and helping herself to some money from the undiscovered treasure box he left hidden there.
At eighteen, she gets a job as a store checker and starts a relationship with her abusive, married boss in exchange for drugs from his pharmacy. It doesn’t take long for her to become a full-blown addict and even more of a mess. In the next few years, Randall’s life spirals downward as she continues on with her boss, who she believes will one day leave his wife and marry her.
By twenty-three, Randall’s drug use is off the charts, and she isn’t interested in stopping. She has her second abortion after her boss/boyfriend demands it. Weeks later, she overdoses at a party, is raped in a car by a stranger, and then manages to exit while the car is still in motion. This lands Randall in the hospital, bringing us back to the opening scene of the book. The Facility turns out to be full of druggies and alcoholics, and Randall’s convinced she doesn’t belong there. A bit of honesty and empathy from the staff convinces her to stay, to confess a few secrets and to make an effort to change her life.
Just before she’s released from the facility, Aunt Flo pays her a visit, and Randall apologizes for her part in her uncle's death. Flo tells her in no uncertain terms that it was not her fault, Uncle Hank died of a heart attack, not from slipping on the suntan oil Randall forgot to clean up. Randall is floored by this information, and leaves the Facility a few days later with a different outlook on life, her guilt lifted. When she later visits her aunt, she discovers that Flo has had troubles of her own since Hank’s death. She has no money and owes thousands in back property taxes; she fears the county will take the home she and Uncle Hank built. Randall realizes that Aunt Flo still doesn’t know about the hidden box. She has to make a critical decision, to give up what possibilities the money might provide her, or to help the one person who’d been a stabilizing force in her life as a child.
Randall’s willingness to retrace her journey to rehab is revealing, healing, and liberating. How to Grow an Addict is a story about a life that's destined to crash, and the determination it takes to turn it all around.