McHugh’s debut memoir recounts his difficulties with alcohol, the hopelessness of life on the street, and his road to recovery.
The author opens his story with an event in 2005 that set him on a healthier path. He was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to IVs, and a doctor told him, “Your heart is functioning at 7% of normal”—and the hospital staff had “never seen anyone survive at less than ten.” In the past, McHugh says, he would have sneaked out of the hospital, against doctors’ advice. But not this time: “My battered body teetered on the brink of catastrophic failure.” The author then takes readers on an odyssey as he remembers his days on the street as a homeless alcoholic. At one point, McHugh built a makeshift lean-to in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for protection against a coming storm, only to have it fail; he awakened in a cold, rain-and-urine-soaked sleeping bag and shouted, “God my life sucks!” Then he searched for the “40 ounce Steele 211 malt liquor” stashed in nearby scrub brush. Indeed, the focus of each day was on his next drink; at one point, he tells of bartering English muffins from a church lunch for more booze. He established a camaraderie with other homeless people at the “Pits,” and they became his “surrogate family for the next few years.” Throughout this memoir, McHugh gets across how much he relished the nonjudgmental acceptance, kindness, and even generosity of many of his fellow street people. His choice to only minimally develop these secondary figures in his remembrance is appropriate, though, as he depicts them as merely part of an unending party. Over the course of this tale of woe and redemption, McHugh berates himself for becoming what he believed to be a degenerate, but he acknowledges the fun that he had as well. Still, the story doesn’t ever become repetitive, and the ending is satisfying. Families of addicts, in particular, will find this book to be a must-read.
A brutally honest and informative portrait of homeless survival and the dynamics of addiction.