“Pretty Wrecked”: Alumna publishes memoir about addiction, recovery and triumph

Tracy Viola, a 2002 Master’s of Education in counseling psychology alumna, shares her journey from teenage addiction to triumphant recovery.

Temple alumna Tracy Viola is set to release new book about her struggles as a teen addict and her path to recovery. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Before publishing her memoir, Tracy Viola gave an advanced manuscript to six of her friends. She printed and bound the copies at Staples and saw “Pretty Wrecked: Confessions of a Teen Addict and Her Road to Recovery” physically laid out in front of her for the first time. 

“The first call that I got was from one of my friends who read the book in 10 hours; I dropped it off on her front porch, and she works and has three kids, but she texted me at 10:30 at night and was like, ‘I finished the book, and I can’t wait to talk to you tomorrow,’ and when we got on the phone together, she just started crying and crying and she just said, ‘I’m so proud to be your friend,’” said Viola, a 2002 Master’s of Education in counseling psychology alumna. 

“Pretty Wrecked” details Viola’s struggle with active drug and alcohol addiction in her teenage years and her journey to overcome it as a young adult. 

Viola had written scraps of the memoir through diary entries while she went through drug and alcohol addiction from ages 15 to 19, but she formally began her writing journey about a year ago when she was 47. She ended up reliving many experiences she’d buried internally through the process. 

She would sit alone in her office, put headphones on and visualize herself going through the motions of her memories, recording her voice retelling experiences in present tense, as if she was transported back in time. 

After finishing a recording, Viola transcribed it onto a Microsoft Word document but changed the tenses to past. 

“That’s one of the ways as a writer I found I was able to elicit such detail and such feeling, almost like you’re walking with me in this situation,” Viola said. 

“Pretty Wrecked” is the product of Viola’s consciousness telling her to share her story to inspire others in similar situations. 

“I have been witnessing an increase in alcohol and drug use since COVID, and with the opioid epidemic, I just felt like I had this miracle in me of recovery, long-term recovery, from such a young age,” Viola said. “This little voice in the back of my head said you need to share this.” 

The memoir begins with an introduction to the characters in Viola’s pre-teen life leading up to her active addiction before diving into written collections of Viola’s harsh reality during active addiction and homelessness. 

The book comprises six sections, each titled after various 1980s songs, like “It’s The End of The World and We Know It” by R.E.M. and “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister. Viola narrates her memoir through these separate stories, or “vignettes.”

“The honest and gritty accounts of her childhood traumas through her recovery are intertwined with her witty sense of humor,” wrote Kelly Romanczuk, a friend of Viola, in an email to The Temple News. “This book will not only help those who struggle with addiction but also those friends and family members who will get a glimpse into the mind of an addict.”

As readers advance through the memoir and Viola grows older, her experiences read less like coming-of-age teenage mistakes and more like a car crash you can’t look away from, Viola said. 

The story progresses to detail Viola’s experience living with her berating stepfather Richard and how his manipulative behavior fueled Viola’s dependence on hallucinogens as a young woman. 

Viola’s life hit a crescendo when she was kicked out of her home by her mother at 19. During her period of homelessness, she received a call from her mother informing her she would miss her grandfather’s passing.

Viola’s mother ended up letting her stay at her home for the funeral, then on the night of the funeral, her childhood dog passed away. The next morning, Viola’s mother forced her to leave again. As long as she was actively struggling with addiction, she wasn’t welcome home. 

“So her dad has died, our dog has died, her daughter is a drug addict, and she opens up the door to the house and says, ‘Get out,’” Viola said. “That was when I just remembered falling on my knees at that front door.”

After a tumultuous period of her life, Viola agreed to go to rehab, but it wasn’t until she reached her second facility that the idea of sobriety began to stick. She accredits Alcoholics Anonymous as a turning point in her recovery. 

Nineteen-year-old Viola committed to sobriety in February 1996. 

The final section of the memoir details Viola’s sobriety journey, including the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and how she adopted new hobbies, like running, writing and a love of potato chips. 

Six years into sobriety, Viola was able to begin unpacking her experience and the difficulties of her addiction and upbringing by having sessions with a psychoanalyst, eventually leading to the end of her memoir and the beginning of the rest of her journey. 

“I’ve read, edited and provided feedback on many memoirs, and I’ve developed my own kind of amorphous criteria for judging whether a memoir is good or not,” wrote J. Flowers-Olnowich, Viola’s copy-editor, in an email to The Temple News. “That said, I’m happy to say that this is an excellent memoir, it’s emotional, engaging and humorous.” 

The now mother of two has spent more than half of her life sober. Besides helping others who may be related to someone struggling with addiction or actively experiencing it themselves, the memoir also serves as a reminder of how far she’s come.

“It’s like anything else, you have to put in the hard work and you have to make that daily decision to make the next right decision,” Viola said. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Little by little becomes a lot,’ and little by little I got better and better.”

Viola is incredibly vocal in sharing her experiences with recovery centers and schools, hoping to help young people who may be struggling, too. “Pretty Wrecked” is available for pre-order now and will be available to purchase on April 9.

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